Why we should really work on improving education

When politicians want to show they support education, they often make claims along the lines that increasing the number of college graduates stimulates the economy. The most-used evidence for this are the statistics that show that, the more education you have, the more money you end up making, and the more likely you are to be employed.

First, while these two claims are generally true, they are far from the guarantee that politicians and educators make them sound.

Second, more education does not necessarily improve the economy, and I like the analogy that this guy uses:

Implicit in the first point is that a majority of working-age individuals don’t work because they choose not to (i.e. they are lazy scroungers), or because unemployment is caused by laziness or lack of training. The argument they often use is that “I can get a job, therefore all the unemployed could get jobs if only they tried harder, or got better education and training.”

The way I go about demonstrating that fallacy is a dogs-and-bones example. Say we have 10 dogs and we bury nine bones in the backyard. We send the dogs out to find bones. At least one dog will come back without a bone.

We decide that the problem is lack of training. We put that dog through rigorous training in the latest bone-finding techniques. We bury nine bones and send the 10 dogs out again. The trained dog ends up with a bone, but some other dog comes back without a bone (empty-mouthed, so to speak).

Third, it implies that the less educated are more of a burden on society/the economy. If only they would go get a higher degree, they would be doing better than they are now.

So, does that mean we shouldn’t encourage people to go to college and strive for higher educations?

Far from it. We should definitely encourage and invest in higher education for more people, but let’s end the canard that it pays off directly in employment and income, or we should encourage it because it helps the economy. It does, but that’s not why we want more people with high education.

The real reason we should be telling people to graduate from high school, college, or graduate school, is that, overall, people who are more educated are better for society.

The more educated you are:

1. The better you can take care of yourself. When you’re unemployed, it often requires several skills and qualities to find a job. Often these skills are only gained through practice, like the kind of practice that gaining a degree offers.

2. The better you can take care of others. Similar to number one.

3. The more opportunities you have. Someone with a general high school education will only be able to find certain jobs. Someone with an advanced degree with be able to find those same jobs, plus others. Have a degree in a scientific field? You also have the ability to find a job in a related field.

4. The better you are at choosing the people who govern over you. And you will be better at monitoring how well they do. And better at rewarding or punishing them for the job they do.

5. The better you are at handling anything life throws at you. Serious illness, loss of job, tricky legal battle? Having a good education better prepares you for any of these things.

If we want to live in a better society than we have now, having more educated people is practically a requirement.

In arguing that we should always seek to improve the education levels in our population, it may seem like I’m reinforcing the third issue I mentioned above, that the less educated are a burden. However, I am not making this claim.

For example, a person may be in a job that merely requires a high school education, such as a garbage collector. It would be a mistake to say they do not serve a role in our society; this job needs someone to do it, and he’s filling that need. However, if that person were to get a college education, it doesn’t mean they are suddenly going to be doing their job better, and at the same time, it does not necessarily mean that they are wasting their capabilities if they have this college degree but still collect garbage; this is still a needed role that they are filling. My argument is that the person should seek a college education for the way it improves their lives in areas other than employment/the economy.

Like health care, I think education should not be treated as a privilege, but as a basic need, and the government (us, as a society) should facilitate individual people raising their levels of education. Because education itself is a benefit to society.


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