My Interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education
By Bryan Caplan
When the typical professor deals with the media, he has a litany of complaints. “They’re not accurate!” “They’re not fair!” “They made me look stupid!” My experience is precisely the opposite. Virtually everyone in the media treats me well. Case in point: my new interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. You might think The Chronicle of Higher Education would skewer the author of The Case Against Education. But Scott Carlson was, as expected, a gentleman and a scholar. Highlights from our conversation:
You write: “As far as I can tell, the only marketable skill I
teach is ‘how to be an economics professor.’ ” But isn’t that a failure
of your imagination to make your subject relevant, not a failure of
In order to make my subject relevant, I
would actually have to learn a lot about the occupations the students
are doing and just teach, really, a completely different subject.
Economics is not designed to be occupational training for bankers or
salesmen. In terms of raising the job performance, I can’t honestly say
that I’m raising the job performance of students who are doing a bunch
of jobs that are really quite unfamiliar to me.
Some of the most
useful skills that I do try to give to students are, for example, “walk
out of movies if you’re not enjoying yourselves.” That’s what economics
tells us to do. But even there, I’m not optimistic that students
actually change their lives based on what they’re taught. Most people
think of education as writing some answers on a test, then getting on
with your life and going back to what you were doing before.
Isn’t there value in forcing people to march through topics
they might not be interested in? They might discover some interest in
Once in a very long time, it happens. But there’s a
greater number of students who suffer through it and don’t get any value
from it. People who don’t like school rarely write essays about how
terrible it was. Instead they just suffer in silence or complain to
their friends, and then they go and get a practical job and we never
hear their voices again. The whole conversation about education is
really driven by people who did enjoy school and who work with students.
Part of what I wanted to do is give a voice to the voiceless and say,
“They may not talk about it, but they are suffering.” It’s not a real
mystery if you actually go to a classroom and look at the faces.
Students are generally not happy. They’re bored.
But if you talk with employers today, many laud the liberal arts and say they want well-rounded, broadly thinking people.
this book I talk a lot about social-desirability bias. People say
things, and often believe things, that sound good, but if you look
closely at their behavior, you’ll see that either they are being
dishonest or they don’t believe it all the way down. When employers say
they want people who are well-rounded, you can see who they actually
reward when they hire. I don’t see any signs of rewarding the
well-rounded people. They’re rewarding people who do the job well and
make the employers money. Employers want to sound like nice, open-minded
people. They don’t want to say, “I don’t care if you’re a troglodyte as
long as you bring in money.”