Bryan Caplan  

Educational Obsession in Pop Culture

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A former student emails me:

I'm currently looking for any filmed clip of someone perpetuating the myth that college is a MUST for everyone.  I've found several Obama clips (surprise, surprise) but I'm looking for clips outside the political world; i.e., popular movies, music, national ad council commercials, etc. Are there any particular pop culture references to the necessity of a college degree that have struck you?  I've looked into films like "Accepted" and "Orange County" but I've yet to find a decent snippet.  Any thoughts?

I'm drawing a blank. How about you?

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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Adam writes:

See Stomp the Yard. This 2007 film not only extols the value of college but has a moment where the protagonist joins a fraternity after seeing a wall of famous people, including Martin Luther King, Jr, who were in fraternities.

The classic "go to college movie" is of course Stand and Deliver.

KipEsquire writes:

There might well be a relevent line somewhere in "Risky Business."

Steve writes:

Gary North has a you-tube video about ways to get a college very inexpensively, which is close to your interest in avoiding it altogether.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evJeAAJedbY

David R. Henderson writes:

Bryan,
This doesn't answer what you asked, but I know of a great film clip the other way. It's in "It's a Wonderful Life." In the scene where Jimmy Stewart is talking about his big plans for the future for travel, etc., he says, words to the effect, "then I'll go to college and see what they know."
The idea is that colleges have something to offer but that it competes with other forms of knowledge.

Les writes:

Here are 3 links to youtube videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvhHCZdxxE4&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK7cwYOJdjo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPL_NjBjUWE&feature=related

Hope they are helpful.

AK writes:

Thanks to everyone for these helpful suggestions.

T Martin writes:

Not a movie, but the old Fox series Freaks and Geeks visits the subject in several episodes, usually from the vantage point of either getting stuck in your suburban high-school town and going nowhere after high school, or going away to college and making it in the world. Several of the kids have different ideas and incentives behind the decision to attend college, classically pressured by their parents to set other aspirations aside for post-secondary school. Probably a wealth of clips to choose from, and a good series in itself if you have to sit through some footage to find what you're looking for.

John writes:

Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School" comes to mind. A rich, successful businessman decides to go back to college to earn his son's respect.

Also, "Saved by the Bell" definitely perpetuated that myth. Any sort of high-school-based television show will most likely make the point that you have to go to college, over all other things, in order to have any sort of life whatsoever.

BCM writes:

Billy Madison! It may only highlight the importance of high school education, however. Probably not quite what you’re looking for :)

Doug writes:

Animal House, any scene with John Belushi

Michael writes:

try "American Graffiti"

RJ writes:

The antithesis of this may be "That 70's Show". Although it may have possibly been for the purpose of keeping the characters around, they all seem to continually shirk college for other opportunities. Eric himself shuns college in favor of going to Africa to "find himself".

Captain Awesome writes:

In Karate Kid III, I'm pretty sure Mr. Miyagi has a line like "man without college education is nothing." or something to that effect.

Famous J writes:

I'm reminded of the exchange from Caddyshack:

DANNY: I have to go to college.

TY: Danny, this isn't Russia. [Seems confused momentarily] This isn't Russia, is it?

Jay McCarthy writes:

In "Some Kind of Wonderful", there is the classic conflict between father and son about going to college. The claim is made that unless you go to college, you have to "wash your hands after work" and that this is disgraceful.

floccina writes:

The Cosby show seemed to push college pretty hard.

AK writes:

Thanks again to Professor Caplan and to everyone who had suggestions.

guthrie writes:

I believe the original version of 90210 dealt with this issue as all the kids graduated and moved on to college. Try looking at the season they graduated (I think season 4 or 5), you might find some fodder. I'm less familiar with the recent permutation...

Lisa Simpson is always gunning for an Ivy League or similar secondary education (Vassar, Harvard, NOT Brown...), and there are several episodes that deal with this obsession. But usually she's an image of those who are oversold on college to begin with. Homer works in the Safety department of a Nuclear power plant, having never completed college, and the one class he did participate in, he nearly killed everyone by apparently engineering his own desktop fission reactor. Plus, the evil Sideshow Bob is a Yaley, so what does that tell you...?!

I might have more later AK... this is fun!

Carl The EconGuy writes:

It may be relevant for your question that all the military services offer substantial college benefits for signing up. Here's the Army:

http://www.goarmy.com/benefits/education_money.jsp

Note that several states offer free college tuition to soldiers who sign up with the National Guard.

The promise of college benefits works in attracting recruits, but many of them never avail themselves of the benefits. It's a pretty cheap and effective benefit for the government to offer because the myth of college education is so embedded in people's minds, especially parents' minds. "I'll sign with the Army so I can go to college" works on mom and dad.

AK writes:

Some of these suggestions are proving very useful.

I'm now focusing more on clips that purport the notion that "education pays," i.e. clips that reinforce the notion that college is the only means to attaining a well-paid career. If I can find that clip from "Some Kind of Wonderful," that might fit the bill neatly.

Dan Weber writes:

Lisa Simpson is always gunning for an Ivy League or similar secondary education (Vassar

No, no, when she gets discouraged because of a school strike, she says that she won't get into an Ivy school, and that she probably won't even be able to get into Vassar.

So Homer says "I’ve had just about enough of your Vassar-bashing, young lady."


To bring up one of my own, when Xander didn't go to college on Buffy the other characters treated him with pity, which he resented, which probably culminated in some demon attack.

Francis writes:

AK,

there is an episode in the Cosby Show where the son wants to be "a plumber, etc... just like regular people", and unless I'm mistaken, Cosby answers him that this was a kind of insult to "regular people" and they would come to "kick his butt" if he didn't try to earn as much as he can given the opportunities he was offered (i.e., Cosby wants him to become a doctor).

guthrie writes:

LOL, Thanx Dan! I do remember that episode! I coulda sworn there was another one where she was positive on Vassar, but I'm likely mistaken...

Dan Weber writes:

there is an episode in the Cosby Show where the son wants to be "a plumber, etc... just like regular people", and unless I'm mistaken, Cosby answers him that this was a kind of insult to "regular people" and they would come to "kick his butt" if he didn't try to earn as much as he can given the opportunities he was offered (i.e., Cosby wants him to become a doctor).

That was the pilot. Theo wants to drive a bus "like regular people." That's when Cosby brings out the Monopoly money and teaches Theo how budgets work. It's on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFY0HBkUm8o

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