Section: News

On the Record: Dr. Bryan Caplan author and Professor

On the Record: Dr. Bryan Caplan author and Professor

by Mary Sawyer

As someone who possesses a Ph.D himself, Dr. Bryan Caplan is an odd spokesman for the case against education. An expert in the field of public choice, where economics and political science meet, Caplan argues that the current American institution of education is superfluous and irrelevant to the realities of the job market

His next book, The Case Against Education, will be published in 2017. Caplan, a professor of economics and political science at George Mason University, will speak today at 11:10 a.m. in Olin Library.

What is your case against education?

Education pays [because] you’re showing off, and when government encourages education it doesn’t mean that everyone can get a better job, it just mainly means that you need to get more education in order to be considered. It’s really a treadmill. It’s futile, and it would be better if government did a lot less to encourage education and people got less and started their lives earlier. As an economist I focus more on the economic part, saying that education is a good way for an individual to get ahead in life, but it’s not a good way for society to get ahead. Then I also talk about, ‘Well, what about in terms of enriching your life?’ For that I say, you don’t have to go to college to enrich your life, especially with the Internet and online learning. If you’re just curious and want to expand your mind, you can do it in your spare time for free. So really, economically, education is counterproductive. It just encourages people to spend more time hiding from life instead of actually learning how to do a job.

What do you hope to achieve in talking to Kenyon students or students in general? How do you hope to affect the way they see education or the way they discuss it?

Either I will change their minds or they will change mine. Since I’ve thought about it for a long time I think it’s more likely that I will change their minds. I have put a lot of work into this and I think I’ve got a compelling case. A big part is that I want to convince people that this is the way things really work. Education tends to go down one of two paths: one is people say what you learn in school you don’t need to know in the real life; so, there’s no point in going to school. The other view is that you do need education to do well in real life; so, what you learn in school must be useful.  I’m saying something that’s different from either of these. I’m saying [that] what you learn in school is really not very useful for what you learn in [a] job, but you still have to learn it and you still have to pass these classes if you want to get a job. So I hope to get that message through [to] students. Of course I’d like to make learning interesting so I try to make it fun for people. Honestly, in my own mind I like to remember whether people were laughing when I was talking or not.

What is the point of going to college? How do you keep people inspired by this idea of a good education?

Nothing that I’ve said contradicts the claim that going to college is important for getting a job, and in fact that’s exactly what I think. In our society, you need to get a degree in order to get most good jobs. There are some jobs that require less education that are well-paid; plumber, electrician, [etc]. Still, if you [receive] more education, then you make more money. In terms of the inspiration, the vague, honest truth is [that] very few students are inspired because most college students find school incredibly boring. I do try to inspire my students; I try to make it fun for them. A lot of what I do is try to think more about, ‘Is this an interesting and important topic for students to hear and learn about?’ If [the answer] is yes then I try to teach it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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