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Education as Consumption

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Title : Education as Consumption
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Education as Consumption

I just ran across the oddest idea. In a debate between two economists as to whether higher education should be free or not (as proposed by more than one presidential candidate in the US), one writes as follows:
Suppose you strongly desire to drastically increase the amount of education that people consume.  What should you do?
The obvious answer: Make education completely free of charge – and have the government pay the the entire cost.
I say this obvious answer is obviously right.  As I explain in The Case Against Education, I favor extreme educational austerity, because I think the education system is a waste of time and money.  Nevertheless, given the goal of drastically increasing educational attainment, completely shifting the cost burden from consumers to taxpayers is highly effective.
What word there is incomprehensible to me? "Consume"--the idea that education is something that people consume seems utterly wrong to me. Is this misunderstanding because the debaters are economists? That hardly seems likely. Even they can't conceive of education, vice "learning" as I understand it, as a pile of some material that students come to class and consume. But I don't even think that education is a service that universities provide to their student-clients, though it almost seems like that. No, education or learning is a process that students go through and it is one that is largely self-administered. Some of us are life-long students. If you decide you want to learn something then you set out on a journey of sorts. You don't consume a journey and a journey is not exactly a service. Mind you, other people can provide certain services to you that can aid your journey of learning.

Strongly desiring to increase the amount of education or learning that people consume is like pushing on a string. You have the causality all wrong! You can provide opportunities for those people who wish to learn such as professors, courses, programs, libraries and so on. But there is absolutely nothing you can do that can ensure that anyone actually learns something. The quantity of learning that occurs is really only a function of two things: the student's desire or propensity to learn something and their ability to do so. Government can have all the strong desires it wants, but that will have very little effect on how much learning takes place.

Does anyone else find this very peculiar?




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