How much education? and what for?

Some provocative words from economist Bryan Caplan, explaining his next book on the excess of education:

Most people who criticize our education system complain that we aren’t spending our money in the right way, or that ideologues-in-teachers’-clothes are leading our nation’s children down a dark path. While I mildly sympathize with some of these complaints, they often contradict what I see as the real problem with our educational system: There’s simply far too much education going on. The typical student burns up thousands of hours of his time learning about things that neither raise his productivity nor enrich his life. And of course, a student can’t waste thousands of hours of his time without real estate to do it in, or experts to show him how.

I think one must start from some basics, for instance, what is education for?  In part it’s certainly about enabling children to become productive workers, who can navigate the basics of our modern world.  It’s also for socializing and interacting with other people of more or less varied backgrounds.  The part about enriching people’s lives is of course a hard one to measure.

In my personal experience, education has meant more to me when I had a certain goal, and particularly when I was picking up a all or part of the tab.   And I definitely agree with this, quoting from John Taylor Gatto, a former schoolteacher who is fighting the system.

“What one single skill of all the millions available pays off best in American society? It’s the ability to speak in a compelling fashion to any person you run into. How much energy do schools expend in allowing practice in that? Zero. If I were to found a school that would revolutionize schooling,” says Gatto, “I’d concentrate on two things: public speaking and civility. Someone who is well spoken and graceful in their interactions is always taken care of. When you float through Harlem and touch the people who have risen out of the ghetto, they’re people like Jesse Jackson. And those two things are very teachable, very learnable, by everybody. So the horseshit about bell curves and different styles of learning? Sweep the board clean of those. Give people those two gifts.”

That’s the end of an article on Gatto that you can find in full here.

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