Compulsory Futility

From City Journal, here is Gene Epstein on what is indeed compulsory futility for many children:

Beyond basic literacy and numeracy, formal schooling is a waste of time for most people, argues a contrarian.

The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money, by Bryan Caplan (Princeton University Press, 400 pp., $29.95)

IThe Case Against Education, a persuasive indictment of his own industry, George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan quotes Harvard professor Steven Pinker on his teaching experience at America’s most storied institution of higher learning. “A few weeks into every semester,” says the eminent psychologist and polymath, “I face a lecture hall that is half empty, despite the fact that I am repeatedly voted a Harvard Yearbook Favorite Professor, that the lectures are not video recorded, and that they are the only source of certain material that will be on the exam.”

Pinker adds: “I don’t take it personally; it’s common knowledge that Harvard students stay away from lectures in droves.”

Such apathy is the norm. According to data cited by Caplan, 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 Caplan cites.

Caplan’s subtitle promises to explain “why the education system is a waste of time and money.” He 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.” 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.

Read more: City Journal

Image credit: