All posts filed under: Education

Bryan Caplan’s ‘The Case Against Education’ — A Review

A review of The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. Princeton University Press (January 2018) 416 pages.  Almost no issue unifies commentators across the political spectrum as support for education, though their motivations strongly differ. For the left, affordable education is a great leveler for disadvantaged groups and also a force for cosmopolitanism. For the right, it represents an equality of opportunity that can substitute for a generous welfare state. But almost everyone seems to believe that more people with high-quality education means better and more productive workers.  Among the exceptions are a minority of economists studying education. Beginning with Nobel Prize winners Kenneth Arrow and Michael Spence in the 1970s, these economists proposed that people with more years of education earn more not merely because of the skills and knowledge they accumulated during their time in school (“human capital”) but largely as a function of the information their degree signals to employers. The Case Against Education  by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan is the most thorough …

Silence Around Test Scores Serves the Privileged

Right-wing podcaster Stefan Molyneux recently advised his teenage fans that they should append their IQ scores to job applications. This idea was widely and deservedly ridiculed on Twitter. It’s a serious faux pas to include test scores of any kind — IQ especially, but also SAT or graduate admissions tests like LSAT, MCAT or GMAT — on a resume.  Including test scores will cause many employers to draw negative assumptions about an applicant, and thus reduce the applicant’s chances of being hired, regardless of how good the scores are. But why is there such a taboo against sharing scores, that including them on a resume would cause an employer to draw negative inferences about an applicant’s character? Why is it considered extreme and risible to suggest that a job candidate with a high IQ or a high SAT score should treat that as a qualification? And who benefits from this norm of keeping this data secret? Proxies for aptitude While it is bad advice for a job applicant to share test scores with an employer, nearly every …

Postmodern Theory Returns to Continental Europe

The infusion of much of the social science and humanities scholarship in the Anglosphere by egalitarian social justice concerns is a much-discussed phenomenon. Less often noticed is an important distinction between overtly activist disciplines such as gender and postcolonial studies, on the one hand, and disciplines that are not intrinsically militant such as education, sociology, and literature, on the other, where intellectual uniformity has nevertheless allowed for the construction of an increasingly biased, insular, and empirically dubious body of scholarship. This scholarship draws heavily from the ideas of French poststructuralism and ‘continental’ European philosophy more broadly. However, it has gained a larger influence in the United States and other anglophone countries than on the continent. It has been hypothesised that this success has been due to the unique political context of post-war America, or that the then-new poststructuralist framework developed by a handful of French writers faced much less competition because Marxism was less entrenched in American academia than in Europe. Faculty in continental Europe already overwhelming lean left in the social sciences and humanities, …

A Liberal’s Case for Conservatives in History Departments

I am a liberal historian, and in my four years as a Ph.D student in history, I have found that my conversations with conservative peers have often been most productive in challenging my biases. This benefit may be rare within the discipline. According to research cited in Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn’s book Passing on the Right, only around 4-8 percent of professional historians are registered Republicans.1 This experience suggests that the liberal-to-leftist makeup of the discipline significantly influences the questions historians ask, the answers that we privilege, and the ways we teach and engage with the public. We devote our lives to certain subjects largely because we believe they have great moral weight and relevance, but we often overlook how our political tilt shapes what we see as important. We also possess the human tendency to gravitate toward answers that fit our preconceptions. These observations raise an important question: What does the discipline of history miss by not having conservative historians in the room? To explore this question, I conducted interviews with eight conservative …

‘Indigenous Ways of Knowing’: Magical Thinking and Spirituality by Any One Name

At a conference in British Columbia this month, a self-described “Indigeneer”—the word being a portmanteau of “Indigenous” and “engineer”—described the ways in which traditional Indigenous knowledge could be productively injected into contemporary science curricula. “All too often, Western science will make a so-called discovery after years of research really confirming what elders have been telling us for decades, for tens of thousands of years in some cases,” one of the conference hosts told the CBC. “The idea of bringing traditional ways of knowing together with empirical data and science is important.” Such conferences are part of a larger trend in Canada. From the University of Calgary to The University of Saskatchewan to Acadia University in New Brunswick, Canadian deans are pledging to infuse their curricula with a doctrine often described as “Indigenous Ways of Knowing” (IWK), which teaches that Indigenous peoples arrive at their understanding of the world in a unique way. The idea has been around in some form for many years. In a research paper prepared for the Canadian government in 2002, for instance, …

Postmodernism and the Decline of the Liberal Arts

The ‘liberal arts’ were so named for their orientation towards free thought, and the foundational claim that they existed to enrich the lives of free people. They are, in other words, dependent on the open-mindedness of individuals wishing to develop their knowledge and understanding by exploring thousands of years of history and literature produced by human civilisation. Despite this, universities in recent years have seen a rapid decline in the reputation and value of liberal arts degrees. Whereas once an education in literature and philosophy was highly revered in academia, setting the world at its students’ feet, today a liberal arts education is widely regarded as a useless endeavour for aimless students, which offers no clear path for the future. This development can, in large part, be laid at the feet of the ever-increasing influence of postmodernism, a superficially attractive philosophy often used to promulgate political and cultural ideas. Courses that have embraced a postmodern viewpoint tend to harshly ostracise any conflicting perspective, thereby eroding the intellectual freedom upon which the liberal arts had hitherto …

The Student’s Dilemma: Conformity or Education

Every year on university campuses across the country, students like me navigate a variety of disciplines in pursuit of numbers that will open the door to our career of choice. Whether we yearn for a high grade point average (GPA), a high grad school test score, or a high paying job, numbers are what matter to those of us who see university as an important gateway to future happiness and prosperity. However, in certain disciplines, it can be difficult to reconcile this aspect of the student experience with the freedom to pursue our studies in a spirit of open and disinterested inquiry. In the liberal arts programs in particular, activism and ambition can conflict so that students must choose between writing what they think and getting the grades they want and need. Of course, this ought to be a false dilemma. That it exists at all raises troubling questions about academic liberty—a cornerstone of any educational institution—and what a university education is actually for. Although most schools continue to affirm free inquiry as central to …

Is There Room in Diversity For White People?

It’s tempting to snicker at snowflake culture, with its noisy campus gauntlet of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and in-your-face privilege-checking—but transpiring quietly off-stage at academia’s administrative levels is a far more sinister phenomenon undertaken in the name of one of society’s more theoretically desirable goals: diversity. Here a disclaimer seems in order. Regardless of political affiliation, fair-minded observers will concede that educational facilities for minorities have remained decidedly separate, and in no way equal, in the several generations since 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education. Such inequities naturally show up in college enrollment and performance: minority students who are products of inferior grade-school systems find it harder to negotiate the realm of higher education, in terms of both gaining entry and keeping up once they’re there. Accordingly, colleges have implemented various programs and protocols designed to boost campus diversity and help at-risk students feel more at home. Now, reasonable people can differ about whether academia, as the ancestral home of white guilt, has been overzealous at micromanaging outcomes. Significant race-based preferences remain widespread, and lawsuits continue to be filed …

The Illiberal Logic of Intersectionality

A spate of articles about intersectionality have been published recently—two at Heterodox Academy from Ian Storey and Chris Martin and another at the Atlantic from Conor Friedersdorf. These three authors seek to challenge what appears to be a reflexive hostility among conservative and centrist thinkers to the ideas of intersectional theory. Broadly speaking, they all agree that intersectional principles do not necessarily pose a threat to the free speech and that intersectionality is a useful conceptual framework, as it allows us to better understand the unique set of problems faced by people with intersecting identities (e.g. black women, gay Hispanic men). Storey and Friedersdorf, moreover, argue that the fact that campus activists have used intersectionality to suppress speech proves only that the tactics of the social justice movement can be illiberal, but not that the theory is itself at fault for illiberal activist conduct. Thought-provoking and insightful though their essays were, the claim that intersectionality can be fully separated from radicalism and opposition to free speech remains unconvincing. That is not to say that all …

The Commodification of Learning and the Decline of the Humanities

In “The Dying Art of Disagreement,” published in The New York Times last Autumn, Bret Stephens discusses our failure to have reasoned discussions, stating: “We no longer just have our own opinions. We also have our separate ‘facts,’ often the result of what different media outlets consider newsworthy.” Stephens elaborates on the ways in which the polarisation of opinion has become personal, to the extent that facts remain up for debate, weighed against feelings he claims are “purchased at the cost of permanent infantilization.” He implores his readers to embrace an education model that does not seek fixed answers but instead opens up texts and ideas to interrogation. Many of us in academia have struggled with this very problem—how are we to revive a spirit of inquiry in the classroom during an era of great pressure to conform to fashionable theoretical trends and hip analyses? One interesting facet of Stephens’s text is that he calls up the 1987 Allan Bloom best-seller, The Closing of the American Mind.  Yet, Stephens has reframed the prevailing and more …