Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What's Wrong with Conventional Mode of Education?

David Friedman wrote:

"One of the assumptions built into the conventional version of K-12 schooling, private and public, is that there is some subset of human knowledge, large enough to occupy most of twelve years of school, that everyone needs to know. That assumption is false. There is a very short list of skills–reading, writing or typing, and simple arithmetic are the only ones that occur to me–that almost everyone will find worth learning. Beyond that, education involves learning things, but not any particular things. The standard curriculum is for the most part an arbitrary list of what happens to be in fashion–the subjects everyone is required to pretend to learn."

"One observed result is that most children regard education as unpleasant work, to be avoided when possible. Another is that schools spend six years teaching things–arithmetic, say–that the average kid could learn in a year or two. If he wanted to. A third is that we end up with high school graduates many, perhaps a majority, of whom do not actually know many of the things they have spent all those years pretending to learn."

Read the post here.

In public school, the educational bureaucracy imposes the curriculum from above. Hence, the choice of curriculum is made to fit the interests of the bureaucrats rather than the needs of the students. So while the curriculum may make little sense to the students and their parents, hence abitrary as Dave said, it has an internal logic of its own if one looks at the curriculum from the perspective of the bureaucrats.

What about private schools or schools funded through a voucher system, does Dave's comment apply with equal force? What if the whole point of going to school is not to learn something useful, as Dave seems to think it should, but is simply a way of sending a signal.

Incidentally, there is a debate going on at Econlog on whether education is simply a signal, read the relevant post here.

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