Compulsory Futility

Compulsory Futility, by Gene Epstein.

25 percent to 40 percent of college students don’t show up for class, even when attendance counts toward the grade. What share of the rest would bother to show up if that weren’t the case? As for high school students, for whom cutting class is a serious offense, two-thirds report being bored in class every day, according to a survey [George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan] cites.

Caplan … exempts the teaching of essentials like reading, writing, and basic math, and professional and vocational programs that develop in-demand job skills. As for the rest of the curriculum, forget it. “Teach curious students about ideas and culture,” he suggests. “Leave the rest in peace and hope they come around.”

It’s conscientiousness, IQ, and work ethic that count for employers and mostly in life, not education beyond the basics. Rewards go to people who get things done and are smart enough to know what most needs to be done.

The core question that Caplan addresses is why employers so richly reward high school and college degrees, when the content of the coursework has so little to do with the jobs employers offer. Yet college graduates earn substantially more than high school graduates, who earn more than high school dropouts.

Caplan builds on the work of other economists in arguing that 80 percent of schooling is not about skills useful in the workplace, but about “signaling.” By earning a college diploma, you convey a message about yourself to employers—not necessarily that you’re smarter than everyone else, but that you’re conscientious and willing to play by the rules, qualities that employers value highly. …

The author floats some radical proposals for reform. One is a massive rollback of formal years of schooling that would retain emphasis on basic skills and on vocational education. If schools no longer offered the signaling function, employers would have to resort to other ways of screening applicants, including internships and apprenticeships.

The PC fantasy of the blank slate is to blame for the over-expansion of education in the last few decades.

Everyone noticed decades ago that those with more education — particularly university degrees — made much more productive and helpful citizens statistically: less crime, higher wages, better jobs, fewer children out of wedlock, more stable marriages, etc etc.

Ah-hah, said the left — it’s nurture not nature that shapes a person! Therefore, they concluded, more education makes for more productive citizens.

They rejected the more realistic notion that people with better work ethics and higher IQs made more productive citizens — and that they also happened to be the ones getting more education. It wasn’t the education per se that was leading to better outcomes. Likewise employers used education as a proxy for more productive workers.

So leftist governments around the West for the last few decades have spent ever more state resources and taxpayer money on educating ever more people. The result has been that more people waste the best years of their lives in unnecessary education, at huge expense to taxpayers or themselves. Meanwhile, conscientiousness and IQs have remained pretty much unchanged — they are largely genetic, and no one has found a way of changing them much, more than temporarily.

Yet another example of a PC fantasy causing real damage to people’s lives and to society.

via Tip of the Spear