The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 20 No. 2 (Summer 2018)

School’s Out

The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

Bryan Caplan

Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018.

Reviewed by Noah J. Toly

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Summer 2018

(Volume 20 | Issue 2)

Orwellian is an epithet with many meanings, all of them negative. It can refer to doublespeak, the use of pretentious diction, distortion, evasive speech, intentional ambiguity, and euphemism meant to make an unpleasant truth sound more palatable. It can describe forces that promote or require conformity. And finally, there are those who take Orwellian to refer to generally dystopian social and political conditions.

But when Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, says that he loves education too much to accept the “Orwellian substitute” that is our education system in the United States, there’s no need to figure out how he means it: He clearly has all three definitions in mind. To Caplan, “education,” and especially “higher education,” has become a euphemism for base credentialism that promotes conformity and results in profligate spending that undermines investments of time and money in worthier goods.

Lest prospective students and their parents head for the doors before finishing this review, it’s not that education doesn’t pay. On an annual basis, the average college graduate earns 73 percent more than the average high school graduate; people with at least a master’s degree earn three times the income of a high school dropout. Unlike the concerns of parents and prospective students, however, Caplan’s question is not whether employers pay handsomely enough to make education adequately rewarding for individuals. Rather, Caplan is interested in the social costs and benefits of education. He wants to know whether our massive public expenditures in favor of education—from state funding of public universities to federal provision of grants and subsidized loans—can be justified.

To read the full article, please subscribe to our print ($30 yearly) or digital ($25 yearly) editions or purchase a copy at select Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Noah J. Toly is director of the Center for Urban Engagement and professor of urban studies and politics and international relations at Wheaton College.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 20.2 (Summer 2018). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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