Saturday 27 April 2013

What is education? There is no such thing.


People don't have anything sensible and coherent to say on the nature of education - education is treated as a vaguely-defined black box, so, as the bottom line - people talk a lot about the supposed effect of this thing called education.

The effect, for example and in particular, of attending college upon earnings


People gather data, study correlations... (an awful lot of this goes on)

And, at the end of the day, people claim that being signed-up at a place called a university for three or four years enhances a person's lifetime earnings (and their economic value).

And the effect of college on earnings is assumed to have remained qualitatively the same as the proportion of people that attend college has risen from five to around fifty percent. 


All this is vastly implausible, and completely unproven, and indeed massively contradicted.


Typical analysis of college and earnings does not even attempt to control for even simple and easily measured confounders - such as IQ and personality.

In particular, analysis does not take account of the fact that controlling for IQ and conscientiousness would very probably (if such quick, simple, and cheap studies were done, which they aren't) eliminate the generic measurable effect of formal education


(You will note from the above link that I was myself one of these ignorant, incompetent educationalists who failed to take account of intelligence and personality. When I had qualms about this failure even to attempt to use obvious input controls in outcome studies, I was reassured that nobody else used IQ and personality controls, and they were taken seriously, so the failure couldn't really be a problem.)


When controlled for the 'inputs' of intelligence and personality, it is very probable that in modern mass education systems - i.e. being signed-up at a place called a university for three or four years and acquiring a thing called a degree - will, on average, significantly reduce lifetime earnings, develop bad habits (e.g. idleness, irregular hours, a victim mentality, excessive drinking, promiscuous sex), diminish lifetime well-being and destroy devout religiousness (with all the manifold consequences that entails).

In other words, once you have eliminated the students doing elite vocational professional degrees such as medicine (and even this average effect will disappear as these professions have become less and less elite), college would very probably be found to do considerably more harm than good to individual earnings and to damage the national economy.


(In economic terms, on average, college is a luxury good, and not an investment - it consumes resources but does not tend to produce more resources. This is, or ought to be, very obvious from the history of education - economic growth preceded the expansion of educational provision and participation, educational growth followed economic growth - as would be expected for a luxury consumption item; and not the other way around, as would be expected if education was driving economic growth.)


The false analysis of education and its outcomes has arisen because education is undefined - a black box term. 

Analyses of the effects of education ignore, yes they do, things like:

1. whether the person actually attends college (as contrasted with sleeping late, working in a bar and going to parties)

2. how many hours he attends college

3. whether he is taught in a class of two or two hundred

4. whether he studies anything potentially valuable

5. whether what he studies is true, and

6. whether the place called a university is even trying to educate students (e.g. is the bottom-line curriculum a product of professional bodies, research faculty, scholars, or administrators).


Because such factors are neglected in considering education, we get a situation when people simply signs-onto the books of a college, and where the college simply lays on some random cluster of modules which they claim are relevant in some way - and play around with experiments in 'delivering' these modules... and everybody imagines that somehow, something (which we can't define) called education must necessarily be going on; and everybody is terribly surprised, offended or angry when the people who have been through this 'process' seem not only to have gained nothing by it (or where the gains are tiny compared with the large and obvious losses) but are seemingly made worse in their general habits and exhibit a decline in observable useful skills.

To notice such things, to talk of such things, is regarded in elite circles as being anti-enlightenment, to be oneself ignorant and in favour of ignorance, to be - in fact - an evil person.

To be against ever-more years of 'education' for ever-more people, as education actually is and is becoming ever more; to challenge the value of that black box, to point-out that although the name remains the same the content of the black box is utterly different and still changing fast... well this kind of stuff is beyond the pale of respectable opinion: crazy talk.  


Since there is no modern definition of education, the concept - the word - serves as a black box to obscure that:

1. we do not know what is going-on - if anything - in modern schools and colleges, nor do we know whether it is good or bad.

2. we do not even care what is going on - if anything - in modern schools and colleges, nor do we know whether it is good or bad.

3. Nonetheless we assume that something terribly important is going on - important for individuals and for society, important enough that we (as a society, as individuals) make vast sacrifices to make sure that ever-more of it goes on for ever-more people.


Education is - or has become - an utterly bogus discourse about abstract and undefined masses; systematically ignoring what could, potentially, be understood about education at the level of individuals and their experience - their culture, skills, habits.

From that perspective it is crystal clear than many, most, indeed the large majority of individuals deteriorate in college, are damaged and corrupted by college.

They don't learn much stuff, much of the stuff is irrelevant (and not even trying to be relevant) and even more of it is false (isn't even trying to be true); they learn no skills (skills absolutely require multiple repetitions and drill - and modern teaching eschews these and it is anyway impossible in many mass educational systems); education has instead become, in general, a training to ignore common sense and experience, and for people instead to orientate their lives around the whims and fashions of elite opinion.


That which is officially designated as 'Education' - that black box - is always regarded as being on the side of the angels, always given the benefit of the doubt, always assumed (until conclusively proven otherwise) to be useful, beneficial, enhancing - if not for obvious and measurable reasons then by invisible and magically covert methods.

And on the basis of this faith in this abstract magical entity, without asking for proof, without testing for validity, without even raising the question - millions of man-years of human life are de facto confiscated and dissipated, millions of man-years of potentially useful economic activity are abolished.


Education can be a valid thing - my medical education certainly was.

But just because something is called education does not make it valid - the assumption should be that calling something education means precisely nothing.

In fact, we are forced to conclude that there is no such thing as education.

In other words, the term 'education' - in its generic sense, in the sense that it is used to refer to a multiplicity of subject matter taught, or not taught, in a multiplicity of places and using a multiplicity of methods; and with a multiplicity of purposes - or no discern able purpose at all; and evaluated and measured in a multiplicity of ways (many wide-open to dishonesty and cheating)...

This thing has no useful meaning, but instead is a weasel word, a hooray-word, an intrinsically deceptive and manipulative concept; it is corrupt and un-refomable, it is unnecessary for any good purpose.


Forget it. Let's stop yammering-on about 'education' as a general thing, supposed to encompass the incommensurable.

Let's be specific. 


Much adapted and edited from part of:


Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Very good article.
Does the phrase Let's be specific mean that you are going to expand on the subject?

I came to think education is something that seeps through the example and words of our forebears through parents and teachers and those we consider as elites, the same as culture, I believe. Thus the problem came with cultural revolutions putting in authority teachers of false things in almost every department of life.

Imnobody said...

Off-topic but I think you will find interesting

Karl said...

Employers in the U.S.A. are as good as forbidden, under the legal doctrine of disparate impact, from administering tests of intelligence or skill to job applicants. The college diploma still requires some unknown but nonzero level of intelligence and conscientiousness, and it is probably the clearest such signal that employers are legally permitted to take into account.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - I was not sufficiently clear - by being more specific I meant that all the things currently embraced by the term education should be broken down into more specific components.

In fact, the concept of 'education' in the West is being asked to do work which is properly the job of Christianity - but since Christianity has been first abandoned then actively rejected, 'education' has become colonized by our modern Western religion - which is Leftism.

So it seems that 'education' is intrinsically part of religion, not separable from it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl - Yes, meritocracy was, it seems, a brief historical blip - now long gone.

It seems people don't want it. The main selective test for most people most of the time is 1. religious/ ideological, 2. minimal competence.

Given that meritocracy is unwanted hence impossible; our big problem as a society is not that we insist on an ideology, but that that we insist on an ideology which is evil.