Bryan Caplan  

From the Cutting Room Floor: The Case Against Education

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When my books are nearly done, I strive to cut 10% of the remaining words.  Sometimes I end up cutting beloved passages that distract from the flow.  Here's one of my favorites from The Case Against Education, building on my earliest K-12 memory.

I still remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday.  Mrs. Sandefur opened the classroom door, and stopped me when I tried to take a seat: "Oh, we don't sit in the chairs.  We sit Indian-style by the blackboard."  Amidst the micro-management, no one explained the big picture: like Odysseus, I was starting on a twenty-year journey, facing one obstacle after another.  Some proved useful: reading, writing, and math have served me well.  Most did not: P.E., art, music, poetry, Spanish, and general equilibrium theory were a waste of time.  But useful or not, I had to pass everything to pursue my career.  If I'd tempered my ambitions, I could have left school at 18 or 22 instead of 26.  But unless I wanted to wash dishes or clean toilets, over a decade of school was fated on my first day of kindergarten. 

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
James M writes:

I have a running bet with myself that this book will come out before George Martin's The Winds of Winter.

AGJ writes:


Be prepared to lose that bet. Martin will probably finish the entire series before Bryan's book is published.

Coupon_clipper writes:

BC, I really hope you address the following point in your book:

You've pointed out that students cheer when their professor doesn't show up for class. This suggests that they're more interested in the diploma than learning anything.

But it's also possible (and I would say likely) that the marginal value of one extra lecture is near zero but the average value is huge. I learned a ton in my stats class, but had the professor spent an extra lecture explaining another topic, it probably would've just clogged up my brain.

So yes, the reason the kids cheer is because that lecture would not have increased their human capital. But we shouldn't conclude that the first, second, or third lectures were valueless too.

Roger Sweeny writes:

No, no, no. Don't leave it out.

Roger Sweeny writes:

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Francisco writes:

The process of choosing an specialization is random, in the sense that one cannot really make a decision without first trying out several alternatives and exploring many techniques.
The process of becoming a researcher, then, involves inevitably a lot of trial and exposure to topics that ex-post end being useless, like General Equilibrium in your case. That does not mean that ex-ante it was inefficient to study them.

Anyways, I'm looking forward to your book.

Roger Sweeny writes:


Okay. The professor doesn't show up for class the next time it is scheduled. Are the students still happy? The third? The fourth?

And when they do stop cheering (at least internally), how much of that is wanting to learn and how much of that is, "Bleep! All this stuff is going to be on the final and I won't have enough time to stuff it into my head."

Capt. J Parker writes:

Since The Odyssey is an epic Poem, it seems poetry may have been more valuable to Dr Caplan than he supposes.

Total troll comment, I know. Sorry. Couldn't help myself.

My pick for totally useless subject is penmanship. I wish they had taught us to type in the third grade.

Coupon_clipper writes:

Roger, I've got to figure that after the 3rd or 4th absence, the kids will start to say, "What we're paying *how* much for this? And I actually wanted to learn a lot of this stuff!"

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