As a lifelong student, I have a keen interest in post-pandemic education. Based on my Twitter feed, homeschooling is the future (and the past). Here’s Bryan Caplan with a rundown of how to do it and why.
Instead of subjecting his offspring to the one-size-fits-all curriculum known as Common Core, Caplan sends them to play group with Robin Hanson, Alex Tabarrok, Tyler Cowen, Garett Jones, and Nathaniel Bechhofer. Here’s Tyler Cowen describing his efforts to help homeschool Caplan’s children, presumably because Cowen has no children of his own.
Most parents probably don’t have a team of world-renowned economists at the ready. Their most talented coworkers are low-level wage serfs slinging code all day. Come to think of it, what does an economist do? I get that they hold high-ranking positions at government agencies and think tanks, but what is it that they do all day?
Ancient Romans believed that chickens had oracular powers, because roosters crow before daybreak to portend the sunrise. Senators and generals consulted with chickens in an elaborate ritual where a sacred hen was placed in a circle sectioned to represent the alphabet, with grain spread around the circle. The hen’s scratching and pecking patterns were then recorded and interpreted by priests to inform public policy decisions.
The chicken’s magic doesn’t come from its ability to randomly scratch and peck; it comes from people’s ability to convince themselves that the bird knows exactly what it’s doing. Maybe the chicken has a PhD, or maybe it holds a faculty position at Harvard, or maybe it’s a Nobel Laureate. That’s why we should trust the chicken, we reason.
Over time, people realized that chickens were far too delicious to use for policy consultation, and thus the profession of Economist was born.
I don’t mean to pick on economists here. I’m sure a chicken could similarly do the job of a journalist, management consultant, or any of the “experts” trotted out by political entities. Yes, including climate scientists and epidemiologists. Here’s an NBER working paper that examines just how wrong the COVID-19 epidemiology models were (very!), and the policy implications of such wrongness. The conclusion is that we should leave the job to economists next time — presumably the health economists from Harvard and MIT who authored the paper. Or maybe just use a chicken.
Bryan Caplan’s scratchings and peckings are likely correct in this case. The future of education will look a lot like the past, where children of big muckety-mucks hang out with other muckety-mucks and continue each generation in their designated caste. We hide the nepotism of higher education under layers of elaborate rituals to convince the plebes it’s a meritocracy.
In the pre-pandemic era, well-to-do families in China would send their children to study at American universities if they couldn’t test into a top Chinese university. China’s college admission is based entirely on the National College Entrance Exam; no preferential admits for big donors or recruited athletes. It’s really embarrassing if you’re Xi Jinping and your daughter ends up somewhere like Shanghai Normal University. That’s the kind of thing that brings great shame to your dynasty.
On the other hand, Harvard would gladly take the unqualified child of a bigwig.
Colleges in the US are suspending standardized tests as an admission requirement and imposing quotas on Asian admits, frustrating Tiger Moms everywhere. Smart, competitive kids will realize the futility of fighting each other for the privilege of paying a six-figure sum to attend a school that values wokeness over substance. They’ll put the time they would have spent studying for the SATs towards studying for 高考 (Gaokao), or Единый государственный экзамен, the Russian equivalent. Brains will drain to elite universities in the unwoke parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, where they might actually learn something. Those who don’t care to learn will keep doing what they’re doing, and be revered as sacred gods.