Bryan Caplan continues his argument against, well …, education (at least as we traditionally think if it):
Unless I misunderstand her, Ravitch draws a radically different conclusion. To her, a dynamic economy somehow argues for a traditional academic education focused on literature, history, science, and foreign languages. What a non sequitur. Yes, it’s hard to figure out which occupation students will have in the future. How is that a reason to prepare students for occupations they almost certainly won’t have? The economy is changing in countless ways, but it would be amazing if literature or history saw major job growth. It’s easier to imagine job growth in science and (living) foreign languages. But is the labor market really likely to reward the degree of scientific or linguistic competence the typical student can realistically attain? A B+ in high school science or foreign language* doesn’t open occupational doors for you today, and probably won’t in the future, either.
I think Bryan is too strong here. It isn’t that obtaining a traditional education in which one studies history or literature or even the sciences will directly get you a job in one of those fields. It is that a certain course of liberal arts education develops the way you think and the way you can conceive of the world such that one is well-prepared for a host of different jobs. And that includes doing more than just taking a wide-variety of classes. It means immersing oneself in the study of a particular discipline at the same time as you surround that intensive study with some connected breadth. Indeed, with a rapidly changing economy, that type of education will be even more valuable given that it rewards a critical and flexible mind rather than one that sees the world through a specifically trained lens.
And no, I don’t outright reject the signaling model of education. Indeed, the right model of the value of education would include many factors besides what one studies. And I accept the possibility I think this way to avoid cognitive dissonance!