The Case Against Education

Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money
Narrated by: Allan Robertson
Length: 11 hrs
Categories: Money & Finance, Economics
4.5 out of 5 stars (426 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education

Despite being immensely popular - and immensely lucrative - education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students' skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity - in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee.

Learn why students hunt for easy A's and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy.

Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society's top conformity signal and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers.

Romantic notions about education being "good for the soul" must yield to careful research and common sense - The Case Against Education points the way.

Cover design by Leslie Flis.

©2018 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Audible, Inc.
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Finally, someone says what needs to be said about education

I’ll be upfront about my bias before getting into the review. I already was a disgruntled college graduate and soon-to-be graduate school graduate. I majored in Neuroscience at UCLA and looking back years later, I remember maybe about 5% of what I learned. Moreover, the idea that I had to pay thousands of dollars so some administrators could tell me what classes had to take and then grade me on some exams that were just memorization strikes me as one of the most perverse transactions in the free market.

The online courses rectify much of this. I can pay for education that I want or need and I can demonstrate my understanding or skill acquisition on my terms. It’s a fair transaction.

Unfortunately, hardly any company will take a Coursera “degree” or the like seriously because of the signaling Model that this wonderful book articulates so well. The idea is that while I may be able to find alternative sources of education that may provide a far superior skill learning experience, it doesn’t matter to the labor market. The labor market cares more about the trifecta of your intelligence, work-ethic, and conformity than it does mastery of skills. College is great at certifying this trifecta and that’s largely why college degrees pay; it merely signals the quality of the job candidate.

This book not only describes this signaling Model but proposes some ostensibly draconian maneuvers to counter act the status quo: namely stop government funding of education. We always here cries that education is becoming too expensive and out of reach for poor students, but Caplan wants to drive up the costs even more. The hope is that a high cost college degree will only attract those who will actually benefit from it (without signaling) and hence credentials will become less important for securing a job that otherwise doesn’t need one. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds, although I don’t think it’s the most important contribution of the book. Anyone can get a world class education online these days for free. What’s all the fuss about high cost of college then? Because we all deep inside know it’s not just about “education,” it’s about the diploma you get at the end certifying you went through a bunch of hoops and are a high quality job candidate.

While the proposal of defunding education is almost surely dead on arrival given the political system, a broader awareness and acceptance of signaling in education would hopefully make people think twice about majoring in Scandinavian Studies or perhaps even going to college. Indeed, one of the most important takeaways is that if college is acting as a signal of quality to potential employers, there may be other less costly (in both time and money) ways to signal the same thing. But it remains to be seen how well other signaling packages might scale to the whole country.

In any case, the book was eye opening and a breath of fresh air. I surely hope we see some true education reform in the direction of less credentialism and focus on a fair transaction between the student and educator.

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A radical but important read

Caplan's argument, although seemingly radical, needs to at least be heard and I'm sure even his most aggresive critics would give many of his points credit. Many highschool students would do well to hear him out, if only for the benefit of being able to understand and view the labor market more correctly through the eyes of the employer. My only complaint is his penultimate chapter. While a pretend debate with caricatures of his opponents is a creative way to summarize, it does seem to comes off as pretentous. Overall a great and important read and I thank Caplan for "whistle-blowing" his own industry.

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This book will change your opinions on Education

Like the author, I have always felt that my schooling had a lot of unnecessary aspects that felt like a waste of time and money. He very clearly demonstrates exactly why so many of us feel failed by our 13-20 years of time spent learning things we knew we would never actually need to know.

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Longwinded, possibly worth skimming

The author has identified the problem: our education system, grades K through college, costs too much and often doesn't train students for jobs. Unfortunately, he poses no reasonable solutions but rather laments the fact that no one is listening to him. The statistics quoted are many, but seem too disjoint to be useful. The author talks about the problem of kids being bored in school, but that's exactly how I felt listening to sections of this book (so I skipped a few sections). He does understand that our education system needs to be changed and presents are some ideas that will resonate with most readers but the book, as a whole, is uninspiring.

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Sadly, this book tells us what we already knew or at least suspected.

True insight into the education I received starting in 1949. I was a very good student squandered on things I have never used subsequently. I have family that have used home schooling with great success. Now they are starting internet college classes and are doing very well.

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very informative

this was a very informative book to gives you a different perspective on education I enjoyed it gives me a lot to think about especially since I have two teenage kids

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The Education System is a waste

Do we really need to spend all these years in different school levels and college to get jobs?

Mr. Caplan proves in this book that the answer is no. In reality, degrees provide signals to employers of certain skills such as hard work and conformity. Most of nontechnical degrees give people knowledge they will quickly forget and and none of this knowledge is translated to actual job skills. Employers look for college graduates because in a world where everyone thinks that college is important, those who drop out send clear negative signals.

Mr. Caplan uses research and surveys from different fields to come to his conclusions. Its an interesting read that I hope will make us question the resources we waste on college education in its current form and the years of production we lose by keeping young people in schools for increasing number of years instead of letting them join the work force and actual contribute to the economy.

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  • Ed
  • 11-16-18

Worth Reading if you’re interested in changing the education system

The book was very well researched and strongly defended against possible criticisms of Caplan’s arguments. Many key opposing viewpoints to Caplan’s arguments were discussed and well debated over. Frankly, the book deserves to be taken seriously as it strongly challenges the popular support for a flawed system of education.

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another thought-provoking book by Bryan Caplan.

As one of the overeducated elite described in Brypan Caplan book I found itvery thought-provoking. He goes through some very detailed explanations as to what is happening with our education system as well as a thorough analysis of what is wrong with it. you may not reach the same conclusions that he reaches ( the government spending should be cut to the bone) but it's hard to argue with his main point that we spend too much on education and most of it is wasteful.

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Excellent. Worth a listen - especially today.

I found this to be a compelling case against the current system of government education in the United States.The author certainly presented his argument well and supported his points. He did tire me a bit about signalling - but it's a major problem and central to much of the argument being made.

Educators and those interested in discussions of the problems in the system will likely find food for thought here.

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  • Davide V.
  • 10-10-19

A thought provoking tour de force

If education interests you and you like debating, this book is for you. It dares going in really tricky territory and brings forward many interesting arguments.
Having said that, the book's weakest spot is that it seems to be in love with its own contrarian nature (for instance the part on policy reform feels simplistic, adds little to the book and alienates the readership - it could have been expressed differently), which makes it more difficult to gloss over the various flaws in the arguments. Anyway when a book inspires you to sit down and write your own thoughts on a complex topic, as this one did for me, I think it's ultimately worth recommending.

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  • Luca Nicotra
  • 12-07-19

How good is the return on investment on education?

A host of persuasive arguments backed up by in-depth research. Very valuable to anyone interested in education.

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  • Tony
  • 06-22-19

Dr Caplan does his iconoclastic thing

Brian Caplan has a talent for finding sacred cows to slay. He backs his claims up with data, in a way that should be much more common. One criticism is that he assumes more markets operate like perfect competition than do in reality.

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  • Montberte
  • 04-27-19

Fascinating viewpoint

Whilst I do not agree with all of this book it is a fascinating read and challenges many preconceived perceptions on the "value" of education to both individuals and society. In my opinion we certainly need to review the "Human Capital" worth of the content of our educational courses as much of it is no longer fit for purpose UNLESS we are only looking at what the writer calls signalling. Where I disagree is the worth of arts and creativity education although I do agree that much of the contents of existing curricula in these areas is only of a signalling value. This does not, however, devalue the potential for these courses in a changing world re their potential to deliver some of the current skills gap requirements......

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  • Mr. D. Whittaker
  • 08-10-18

Very thought provoking and persuasively argued.

While I don't agree with all Caplan says - he presents a very utilitarian, functionalist view of education that almost exclusively foregrounds economics and business - his arguments are well made and starkly worrying. Great food for thought and performed well by the narrator.

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  • jonathan
  • 07-25-18

Radically changed the way I think about education

The performance is very good and the content is extremely interesting, well researched and thought-provoking.

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  • andrew
  • 07-02-19

Read the title

As the author himself states this is the case against education, its biased in a way to make education look like a bad investment. It should be taken with more diverse views and the case for education is easy to come by as its fairly popular to support more education.

I agree with some of the points in this book and think that many governments should rethink the way they structure and fund education, but I wouldn't say that the education system is a complete waste of time and money.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-18-19

terrible book

this book is absolutely useless. a psychologist can do an IQ test on you that tells you your strengths and weaknesses. everything in this book is garbage.

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  • Ben Preston
  • 10-22-18

Interesting and engaging

A very thought provoking book. I'm not convinced that the signaling effect is as large as Caplan estimates but it is clear that there is a signalling effect. I would love to see sone international comparisons.

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  • terry
  • 08-16-18

Massive Libertarian bias

The narrator was great.

The book, however, was a tale of two halves. Brian begins with making a compelling case I favour of his main thesis that education is 80% signalling for the labour market and 20% building of human capital. If he had stopped there this could have been a good book. I was largely convinced of his signalling arguments.

However, the book takes a sharp turn into the fictional fairytale world of Libertarianism once he begins making conclusions and presenting his arguments for solutions. Brian makes large leaps of logic defying assumptions to tie the facts presented in the 1st two-thirds of the book with the conclusions he draws in the final third.

He frequently takes the line that his Libertarian beliefs are a given and never provides any evidence to back them up.

If you are a Libertarian then perhaps this book will provide further support for your hopelessly naive beliefs.

If you are not Libertarian, however, then the signalling portion of the book is a worthwhile read. The rest, though, is nonsense.