Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Only in America would serious people even wonder about whether there is too much learning going on. Luckily, most panelists on the New York Times responded in the negative, and a few did point out that the question itself was stupid (in gentler words, of course.) But the fact that this question even appears on the New York Times is itself a troubling sign.


  1. Very troubling, I myself am in high school, and even I don't think we put nearly enough emphasis on education. Some many kids blow off school all the time, and end up badly. Heck, I've had quite a few teachers that will spend nearly half the class talking to us about their weekend, and joking around. That after we're done with class, we are so far behind, and I have barely any idea what I was supposed to learn. :/
    I completely agree with everything the Korean said in this post.

  2. To be fair, the question was not whether there is "too much learning" going on; it's whether the current American collegiate system is too expensive. That calculation involves both the price, which is rapidly increasing, and how much learning is actually going on, which many people argue is not enough. I do agree that there are lots of reforms that should be made, especially on the K-12 level, that would improve both learning and reduce costs.

    Also, you have to realize that the NYT is asking this question because this is the United States, a country with a long tradition of anti-intellectualism. For many people, school is frivolous simply because it's not work. I read personal finance blogs, and there are many parents who could afford to help their kids with college but won't because they seriously believe that their kids ought to work 30+ hours a week to "pay for school" while taking a full course load. Some of these people insist they did that themselves- I'd like to see their GPAs or their majors, because, honestly, most people couldn't do that without skimping on either their job duties or their schoolwork. The NYTimes is merely asking experts to answer a question that many American parents have.

    To tell the truth, the average American kid, who has not been taught to study hard, will have a hard time in a collegiate academic program of reasonable difficulty. It's simply true that a lot of students flounder, especially freshman year, and either drop out or wander around aimlessly for a long time before deciding to take the easiest courses available. That doesn't do anyone any good: not the kid, who has to pay back major loans; not the college, whose professors just get more and more bitter about the quality of the students; and not society, which subsidizes this worthless education and is deprived of a tax-paying worker for those years. It would be much better to either train students when they'll much younger in the life of the mind so that they're ready for college OR make it more socially acceptable for people to attend college later in life, when they're ready to settle down and be serious.

  3. Are we learning too much? When I clicked the link, I was expecting the worst, ready to be truly horrified. I expected to see a debate about possibly dumbing down the standards of public schools.

    Are we spending too much on higher education in the USA? There's a question worth debating.

  4. The reported question is "Is there too much learning going on?" This question does not look stupid to me because most people (in the USA but in a lot of other countries too) are overqualified. From the perspective of someone who simply wants to get a job, the only reason to go for higher studies is competition. Do you really need a degree to get a job at McDonald's? This is of course an extreme example but I am sure you understand what I mean...

  5. I have to agree with previous posters: I don't like the way the NYT posed the question, but I think the issue is one we have to reflect on as a nation. In my opinion, we should be asking, "Are we wasting money sending students into the current college machinery?" In other words, can we be more efficient about how we spend our education dollars? Does it make sense for people to drop hundreds of thousands to attend second tier private universities? How about MBA's, second tier law schools, etc.?

    All I know is that the current system is not sustainable, and those loans are going to be the next crisis after mortgages at the rate tuitions are rising and students are taking on debt.

  6. Education happens on many levels. Does it have to be at a formalized education institution? I have friends who have learned technical skills on their own via books, internet research, and with the help of their friends. Cost? 1/1000 of what it would cost at an institution.

    I think the forum wasn't supposed to be (or maybe should not be) so much about the the value America puts on education, as it was about the cost of education.

    There are many ways to become "educated" - and the pursuit of knowledge definitely doesn't end with a diploma.

  7. It really isn’t a bad question to ask. It shouldn’t be treated as sacrosanct; it should direct you to ask, what is the purpose of education? The problem is that if you are going to be laying down that type of money you really ought to know what the purpose of what you are doing.

    It seems there are plenty of instances where a student is neither preparing him/herself enough for a career, nor approaching it to get the real spirit of a liberal arts degree. In that case the student may have learned too much, and not enough of what he/she should have learned.

    It goes back to some other discussions about directing your child to a professional degree rather than some degree like anthropology. If that child can prove he has the desire and motivation to try to figure out a way to break into the field.

    It may just be a case of later frustration when it can only be tangentially applied to some other career in some other field that used the college education as a baseline credential. If you want to justify it enough, yeah you can use it, but was it worth several $Ks of debt?

  8. I think Peter Thiel has a point - in that so many Americans believe that if they do A, then they get B. If I get a college degree, then I will get a good job. If I get a masters or PhD, then I will get a better job with a better salary, etc.... When we all know life is not that clear cut.

    Unfortunately, many Americans don't focus on the process, the journey, and the hard work necessary to really achieve their goals. Many people think their ticket to "success" is in that college, or that firm, or that residency, or that whatever, and once that step is achieved, everything will be perfect after. Hence so much $$$ and scams going on to lure people in believing they can improve their life/job/salary just by going to this school.

    College is important, but not as important as education and continuous learning, and seizing all of life's opportunities - and these are things not necessarily guaranteed in college walls.

  9. To Linda - totally agree. I could not have said it better myself. I wonder if you are an educator too. By the way, nothing to do with the article, this blog, Korea or America, but just so you know, there are biological reasons for some people being process-oriented (like me and, I am assuming, you) and some people goal-oriented (if I have a PhD I ought to get a better job). Process-oriented people have brains that were developed when the expecting mother has high estrogen level. Goal-oriented people's brain were developed under high testosterone levels. Sorry, just thought I will add some biological anthropology here :) Thanks again for your post.

  10. I agree that in the general case, the more learning and education a person has, the better off that person is. But exceptions to that rule do exist.

    Associate Professor William Pannapacker of Hope College write in that a person who invests time (two to ten years) and money ($14,000 to over $50,000) to get a Humanities phD - are then at, to use his words, a "moderate disadvantage" at getting a normal job compared to a person with an undergraduate degree.

    If the author of that article is correct, that means a person can put in all that time and money and not only gains nothing from the investment, but actually can come out worse for being better educated.

    I'm not saying we need to fix this by reducing the amount of education people receive (not even for those who want to get Humanities phDs), but clearly something is very wrong with this picture.

  11. This article from The Economist, points out that those who take a phD in engineering, architecture, and education actually come out earning less than those who only have a masters degree. Granted, this is Britain, not America, but the point is the same - a case of more education hurting future earnings. (The article seems to hint, but not explicitly say, that this could be a world wide problem.)

    As the Korean himself points out in his 6/3/08 edit of his "Those Crazy Cows" post, when people start behaving irrationally, they're not really behaving irrationally. It seems silly to ask the question, "is there too much learning?" - but once you understand the plight of students who managed obtain advanced degrees yet are unable to make ends meet, who have to live from paycheck to paycheck, you can understand where people who are asking that question are coming from.

  12. If black males are more likely to be unfaithful, perhaps that reflects the reality that in their ancestral environment male input was less needed in raising offspring and that their likelihood of being cuckolded was higher that other groups.

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