Wednesday, 17 November 2010

University is not about learning

With a generous hat tip to Robin Hanson for the title, and to just about every blog on the planet for the link, I'm going to quote the following paragraph from this article, from a man who writes other people's assignments for a living:
I've written toward a master's degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I've worked on bachelor's degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I've written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I've attended three dozen online universities. I've completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.
Now, let's say university actually was about learning, let's say the reason that people got degrees was because they came out with useful skills at the end of them and let's say that unversity grades were  good measure of people's skill at the subjects in which they get their degrees. Is it really likely that any one person could be good at all of those things? Good enough to get a high-level - graduate level, in fact - degree in all of those things?

No, university, like all places where people get educational labels, is a signalling game (I think Paul Graham is probably more accurate on what school is about). I've been meaning to write about this for a while, and might finally get round to it soon, but I just thought this quote was too much to pass up.

1 comment:

T_Beermonster said...

Of all the subjects listed the only one that troubles me is pharmacology.
I can well believe that one person could produce graduate level work in cinema, eastern religion, public administration etc.