"The Case Against Education" by Bryan Caplan

Review by Borodutch

I'm a bit upset that I have only come across this book now. The author lays out the case against education so well — partially because he is a part of academia. Not needing a degree has been my philosophy for a very long time. The points Bryan raises are almost taken from my lengthy debates about whether I need to finish university.

Spoiler alert: our educational system is broken — and the author is trying to show precisely how wrong the majority is and how to fix it. Have you ever wondered why recent graduates must learn a new set of skills after university? That's because universities don't teach enough practical skills for the workplace. Sure, within 4-6 years, some practical courses accidentally get taught by bright teachers — but do we need to spend so much time learning so little?

My personal story with the university ended when we spent two semesters learning 4-5 design patterns as a part of software engineering courses. Two whole semesters! Do you know what I did before I got to my very first job interview? I learnt 30+ design patterns in a day by simply sifting through Wikipedia. That day I decided to drop out.

The author goes into a broader population analysis, not basing the book on anecdotal evidence. Here are the three main ideas:

  1. Universities teach few practical skills
  2. A degree is "signalling" to employers that you are "better" — but only on paper; education doesn't make anyone more diligent.
  3. If we want to fix education, we must first fix the employers

One of the excellent pieces of knowledge I also picked up from this book was why we use college degrees instead of IQ tests to gauge potential hires. It turns out IQ test results are racist (in addition to being utterly wrong)! Minorities score less — but primarily not due to being less intelligent. Insane!

College degrees can act as proxies for IQ tests — hence, employers use them instead. A pretty expensive and time-consuming ordeal, I'd say! Not to mention that this type of proxy probably suffers from all the same issues as IQ tests. It is more socially acceptable due to the extra degree of separation.

The author suggests cutting the education subsidies, removing the impractical compulsory courses unnecessary for a profession, and desaturating the education market. This proposal does make sense from the perspective of the United States — but falls short when looking at other countries.

How about making education more similar to the one in nordic countries? You know, stopping students from being constantly stressed and bored — and finally start living their lives as happy members of the society we live in!

I'd recommend this book basically to everyone I meet. This manuscript is one of those controversial takes that goes against the mainstream but is true from cover to cover. Yes, most people do get education wrong!