We're talking about origins, and one problem I see here is that the general level of literacy, numeracy, etc. was very low back when going to school was becoming the norm.

Isn't it plausible that one of the prime functions back then was...actually teaching kids useful things?

In other words most of us acknowledge that once this school thing became a norm it became a tool of government, certainly.

The dispute is over how this thing got going in the first place.

Robin says not government but instead a preference to be molded not by unnatural feeling work but by something more appealing to our forager instincts.

But in a world where literacy and numeracy aren't standard why not assume that school was simply the most efficient way for unschooled parents to teach their kids basic things?

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More evidence that the 2010's right-wing is in many ways temperamentally similar to the 60's far-left, which might be why guys like Horowitz had such an easy time switching sides.

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usual "school is a conspiracy to keep the masses in line" nonsense.

A line now promulgated by the likes of the Kochs to attack the teachers unions, increasingly the only organized masses in existence.

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"What I notice in current high schools is the attempt to teach nearly 100% of the kids and to actually teach them the high-school curriculum, and on top of the traditional load of facts, a certain amount of creativity, self-directedness, and critical thinking. We've never attempted to do that before, and we're not very good at it yet."

Thank you for a dose of reality here instead of the usual "school is a conspiracy to keep the masses in line" nonsense.

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That's one thing a lot of people miss when criticizing traditional schooling. Learning to read well is a very, very intensive process, and in today's "post-literate" media environment, where TV and video games are a more appealing form of entertainment than books for the great majority of the population, if students aren't taught how to read in school, they probably will not learn how to read at all.

I've encountered "home-schooled" and "cyber-schooled" teenagers who are shockingly illiterate.

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I believe the key factor is the competitive admissions itself. This creates a form of contest that allows for some sorting based roughly on intelligence and other work suitability factors. In other words, the ranking function of school you mention is more important than the workplace style. In fact, many hiring organizations of technical talent prefer internships as more direct means of assessing workplace fit for new graduates. Of course, they select their interns from schools that match the prestige rank of their organization...

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If one of my friends has a child who did really well in school or went to Ivy league school or equivalent, I know about it. I also know about a great athletic achievement. Which seems odd.Athletics is like school and we know that for 99% of people athletics is useless, and that should be a hint. Competition and signalling go hand in hand.

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"Maybe the real story is that once something gets fixated in the public's mind as a positive, that has social desirability momentum and policy momentum that goes beyond the facts on the ground."

I can vouch for the "ratchet effect" as it applies to public health provision. When people start getting free public healthcare, they start seei it as an intrinisic right. (Which is not a particularly a bad thing. Maybe all rights work that way. It is not a bad thing for a wealthysociety to decide that it can increase its gamut of rights. What is important is maintaining the ability to afford them).

"Let's keep in mind that before the invention of the internet, school was actually a relatively good way to learn things ... We may see a gradual phasing out of education emphasis as trendy elites like Peter Thiel and Bryan Caplan point out that the education emperor is increasingly naked (due to average is over + the internet)."

The internet is full of people who have done anything but learn accurate information as a resultof exposure to the internet. Thiel and Caplan are survivors, in the survivor bias sense. I am glad they started the debate, but I hope it doesn't end with them.

The problem with the non-survivors, the internet idiots, is that they they have not learnt how to judge the quality of information and information sources. The problem with current education is that it is stuck in the mode of teaching facts. But facts, information, are no longer a scarce resource...the contemporary world is drowning in information. What needs to be taught ismeta-level skills, how to evaluate information sources, recognise good research and so

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The use of the word "submission" is unfortunate several times over.

Robin may agree with you, inasmuch as he avoided the term in the second piece. But do I recall correctly that Robin has proposed a theory that schools are preparation for warfare? I suspect the acceptance of hierarchy is indeed key to all these forms of farmer-like discipline.

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How does the quest for basic literacy fit into this? Is it just the byproduct of the drive to discipline the labor force?

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One of the unmentioned issues here is that it is simply not true that all higher education is useless. It's kind of obvious that people in technical professions are going to need a lot of training, because the world is getting more technically complex. If we were only educating engineers, doctors and scientists, we might expect them to be spending more time in college. So there are maybe two pressures here; the practical one, and the empty-signalling one.

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Perhaps we have a different perception of what the masters are like. In my understanding, a trainee or a senior stockbroker is a trustie, an employee, an agent, unless he is the son of a major shareholder "learning the ropes".

A master, an owner, a principal, is someone who derives hes income from her property, and she does not not need a job. She wants to have the skills to protect and grow their property, she dons not want to become hired help for someone else. They have what Real American call the "F*ck you! I got mine" mindset.

Masters train (sometimes) their scions in *self*-discipline, not in submission to authority or to prestige. These people and their scions consider teachers and professor as egghead trusties, not as figures of prestige or authority. The scions think of their egghead trusties "if you are so clever, how comes you have to work to earn money?". People who end up teaching to the scions rapidly learn to know their place too, if they want to keep on good terms with potential donors or givers of well paid consultancies.

Our blogger's argument apply mostly to the spawn of the servants and in part to the precious babies of the trusties, because both are trained to submit to authority, but actual competence is still required of many trusties, at least those working as "professional" hired help.

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More flexibility than apprenticeship? I'm not sure that apprenticeship induces more flexibility than school.

It is not just education that has changed, it is the workplace. The only thing you can be sure of is that you won't be doing the same thing in the same way thirty years down the line.

Once-and-for all on-the-job training is a bad solution to learning how to function in a changing workplace. Once-and-for-all schooling is somewhat better, because a school does not know in advance what career someone is going to go into, and so teaches them a wide range of knowledge (and, hopefully, how to research independently to some extent).

The problem that remains unsolved is that we are stuck with the idea that education is something that's over by your early to mid twenties, and then you have another forty years in a totally unpredictable employment marketplace. It would be better if people could "spend" the quite large amount of education that is being required at different points in their lives, as required.

Shorter courses, not degree or PhD length. More responsive to the marketplace. Maybe vouchers for so many years of tertiary education that could don't have to be spent all at once.

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The use of the word "submission" is unfortunate several times over. What people are being inured to is a certain way of doing things, where you turn up on time, follow rules, co-operate, and so on, rather than direct master-servant submission. The offspring of the elites will generally need to learn the same lessons, because you need those basics in place in order to be a trainee stockbroker as much as a trainee burger chef.

For an acid test: if a subordinate find that their boss is doing something unethical, beyond a point, they are supposed to discreetly report it up the line, not follow them blindly.

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The whole discussion seems to be based on a pretty big and perhaps wilful misunderstanding by our blogger: he is describing not "schools", but only the schools for the spawns of the servants, which are indeed designed to cut them down to size and become docile, know-your-place, obedient, conformists in the organizations run for the benefit of their masters.

The schools for the scions of the masters are instead designed to nurture them to have a sense of superiority and entitlement, to be popular and political, to learn to dissemble, to be good at getting away with it, to be creative and to be leaders.

Surely Groton and Eton, or Harvard and Oxford, or Wharton or the Tuck, are not meant to domesticate the scions of the masters into becoming zealous, obedient, cogs in someone else's machine. The likes of A Gore or GW Bush are surely schooled to a very different profile.

There are also the schools meant for the education of the precious babies of the trusties, those who supervise the servants on behalf of the masters, and are the only ones who care about providing actual learning, in the sense of technical competence, to their inmates, as well as of course stamp them with a sense of grasping ambition but also zealous loyalty to authority, as deferential "team players". Places like Caltech or A&M or Rochester or Imperial College at the HE level, or any high school serving an affluent "professional class" exurb.

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One test case would be to look at the origins of CEOs of big businesses. Up until the 1970s or so, it was common for them to have "risen through the ranks". Even into the 1980s, a friend remarked that the presidents of Bell telephone companies had usually started as linemen or something. But by the 1990s, the route to the executive suite always included college and an MBA.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the change was adaptive in any way, but it's a reasonably well-documented instance of the problem, and so may be easier to study.

In re school, my father noted that high school (in the 1940s) was good preparation for factory work because it trained kids "to endure regimentation". What I notice in current high schools is the attempt to teach nearly 100% of the kids and to actually teach them the high-school curriculum, and on top of the traditional load of facts, a certain amount of creativity, self-directedness, and critical thinking. We've never attempted to do that before, and we're not very good at it yet.

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