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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5596/why-students-dont-value-school/

Why Students Don’t Value School

September 12, 2006 by

It was Tim Meyer’s first week of teaching as a full-time faculty member and not as an adjunct or TA. While most of his new experiences have been positive, but he is seeing some things in a new light. The most intriguing facet of my his “education” experience is confirmation that economists do indeed think and act differently than “normal” folk. For one thing, they understand why many students hate school. FULL ARTICLE


Dick Jones September 12, 2006 at 7:49 am

I just read you article and thanks very much for providing even more evidence for the prosecution in the coming criminal trial of public vs. home education.

Nothing stifles the inborn love of learning plus the excitement that comes with learning to “think critically” quite like the one-size-fits-all, secular humanist-dedicated public schools that spawn your fun-dedicated thought resisters. With homeschooling the converse is typically true. (You might even ask for a show of hands as to who, if any, were home-schooled.)

If you can, along with teaching the truth about free market economic philosophy, see if you can’t plant a seed or two that would encourage all your “students” to teach their children-to-be at home. After all, they will – in many cases – become adults eventually and might remember what you said in relation to the seriousness of child raising and the automatic love that parents normally have for their kids. Sure, because of your “four year party” truism it’s obviously the case that at the moment most are thinking critically about preventing kids, but there may one or two in your classes who will be listening and who will benefit.

My main point is that this country is sunk if we keep throwing our kids into the PC maw of the PC and vigorously anti-Christian govt. schools. Thanks, if you can help.

John Hall September 12, 2006 at 7:59 am

I went to a big state school and most of my friends won’t graduate in four years.

Jason B September 12, 2006 at 8:35 am

Most students did not go to school to learn. They went to secure a degree, and yes the two are not the same. All the things you mentioned in your article play a role, but overall students know they will learn more in one month on the job than in 4+ years of college.
Sad but true, students do learn more in a month on the job than in 4+ years of college.

Tuur Demeester September 12, 2006 at 9:07 am

I think that, especially in the primary and secondary level, schools often institutionalize artificial scarcity of information: students attend classes with peers who are just as ignorant as they are themselves, and are taught by a teacher who supposedly posesses all the information students are expected to process. In reality the information passed on in the classrooms is widely available for everyone who has interest in it, and books and the internet give access to very deep insights in whatever field of study a young person chooses to pursue.

In addition to this artificial scarcity of supply there is a continual misallocation of resources: students are forced to spend their time learning things they are not interested in.

I think that while growing up in them, young people come to realize that schools usually aren’t places that make valuable learning possible. However, I think formal education of large groups can be most useful and needed, if used as a means for experts to share knowledge that really is scarce. Hence, I think the best argument in convincing students to attend a class is excellence.

Biff September 12, 2006 at 9:51 am

Mr Jones wrote : “Nothing stifles the inborn love of learning plus the excitement that comes with learning to “think critically” quite like the one-size-fits-all, secular humanist-dedicated public schools that spawn your fun-dedicated thought resisters.”

Can I use this? That is awesome.

David St. Hubbins September 12, 2006 at 10:00 am

I’m an adjunct in an MBA program.

The students are not buying the education, they are buying the degree. Sitting through class is a cost of buying the degree.

TarletonG September 12, 2006 at 10:24 am

…new full time faculty member ‘Tim Meyer’ seems very, very, naive (.. or maybe he’s putting us on?)

Curious as to the specific graduate/undergraduate institutions that imposed that naive condition upon him ??

Steven Kibler September 12, 2006 at 10:36 am

“making students demand what they paid for”, HELLO!, problem is that they didn’t/aren’t paying for it. All to frequently the 4+ years of college is just another escape from having to deal with the real world on Daddy’s nickle. If Daddy is not paying for it, then a student loans are available to push off the real cost to sometime in the nebulous future. Society has created the expectation that everybody is “owed” a higher education and your students are just collecting on that. Make college not quite so guarenteed and the ones who are paying for it and want the education will show up with an attention span longer than my dog’s.

Max Schwing September 12, 2006 at 10:41 am

Well, I don’t know about the standards in US colleges relative to German Universities (I expect them to be a bit lower, given your impression), but this seems to be a sad state of affairs.

First of all, German universities usually have only a few mandatory classes (which means that you have to be there every time). In consequence, this means that the decision to go to a class is entirely voluntary. Thus you have almost only people who like to hear your classes, which greatly enhances the quality of the lecture.

Some hints on how one might improve the attendance level in classes. First, show special insight which might be usefull for exams, believe me, this keeps people coming!
Don’t lower your standards to adjust to people’s unwillingness to come to your courses or learn for the exam. Match exams with the things you tought in your classes and see to it that people write things down.

These are hints I have gathered from my first years at the university of Karlsruhe. We had classes in which only twenty to thirty people sat, because you could learn all the stuff at home with a few books.
Then I have encountered mechanical constructions, a class that had a script which had to be filled in order to be complete. First incentive to go to the listen to the teacher! Then, the prof drew on his extensive knowledge on the subject and presented several examples, which were usefull during the exams. Third, he assigned homework, which you usually could only complete with a filled-out script.
Hence, the classes were always crowded to the last minute.

I don’t know if those things are applicable in US colleges, or if they interfere with state teaching plans or somthing like that, but I think these are methods to keep people studying.

I’d also recommend to set the quality bar higher, if you think that people are obviously not too interested to learn the subject or to at least hear you speak.

On the other hand, I must also admit that not every subject is of interest to all the students. I can understand this, because if you consider that after college everyone is specialising in the field of interest he likes. (From my field) Some are going to be mechatronical engineers, some are going into construction, some are more into theoretical engineering, others like to combine economics and engineering. So, don’t be too fed up, if not everyone likes the class you obviously like to teach :)

Jean-Paul Rodrigue September 12, 2006 at 10:46 am

Another issue relates that although the cost of education is going up, its value appears not to be. This could why students are often not very interested; what they are being presented is more than often pretty much “useless”. A way around this is to make sure that a curriculum includes in which way it has value and which forms this value can take. If a Professor cannot explain the value of his/her curriculum in a straightforward manner and without the use of cliches, then how can he/she expect students to gain from it?

Mike M September 12, 2006 at 10:53 am

Tim welcome to the real world of education. As David mentioned it is much worse with MBA students. The degree is the motivation for many of our students today.

With this reality why should we be suprised when many of our faculty want to stay in their office and do research rather thna be in a class room.

Mark Brabson September 12, 2006 at 11:05 am

You could probably purchase 10 randomly selected books from the mises.org store, read them, and end up with a better education than what you would get in four years of college.

brad September 12, 2006 at 11:53 am

Education is nothing more than conditioning, the standards of which are set largely by statist bureaucrats. Children are herded into kindergarten at the age of five and leave at twenty-two, many not until twenty-five for MBA’s, who largely have not done anything practical than deliver pizzas.

What is being bought and sold is the ability to stretch the period of mental juvenality four to seven more years with the personal cost of sitting in class rooms for four hours a day, and the financial burden borne my the ‘rents or staved off into the oblique future of real responsibility. Vegetating in class rooms, scoping out the babe-age, and planning on how to get a fake ID, with the promise of fun and games aplenty, is the state of higher education today.

But it really is merely an extension of the mediocre “education” and that really is the continuation of conditioning of the masses. Bland, blase bureaucrats controlling the minds of youth for as long as it can. It is that meritocracy that benefits by elongating juvenality. Can any professor really say they give any more of a rip about MOST of the students than the students have in return for them or their subject? Sure, any professor will have a few per class that they care about, but the rest merely pay rent for X amount of time, for an A or a B.

So about 5-10% of the students really care, and a portion of the professors as well. The rest is for show and giving bureaucrats jobs, keeping youths occupied, and control in the hands of government.

Yancey Ward September 12, 2006 at 12:48 pm

It is rather amazing that technology hasn’t yet really enhanced productivity in education. We now have many adults still in the educational system at age 25 and beyond (and I am not writing about masters or phDs), without ever yet having had a career. It seems to me that technology should allow more education in less time rather than less education in more time. However, considering the deep involvement of government in the process, I shouldn’t be surprised, should I?

Lori McHugh September 12, 2006 at 12:53 pm

A general rule of thumb is that people take care of what they are invested in. For example, a person who has sacrificed and worked hard to purchase their own home will have more pride and care in ownership than someone who is simply given a place to live. In the same way, students who are funding their own education will be much more likely to attend classes and actually get an education.

Tim September 12, 2006 at 12:57 pm

Thanks for the comments, both good and bad. I truly believe students want to learn; they just don’t always know it. My first month has been great for the most part. I have a steady stream of students during office hours, and they’re starting to understand abstract thinking.

Am I putting you on? Maybe yes, maybe no. I don’t see the incentive to be less than 100% truthful however.

David K. Meller September 12, 2006 at 1:05 pm

Of course the government is going to devise a system of teaching that is as boring, user-unfriendly, bureaucratic, and just plain stupid as possible. It is also a tribute that the some people can retain their natural curiosity and their searching for knowledge after years of being victimized by dehumanization that you describe.

It is a tribute to the resiliency of the human spirit that real people (either as “teachers” or as “students”) can experience years of this abuse and still retain their sanity.

One small flaw—there is no such word as “snowpersons”–the word that you are looking for is “snowman”, as in the charming story of Frosty the SNOWMAN that the children delighted in making. Please leave wretched PC “English” to the likes of MS magazine!

It is certainly no accident that the same radical egalitarians and feminists who corrupt our language with their “political correctness” find such a haven in government schools, universities, and courts!!

David K. Meller

Person September 12, 2006 at 1:06 pm

One thought experiment I should pass on about higher education:

Would you rather have a perfectly forged diploma and transcript record from Harvard, without the educational experience, or the educational experience of having gone to Harvard, without any documentation or degree that says you went there? Which would land you a better job?

Think about it.

David K. Meller September 12, 2006 at 1:12 pm

Most students don’t (and can’t) value school becuase their school experiences are totally valueless.

David K. Meller

Lisa Casanova September 12, 2006 at 1:30 pm

One of the reasons students seem so disengaged is probably the way that college is structured. It’s really a top-down approach. Education is viewed as something that must be done to the student, because the student left to his own devices doesn’t know what kind of education he should be getting. So curricula are structured in a way that forces students to take the classes college professors and administrators think are good for them, rather than the things they want to learn, because otherwise they won’t get the “best” kind of education.

Example: In my first year of college, I got a job in a microbiology lab. It just clicked, and I knew this was exactly the thing I wanted to do, so I went into the micro program. The classes were difficult and time-consuming, and on top of the actual science classes, I had to take a bunch of “general education.” The idea was that I wouldn’t have a broad enough education if I spent all my time taking bacteriology and organic chemistry. I also needed to be made well-rounded by taking a bunch of foreign language, literature, and history classes.

It’s not that I don’t think these things are important, but I had to choose from a menu of Gen Ed classes that I was not necessarily interested in, rather than focusing solely on the classes that would teach me the thing I actually wanted to do. Left to my own judgment, I might well have decided to take nothing but science classes to get the kind of knowledge that would be hard to come by otherwise, and devote my spare time to learning other subjects that interest me (like I do now with econ). But in today’s college that often isn’t an option.

Tim’s classes are probably made up of two types of students: those who are truly invested in learning the material, and those who really want to do something else, but have to fulfill a general education requirement in order to get there. Changing college to allow students to design their own curricula in consultation with an advisor (more the way grad school is often done) might go a long way toward making students value education more.

Kjetil Willoch September 12, 2006 at 1:38 pm

I were wondering how to formulate my thoughts about my experiece with the Norwegian public school(named “the unity school”) so far, but David K. Meller summed it all up for me.

There is one redeeming factor, though:
We used computers a _lot_ in the education, so I had the ability to read mises.org during class.

Vedran Vuk September 12, 2006 at 1:45 pm

Another factor is the way in which our education is organized. You can’t have 5 classes a semester and expect to become knowledgeable in all five. In my opinion, college is a triage. Save the info you can….too much is coming at you to permanently learn more than the subjects most important to you.

Mike M September 12, 2006 at 4:18 pm

Yancy, you ask the correct question. In fact most class room technology is wasted. Most faculty I know if the use technology have done nothing but place their note on line in a word or pdf format. The technology has been completely wasted.
I find technology a labor saving device. All my quizes and tests are on line, they are graded automaticly.
FYI, I was talking to a district manager for a for profit chain of tech schools. They have stopped using technology and no longer have on line courses because in there estimation the outcomes are not as good. They feel they have not figured out how to get efficiencies from technology.
I know government schools will never make that admission.

Scott Friday September 12, 2006 at 4:31 pm


I did nine years of higher education after escaping the public education system. The ONE thing that always mattered to me in ANY class was the relevancy of the material to me. How would the material help me achieve what I want? You have to figure out a way to show them, on a level they can grasp, that the material is relevant to their lives. Get them to understand what Mises and Rothbard said regarding Economics not being concerned with the end, but instead with the logical validity of the means. Find out what they want and show them how economics can give them the best means to achieve their goals. There may still be some that just don’t care and as painful as it may be as a teacher, you have to accept that and let them go. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink ;-) Good luck!

Tom Fiedler September 12, 2006 at 6:40 pm

It appears that Tim Meyers went from grad school into teaching with nary a sojourn into the harsh reality of micro economics i.e. operating his own business. Had he done so I doubt he would have spent any energy upon lamenting those in his class who have no directly personal economic motivation to be there. Rather he would have concentrated upon those students who need what he offers either separate from or more than some degree that might require his lectures. In the business world entrepreneurs willingly pay thousands of dollars to attend seminars to which they bring recording devices to archive the information they have paid to access. There is no reason that Academia cannot tie real particular needs to the general principles and emerging forces that shape our world. The Austrian School of Economics serves this purpose very well.

George Gaskell September 12, 2006 at 10:54 pm

I was talking to a district manager for a for profit chain of tech schools. They have stopped using technology and no longer have on line courses because in there estimation the outcomes are not as good. They feel they have not figured out how to get efficiencies from technology. I know government schools will never make that admission.

That’s very interesting.

The government will never make such an admission because they have NO IDEA whether the computer purchases have helped them, hurt them, etc.

Governments can’t calculate. By being isolated from the market, they have no means of making economic decisions. They have no way of knowing whether adding computers was a profitable course of action because they have no accounting of profit and loss.

All they know is that the private sector uses a lot of computers, and that if they don’t spend all of this year’s budget, they’ll be allocated less money next year.

And people wonder why government enterprises are inefficient and only grow more so over time!

Craig J. Bolton September 16, 2006 at 9:30 pm

I hate to sound condescending, but your blog entry is to me just another illustration of why it is that academic economists should start their education by actually reading some of the classics in their discipline.

In, I believe it is, Bk.V of The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith offered a commentary on just the phenomenon you have observed and a very good explanation for it. In brief, the explanation is as follows: You get the behavior you reward and you don’t get the behaviors you don’t reward.

You want students to actually learn something, you adopt what Smith called the “Scottish system of education.” In this system you enroll in a college and then pay for and attend or don’t pay for and don’t attend the lectures you think will advance your knowledge of your chosen field of study. You get your degree by writing what we would call a dissertation and going before a board of examiners to be questioned about the breadth and depth of your knowledge. You can do this after 6 months or after 60 years, after attending and paying for a thousand lectures or after not paying for one lecture and spending your time in the library in a course of self-study. What you are rewarded for is demonstrated mastery of a subject, not piling up credits.

In the English or German system, to the contrary, you get a degree after you have passed a given number of courses and piled up a given number of credits. Hence, since what matters is sufferring through these courses with the least effort possible, you learn to endure and cram from someone else’s notes, rather than master the material.

Pretty straightforward, no?

Simon Zhu September 19, 2006 at 9:36 pm

I’m a post graduate student from China. The situation of college education in China is much worse than what the author describes: there’s a national college entrance examination every year and young students have to attend the exam, making good scores in order to be enrolled into the universities. But to a large extent, which college and which major they will be offered depends on the scores they make in the exam, but not on their interest. So it is often seen that students join universities and pursue majors they do not like at all, and of course they do not like such boring four-year education at all. All they do is wasting the time and waiting for graduation.

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