Gelman the Education Optimist
By Bryan Caplan
[W]e have different goals when doing the following two things:
1. Attending a lecture, reading a textbook, or watching a lecture video.
2. Attending a concert or listening to broadcast or recorded music.
In general, people are doing 1 to learn, and they’re doing 2 for
enjoyment. So I think we should expect some differences. Yes, some
people listen to music carefully and repeatedly, but that’s still
different from taking a class, I think. To put it another way, if
you’re a music student listening to music, that’s like a university
student taking a class. But lots and lots of people listen to music
just to hear it, not to study it, while not so many people watch college
classes just for fun.
Andrew’s missing a third – and far more common student motive. He’s right to deny that most students come to class for fun. When they want to have fun, they skip class. He’s wrong, though, to suggest that most students come to class to learn. If they really wanted to learn, they wouldn’t cram before the final exam, then forget the material as fast as humanly possible.
The harsh-but-true story, rather, is that most students come to class to get good grades, which allows them to advance further up the educational ladder, which eventually allows them to get a good job. In a word, most students come to class to signal.
At least that’s what my 36 years in the education industry tell me. Can Andrew’s experience really be so different? If so, I’m very jealous.