Bryan Caplan  

Extra-curricular Signaling in An Education

PRINT
Shooting War... The Deeper Meaning of the Gree...
Here's a scene from An Education too good not to include in The Case Against Education:
Jenny [girl in high school]: I've got an English essay to do by tomorrow morning.

Dad: Right. So, the only sound I want to hear coming through this ceiling is the sound of sweat dripping onto textbooks.

Jenny: Cello?

Dad: No cello.

Jenny: I thought we agreed that cello was my interest or hobby?

Dad: Well, it already is your interest or hobby. So, when they ask you at your Oxford interview, "What's your interest or hobby?" you can say, "the Cello" and you won't be a lying. Look, you don't have to practise a hobby. A hobby is a hobby.

Jenny: Can I stop going to the youth orchestra, then?

Dad: No. No, no. The youth orchestra is a good thing. That shows you're a joiner-inner.

Jenny: Ah. Yes. But I've already joined in. So now I can stop.

Dad: No. No. Well, that just shows the opposite, don't you see? No, that shows you're a rebel. They don't want that at Oxford.

Jenny: No. They don't want people who think for themselves.

Dad: No, of course they don't.
Question: Is showing that you're a "joiner-inner" just another way to show that you're not weird?  Or do schools value extraversion per se?


Comments and Sharing





COMMENTS (14 to date)
Doc Merlin writes:

It shows that you are willing to signal expensively.

eric larson writes:

It signals that you are willing to show that you are willing to signal expensively.

Man, this stuff is easy.

Steve Sailer writes:

It's hardly unreasonable for institutions to favor the selection of people who spend their time on pro-social hobbies like playing the cello than on asocial ones like video games.

Jayson Virissimo writes:

"It's hardly unreasonable for institutions to favor the selection of people who spend their time on pro-social hobbies like playing the cello than on asocial ones like video games."

Steve, have you ever played any online video games? They are much more social than you know. In fact, they allow you to be "social" with people in different countries while learning teamwork and management skills. Ever notice how it is generally old guys who have never played video games that think games are anti-social?

Steve Sailer writes:

But you aren't playing video games with other people at the college, so the college community doesn't benefit. In contrast, playing the cello in the college orchestra benefits the college community. So, it's perfectly reasonable for colleges to prefer students whose hobbies require them to come out of their rooms and interact with other members of the college.

bjk writes:

Canada (or at least Ontario) doesn't have the same college selection process. Essentially they send your six best AP-equivalent scores to a computer in Guelph and that decides who goes where. Then the real selection begins, in the first year of college.

The point being, even in Canada kids go to orchestra, play sports, join clubs, etc. So it's wrong to say it's all expensive signaling.

Doc Merlin writes:

@eric:
Amusing, but I mean, if you just play the cello in your free time in order to get into school it shows you really care about getting in. If you join a club and have to practice in a group, every week 2x a week, go to meetings, etc it shows the same thing, but with much more cost.

eric larson writes:

Doc,
That's much clearer to me.

I feel blogs, twitter, etc. value terseness at the expense of clarity.


guthrie writes:

Steve, are you ignoring the point of the post? That there's an irony in 'having a hobby', but having no time for it due to spending all that time on 'getting qualifying grades'? That having a hobby 'chosen' for you is the height of irony?

What good does it do the college community to have a bad cello player, who fails to join any group because she never practiced?

david writes:

It's way of signalling that you will do what's expected of you rather than what you want to do, that you have "bought in". The providers of valuable credentials want to ensure they don't inadvertently provide these sorts of credentials to the wrong people. It also allows them the wiggle room to use admission criteria other than academic merit.

Yancey Ward writes:

I was going to comment, but read Doc Merlin's and decided he had hit it out of the park.

Noah Yetter writes:

Or do schools value extraversion per se?

A more interesting question would be are there any big institutions that DON'T value extroversion, or conversely that DO value introversion?

Steve Sailer writes:

In summary, the young lady's father is telling her that her first priority for getting into the top university in the country is to get good high school grades, and her second priority is to keep participating in school orchestra, at least meeting its minimum requirements for continued membership.

In a world of tradeoffs and limited time resources, this seems pretty reasonable for all concerned.

The screenwriter's description is tendentious:

"Jenny: Ah. Yes. But I've already joined in. So now I can stop.

"Dad: No. No. Well, that just shows the opposite, don't you see? No, that shows you're a rebel. They don't want that at Oxford."

No, the Dad would actually say, "That shows you're a quitter. They don't want that at Oxford."

Re: "rebel." There's no evidence in this movie set in 1963 that she's dying to quit the cello and take up, say, the electric guitar. The conflict in the movie is between her doing what it takes to get into Cambridge and her wasting time with her older boyfriend, who is a nogoodnik.

Morgan writes:

Meh, she should just send a picture with the caption "please let me into Oxford". Who could say no?

Not incidentally, if Carey Mulligan changed her middle initial to "T", her name would be an anagram for "alarmingly cute".

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top