Crossposted on the EA Forum.
Education is a peculiar good. The usual model of private education is that the students are the consumers, the professors are the employees, and the lectures are the product. Students pay to receive the education they want. In reality, students pay more for the degree than the education. But let’s assume for now that education is all about increasing human capital, rather than being mostly about signaling. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that I’m talking about an education start-up that doesn’t grant any kind of degree or certification, and is solely focused on the students’ learning.
Then, the model describing students as the consumer is still missing something important. The problem is that modeling students as simple homo economicus agents is not perfect. As the field of behavioral economics has extensively documented, humans aren’t perfectly rational, self-interested, utility-maximizing agents. And education seems to be one of the fields where the homo economicus model is most misleading.
In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari writes:
From Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society:
I’ve been reading some more Mancur Olson. This is from a 1996 paper titled Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations are Rich, and Others Poor.
From Mancur Olson’s The Rise and Decline of Nations:
The single best policy to combat climate change is an internationally enforced carbon tax. There is pretty much a consensus on this among economists. But despite the fact that the experts agree, and that the issue of climate change is of great public interest, there seems to be almost no discussion of this policy in mainstream circles. William Nordhaus, winner of the 2018 economics Nobel prize, is finally writing about his “climate club” proposal, for this year’s May/June issue of Foreign Affairs. All I could find before that, outside of academic publications, was a post by Matthew Yglesias on Vox:
The SAT and rival ACT, the nation’s most important college entrance exams, are taking steps to offer their tests online and at students’ homes later this year in an unprecedented move that will require massive amounts of digital proctoring to prevent cheating, officials announced Wednesday.
Emergency backup plans are being developed by both influential testing organizations if schools remain closed in the fall, preventing the usual in-school testing.
If the coronavirus crisis persists, the College Board, the organization that sponsors the SAT, said it is preparing for an online, at-home offering of the exam that would implement technology that monitors movement and sound of possible cheating activities and also locks down access to other sites on the Internet during testing. Such online SAT exams previously have been used at some school districts and wider versions are already being tested.
“While the idea of at-home SAT testing is new, digital delivery of the test is not,” College Board CEO David Coleman said in a statement
What’s Worth Knowing?
In The Trouble With Harvard, Steven Pinker has some thoughts on what an education should entail:
I currently have a piece in the pipeline that follows up on my previous post. In it I offer a vision of what higher education could be like, I describe what I have been doing since dropping out of college, and I announce a project that would put my ideas into practice. However, the coronavirus situation has put my plans on hold for now. So you will probably get to read that piece once the circumstances are more auspicious to a project that involves getting people physically together.
Though I might still reconsider, and post it before any of my ideas can feasably, or advisably, be put into practice. If there is anyone out there who is particularly curious about what I’ve been up to, or what I’m planning, you can DM me on Twitter, and I’ll share my draft with you.
Me reading The End of Education, by Neil Postman, was a bit of an accident. It was published in 1996 and its main topic is public education, K-12 specifically. So even though the topic of education does interest me a great deal, I don’t think I would have picked it up weren’t it for the fact that I stumbled on it on my mother’s bookshelf, and that the title seemed intriguing.
I – Dropping out of high school
At some point in middle school I started to want to graduate from high school early. I didn’t enjoy school. Most subjects were boring. Lectures were uninspiring and exams stressful. But it was the subjects I enjoyed the most that were the worst. I wanted to become a physicist. And so I liked to read ahead in the math and physics textbooks. But then the lectures became even more boring since they didn’t teach me anything new. And if I made it known that I already knew the material taught, I was usually just told to stay quiet and probably seen as smug by the rest of the class. And so I spent the vast majority of class time sleeping or doodling in the back of the class.
Take a group of 20 college students taking a four credit introductory physics class. Let’s assume they pay the average tuition at a non-profit college of $34,740 in 2017, and each student takes 16 credits per semester. This would mean that each student is paying $4,342.5 for this class, and the total cost of the class is $86,850¹.
During the summer, my father asked me whether the money he’d spent to finance my first few years at Fordham University in New York City, one of the more expensive private colleges in the United States, had been well spent. I said yes, which was a lie.
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