Are You Worthy of Your Education?

Bryan Kaplan has a thought-provoking post in which he demonstrates what high education standards really are:

How can I live with myself when I ridicule the magic of education?

My answer: I love education too much to respect the mediocre substitutes that schools actually offer. How do these substitutes fall short of my ideals?

1. Education, like opera, is only a merit good when it’s done right. Real-world opera, happily, usually is done right.  Real-world education, in contrast, is a travesty. Most educators are boring. They fail to bring the liveliest of subjects to life. They focus on irrelevant details and hollow technique.  And in the social sciences and humanities, many of the “great ideas” and “great thinkers” aren’t just wrong, but stupidly wrong.

Take Marxism. As far as I’m concerned, it’s no more a merit good than creation science. Grasping the thoughts of economically illiterate 19th-century hate-mongers is not a crucial ingredient of a life well-lived.

2. Education, like opera, is only a merit good when experienced by minds capable of seriously appreciating it. Exposing bright, artistic minds to opera is great. Pushing opera on apathetic NASCAR fans is a waste of time – and can easily ruin the experience for genuine opera aficionados. The same goes for philosophy, history, literature, and the like. Exposing bright, logical minds to philosophy is great. Pushing philosophy on apathetic undergraduates is a waste of time at best.

I tend to share Kaplan’s sentiment, even when it comes to K-12 education. That’s why my views on education are largely shaped by whether or not a policy is at least keeping us on track to ultimately have a system where students spend more time on whatever they are capable of seriously appreciating. This is one reason I support alternative schooling models, but it’s also the reason I’m a big proponent of research and pilot programs involving high-impact cognitive tutors. I think the most feasible way to create a school day where kids have time to follow their passions is to make technological breakthroughs that allow us to teach math, reading, and reasoning in a fraction of the time it takes us now.


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