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

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  649 ratings  ·  116 reviews

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education

Despite being immensely popular--and immensely lucrative—education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students' skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity—in other words, to signal the qualities of a good em

Kindle Edition, 399 pages
Published January 16th 2018 by Princeton University Press
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4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  649 ratings  ·  116 reviews

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Dan Graser
Mar 20, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I consider it important to read genuine works of scholarship that present an opinion or position that is diametrically opposed to my own, especially as pertains to my profession in collegiate-level education. Thus reading a book called, "The Case Against Education," is an important activity in that it potentially will reveal facts and opinions that might not be comfortable to come to terms with but are nevertheless genuine and potentially position-shifting.

However, this is anecdotal, frustrated,
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bryan Caplan’s new book has provoked a storm of criticism, from both laypeople and fellow economists. Fortunately, Caplan has taken the time to rebut his opponents, point-by-point. He put these rebuttals into a book called The Case Against Education, and I recommend his critics read it.

Before I get going, I should admit that I'm biased: I'm a college dropout who has a white-collar job. If everyone thought like Caplan did, I would make a lot more money. On the other hand, it's not like this bias
Daniel Lucraft
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Half way through this book I thought “ok I’m convinced, no need to go on about it”. By the time I finished it I felt as though every opinion I had on education had been reshaped.

For instance, the other day I watched a YouTube video discussing how to use gamification to increase engagement in schools and help kids learn more more easily. This would have seemed like a great policy with no downsides to me before, but now seems like a way to dramatically increase the amount of learning and work kids
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bryan Caplan’s new book is a devastating and depressing take down of the education system. Caplan argues that the education system does little to educate and that most of the gains we see from education are not linked to what students may learn. If he’s right, then most of the current education system (K-12, higher ed) is a colossal waste. There are, nevertheless, important liberating elements (at least for me as a higher ed teacher).

There is a lot Caplan covers, and I won’t touch on most of it
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018
I read it so you don't have to. Some useful information for the current debate topic, but it was hard to take this libertarian screed against education too seriously. And that was before I got to the chapter that calls for relaxed regulations on child labor.
Adelaide Mcginnity
I hate to give this book a bad rating. For one, I agree wholeheartedly with his general thesis; education's value is most certainly less about what you know and more about the piece of paper that claims that you know it. I also agree that society could benefit greatly from spending less on education, and that credential inflation and lack of vocational programming in secondary schools are critical problems. I even agree with some of his solutions; I fully support, for instance, his view that col ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is what happens when you apply cost/benefit-efficiency-neoliberal econ to areas where it has no business being applied. I agree with Caplan that the cost-benefit of an education are not great. Better to go into a trade or even learn poetry from Youtube. If your goal in life is to maximize income for the least amount of costs, then avoid college by all means. But as with most neoliberal theory, it assumes too much. Caplan doesn't get to set the terms of what is a good life? I don't know a so ...more
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: money, non-fiction
I give this five stars but not because I fully agree with Caplan. He makes a lot of compelling points but even he admits that he's an extremist. I think he has proved that we unthinkingly accept a lot of strange things about the education system and that we should be more skeptical. (Maybe it is just me but I felt like I got some double takes when people saw the cover of this book on the subway) This book also gave me a useful lens for understanding news stories, like the recent admissions scand ...more
Alex O'Connor
3.5 stars. Tough book to rate: I really enjoyed reading the book. Kaplan is a very earnest writer and the book was a lot of fun to read. The book was well researched, and when he was guessing or making conjectures, he was very upfront about that. However, I really just could not agree with most of his findings. I think that liberal arts education does have practical value, and enrich the lives of those it touches. STEM fields are so essential, but honestly, could you imagine a world that art, en ...more
May 11, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I agree with the author that much of what passes for education today is in fact a complete waste of individual time and a misallocation of societal resources. The case needs to be made. But this book epically fails to make it.

Much of it is simplistic, and the few good points are repeated ad nauseam. Mike Rowe does a much better job of making the case in a 30-second sound bite than this book does.
Sean Rosenthal
Interesting Quotes:

"Learning doesn't have to be useful. Learning doesn't have to be inspiring. When learning is neither useful nor inspirational, though, how can we call it anything but wasteful?"

-Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money


"Popular support for education subsidies rests on the [fallacy of composition]. The person who gets more education, gets a better job. It works; you see it plainly. Yet it does not follow that if e
Ryan Lackey
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Caplan makes an excellent case against the Education-Government Complex on multiple grounds — that the value of education is primarily (80%?) signaling vs skill, that the skills taught are largely irrelevant to most students, that students don’t get much skill or viewpoint change from their time in education, and more. In general I agree with him, although I do think he undervalues a class of quantitative, mathematical, scientific, and analytics skills to a large number of workers — things which ...more
Les Hollingsworth
Foremost, it’s important to commend Dr. Caplan for sticking his neck out to question and challenge popular notions about the educational system. He’s presenting a really rebellious position/argument and that questioning makes us all better. As a faculty myself (in a ‘practical’ discipline), I can appreciate the courage that it took Dr. Caplan to send this one to press.

With that said, it’s an egregious over-simplification of the value of the education system and is a perfect example of why resear
Coleman Ross
Apr 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a 51-year-old pursing a Masters degree in Mathematics so that I can teach "high school mathematics" at the community college level (when I already have high school teaching experience, a Masters in Education, and teaching certifications), I'm currently living this book, as almost all of the courses I'm taking are irrelevant and a waste of my time.

This book is spot-on.
Aayush Kucheria
The author makes some really strong points, with the necessary backup stats. This book, though dry at times, is a must read for everyone interested in education, or going through education.
Though I may not agree with all the points, the book is a really informative read by an author who has done his research right.
Ronald J.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Former Harvard president Derek Bok once quipped: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” He should read this book. Bryan Caplan believes that our educational system is a waste of time and money. America spent over $1.1 trillion on it in 2011, and chanting “investment” doesn’t make it so. No doubt there is an education premium: college graduates earn 70% more than high school graduates, and high school graduates earn 30% more than dropouts (however, Master degrees only pay a paltry ...more
Max Nova
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Full review and highlights at

There are two theories for why education is beneficial for individuals. The "human capital" model says that you go to school and learn valuable skills. The "signaling" model says that school is just a stamp of approval that certifies you as someone likely to be a good worker. In "The Case Against Education", GMU prof Bryan Caplan makes the case that our education system is ~80% signaling. A contrarian with strong libe
Douglas Wilson
Many outstanding observations, but blinkered by a foundational error.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hbd
Nowadays, the MSM, social media and political partisans are blamed for spreading fake news; banks, governments and economists are blamed for debt-based fake wealth; David Graeber and basic income proponents tell us most people perform bullshit jobs; and here we have Bryan Caplan telling us most of education is nonsense, too. It’s a good thing most people focus on their own job, family and friends, and don’t think about these things, because it’s enough to make you depressed – what is still real? ...more
Stephanie Dunn
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So right and so wrong.
I was both validated and distressed by this book: validated because I agree that the value of school comes not from its usefulness but from the signals it sends, and distressed because I disagree with his interpretation of what those signals mean. Like Caplan, I believe our obsession with academic success is toxic, both for individuals and society. I see academic credentials as a perverse currency, necessary for gaining acceptance in a culture that believes they have real
Auntie Greed
Based on the summaries and reviews, I agree with Caplan's view that education does not deliver as it promises. Ask most school board members and they probably will say sciences, history, social studies, language arts are the first priority of schools, and skills building is the second. I know that is incorrect. Teachers and the other adults of a school building have their first concerns in managing the classrooms, socializing the children and pushing them all into conformity. This is part of wha ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't read (well, listen to, these days) a lot of non-fiction, but the premise of the book caught my eye and I figured I'll give it a chance.
It's a well written and well narrated examination of the value of the modern education system to society (as opposed to individuals taking part in it), with a strong focus on establishing that most of the value education provides students is by signalling attributes they already possess (intelligence, conformity, perseverance, etc...) to potential employe
Initial Thoughts: I don't disagree with Caplan's points about credential inflation and education often being a matter of "signalling" skills rather than a matter of learning useful things (or even non-useful things). However, the book is so repetitive and unclearly structured that I can't give this as many stars as I want to for its thought-provoking ideas. Read his article "What Is College Good For?" in the Atlantic instead of the book, and you'll get the ideas far more succinctly.

*As a side no
Ann Cooper
Feb 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A provocative read that turns everything you ever thought about education upside-down. The author, an economist, monetizes and calculates cost benefits (it's dismaying to see the commodification of people). But also includes discussion of less pragmatic reasons why more education might be better, but ultimately is damning in his conclusion that what many of us get from education all the way to higher degrees, we largely forget and never, ever use in the work force.
I started reading this work despite and because I was deeply skeptical about the main idea espoused in the title. I wanted to see whether and to what extent Caplan can sway me towards his self-admittedly extremist position regarding education (NB, not only higher education). After reading the first chapter (which is unfortunately the low point of the book, and will turn many humanists away from it), the author's position appeared so philistine that I almost abandoned the book. I feel that my dec ...more
Duong Tan
Apr 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
According to this book's logic, the world should invest more and more and more in informal education. => and are on the the right track :-)
Daniel Frank
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one of the most important policy books(/ideas) this century
Ahmad Abugosh
An interesting look into the benefit that education has on both a person and society. The main idea explored in the book is that education's benefits are a mix of signaling (showing to employers and society that you're qualified) and actual value (human capital). The hypothesis of the author is that signaling accounts for the majority of the benefits education has (around 80%), while what you learn that could benefit you probably not more than 20%. I found the book interesting and I think it's a ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These are just a few quick thoughts: I cannot pretend to offer a more substantive (favorable) summary than several that already exist, including this one written just yesterday: Caplan's own blog is also rewardingly revealing: you get to see his thoughts in action as he grapples with such a cumbersome subject (e.g.,

As an education researcher and unabashed teacher-idealist, I fully expected to dislike this book. A
Jeff Raymond
I am trying to be more selective in reading books that confirm things I know these days. Not necessarily for “expand your bubble” reasons, since I could honestly use some more people who agree with me in my various feeds, but just because it is kind of dull to nod along at something you already agree with. Thankfully, Bryan Kaplan provides a book that I somewhat agreed with going in (spoiler alert: current plans are to be a homeschooling family), but provides a great and exhaustive treatise on ...more
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Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He received his B.S. in economics from University of California, Berkeley and his Ph.D. from Princeton University. His professional work has been devoted to the philosophies of libertarianism and free-market capitalism and anarchism. (He is the author of the Anarchist Theory FAQ.) He has published in American ...more
“Once everyone can enrich their souls for free, government subsidies for enrichment forfeit their rationale. To object, 'But most people don't use the Internet for spiritual enrichment' is actually a damaging admission that eager students are few and far between. Subsidized education's real aim isn't to make ideas and culture accessible to anyone who's interested, but to make them mandatory for everyone who *isn't* interested . . .

The rise of the Internet has two unsettling lessons . . . First: the humanist case for education subsidies is flimsy today because the Internet makes enlightenment practically free. Second: the humanist case for education subsidies was flimsy all along because the Internet proves low consumption of ideas and culture stems from apathy, not poverty or inconvenience. Behold: when the price of enlightenment drops to zero, remains embarrassingly scarce.”
“Higher education is the only product where the consumer tries to get as little out of it as possible. —Arnold Kling, “College Customers vs. Suppliers”41” 0 likes
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