The Lesson to Unlearn

Paul Graham writes:

In theory, [classroom] tests are merely what their name implies: tests of what you’ve learned in the class. In theory you shouldn’t have to prepare for a test in a class any more than you have to prepare for a blood test. In theory you learn from taking the class, from going to the lectures and doing the reading and/or assignments, and the test that comes afterward merely measures how well you learned.

In practice, as almost everyone reading this will know, things are so different that hearing this explanation of how classes and tests are meant to work is like hearing the etymology of a word whose meaning has changed completely. In practice, the phrase “studying for a test” was almost redundant, because that was when one really studied. The difference between diligent and slack students was that the former studied hard for tests and the latter didn’t. No one was pulling all-nighters two weeks into the semester.

Even though I was a diligent student, almost all the work I did in school was aimed at getting a good grade on something.

This, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with the education system. Forget governments, unions, misunderstandings, standardization, Baumol Disease and all the rest. The big problem is that the signal value of school subsumed the educational value. It’s Campbell’s Law.

The rest of the article is worth the read.

2 thoughts on “The Lesson to Unlearn

    • As a rule of thumb, definitely. But I think we’d be fooling ourselves to deny that this happens in markets and civil society too. Personally, I think it’s an issue of scale that’s exacerbated by the logic of politics.

Please keep it civil

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