Education

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.

7 thoughts on “Education

  1. Ok, while the most prestigious US universities can afford to cap Asian admissions, the second tier needs their tuition to manufacture the paychecks for armies of administrators. Wandering around a land grant college campus during Christmas vacation is like a trip to Beijing since the Asians stick around rather than go home for the holidays.

    The big mystery is the supposed collective intelligence of the Asian students. Has anyone ever proven that it’s actually true? Or do they just work harder than their Caucasian competition?

    Some evidence seems to refute the smarter then everyone else theory. For instance, the lavish monument to ice hockey where the University of North Dakota plays its home games was built by alum Ralph Englestad with his own money. The reality is that money came from the profits of his Las Vegas casino, the Imperial Palace. So the Englestad Arena in frigid Grand Forks, ND was built with the gambling losses of the many Southern California Asians that should know better than to buck the odds at black jack, roulette, and video poker.

    1. China should just buy those second-tier colleges. I’m sure they could launder it through a shell company in the Bahamas or whatever. Remove all the useless majors (anthropology, art history, grievance studies, etc), as those students tend to be the ones that require financial aid. Fill the campus with rich-but-stupid Asians. Profit!!

      1. That would be a good thing. Sadly, the attitude that relegates subjects like anthropology (which should be a required high school course) and art history (art history IS history) has set the tone for a US society that doesn’t understand itself or how it came to be the way it is. Worship of the scientific method has encouraged the use of numbers and statistics in fields where they can’t be beneficial in making valid predictions. Even so, because there’s an institutional inferiority complex in the social “sciences” vis a vis STEM studies, the sociologists litter their studies with meaningless math that normal logic ridicules. Since it’s difficult to translate a BA in anthropology to financial success, those fields of study should be eliminated? Maybe the mercenary world is where it’s at.

        On the other hand, the Yankees do seem to have their own priorities. For instance, a few years back the head of the European central bank gave a speech to the financial community that included a quote from Goethe. Probably all those in attendance were familiar with the passage. It’s impossible to imagine Jerome Powell quoting any philosopher, particularly an American, since there doesn’t seem to have ever been one of stature.

        1. Here in the US, a field of study with no financial prospects is called a “hobby”. Jay Powell could similarly quote Seinfeld or The Office, and everyone would be familiar with the reference. The only reason we hold Goethe in higher regard is because he’s old.

  2. China’s college admission is based entirely on the National College Entrance Exam; no preferential admits for big donors or recruited athletes.

    Well, athletes don’t get preferences on an individual-college basis. Preferred athletes can have points added directly to their gaokao score, where they apply to every college. Points are also given to minority students this way. And each college applies different admission thresholds to different Chinese provinces, even if those provinces use the same gaokao. It’s easier to get in to a local college.

    I am told that there’s another layer to college admissions, where the student must indicate a first choice of college when applying. Each college then chooses a threshold (by mysterious means, or at least means that I was not able to get anyone to explain to me), admits every student who applied with a gaokao score above that threshold and chose this college as first choice, and then, if they haven’t met their admissions quota yet, admits from the pool of students that chose somewhere else in a top-down manner. Thus, a student can be rejected in favor of a lower-scoring student, if the low-scoring student marked the college in question as their first choice and the high-scoring student didn’t.

    The 分数线 for first-choice admissions is a pretty significant degree of freedom for colleges. Raise it, and you get higher-scoring students because the paucity of first-choice students meeting the threshold gives you access to the greater pool. Lower it, and you get lower-scoring students who said you were their first choice. I’d really like to know more about how this gets determined.

Leave a Reply