kitchen table math, the sequel: how I used my college education

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

how I used my college education

Joanne Jacobs links to a post from Bryan Caplan on the uselessness of education.

We've talked about this before, but I think I'll re-post my Comment on Joanne's blog here:

...the idea that college graduates “don’t use” their education is true only in the superficial sense of the term.

If you read Dan Willingham & E.D. Hirsch you realize that a liberal arts education gives you a large practical advantage in the world of work. A broad liberal arts education turns you into a faster learner (and reader) than you would have been otherwise.

Knowledge begets knowledge. That’s a familiar idea.

What I didn’t realize until I read more cognitive science is that knowledge also begets speed. At a certain point in your learning of any subject you suddenly become able to learn knew facts, skills, procedures, and concepts in that subject much more rapidly than when you were starting out.

I suspect that this speed-up point occurs when you acquire a basic “schema” of the knowledge domain. And I’m positive that a good college gives you the most sophisticated schema for each knowledge domain possible.

My own career is an illustration of this.

As a non-fiction writer I have to tackle fields I know virtually nothing about. I have to be able to get my arms around these fields very quickly.

I can do it because of my education at Wellesley and Dartmouth. All these years later, I’m still “trading on” those four years.

I “use” my liberal arts education to earn a living, but I’m not earning a living teaching the subjects I studied. I’m earning a living being able to pick up new knowledge about the subjects I studied rapidly — and being able to make sense of new knowledge in terms of what I learned in college.


TurbineGuy said...

I disagree with you over at Joannes.

Karen A said...

For related commentary, check out today's post at Classical School Blog, which is a blog maintained by Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide.

Karen A said...

The above-referenced Drs. Fernette and Brock Eide are physicians who have a national referral practice for children with learning disabilities and have co-authored a book titled, "The Mislabeled Child." They also maintain a daily blog for neurolearning issues. Here's the link:

Today's post is titled, "The Development of Self-Control" and it discusses working memory in children.