Pointless Education- A Unique View

Julius Olavarria | November 17, 2022


Elementary, high school, and college students around the world complain that the modern education system is “mostly” pointless. Bryan Caplan, a renowned economist, agrees with students. He advocates that the United States education system is pointless, and while counter-intuitive, argues that less education would actually be better for students across the country.

As an economist, he not only advocates for less schooling but calls for  “irrelevant” subjects removed from standard education. According to Caplan, subjects that don’t apply to the “modern labor market” should be removed- they are pointless to learn.

Were Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and other successful individuals complaining about pointless education when they were in school? When they were learning Shakespeare, for example, did they pack up and quit? 

I believe that the classes that students are forced to take but have no interest in are just as important as the ones that are. Every student, no matter the school, learns math, English, and science. It doesn’t matter if the school is public or private or specialized or not, every American child learns things they don’t want to: that’s how it has always been.

Given, there are obviously major negatives to this. Someone who is forced to take math but is interested in the sciences has a hard time in school. Someone might do poorly in math because of their lack of motivation and not get into their desired school because of that grade, even if he/she would be useful to the school because of their performances in their more enjoyed subjects. However, this is an extreme case.

The benefits of taking classes that aren’t interesting sometimes exceed classes that are interesting. Just like in life, anything you don’t want to do is presumed pointless, negative, and a waste of time. I say the struggle, the extra work, and the motivation that one has to dig deep to find is more beneficial than taking the easy way out. A core life lesson that everyone learns at one point or another is that everything you do will not be something you enjoy- this is a perfect way to learn this lesson and others. It teaches you things about yourself that you couldn’t discover in interesting/easier classes. 

Caplan claims that subjects should be geared more towards “labor market” oriented skills. The modern labor market needs more workers that are educated in the field. What can we do with thousands of history majors across the nation? How would they contribute to the economy besides being historians? 

Caplan uses these questions to assert that major components of college are simply not worth it for students, especially considering the modern labor market. He asks why we study historical literature, such as Shakespeare, when none of that will be used in the future. All of his arguments boil down to “I will never need to use the Pythagorean Theorem in the real world so I shouldn’t have to learn it.” 

As I said, there is some truth to it, but at the end of the day, this way of thought is futile and idealistic. 

First of all, a complete overhaul of American learning is impractical. How could we easily switch the centuries-long system of education, cutting out subjects that are suddenly deemed irrelevant? Practicality is key to change, and a massive reset to education is certainly not at the top of the list given today’s events. 

Second of all, universal education provides the ground needed to rise above other individuals and make a living in the modern labor market. If everyone relatively learns the same subjects in the early learning years, which Caplan and I both agree, then equality is born. It doesn’t matter how irrelevant these subjects are, as long as everyone learns the same things, the naturally smarter more gifted students will rise from the pack and attend the more selective colleges. 

Third of all, colleges are needed. As mentioned above, high school is like a training ground that separates the thriving students from the others. College is needed to refine and prepare the skills the students exhibited in high school. After college, the students are experts in their fields and are ready to tackle the market and benefit our economy. 

Pointlessness is also subjective. One may seem pointless to one person might be beneficial to another, and certainly not pointless to the teacher. Expanding your horizons, shifting your attitude, and sticking it out through pointless classes is necessary. 

Shakespeare, the Pythagorean theorem, or other seemingly “pointless” subjects contributed to the willpower, grit, and determination of these experts. They wouldn’t have learned these lifelong skills if they had just studied the labor market or things that interested them. There’s nothing that builds grit more than doing something you don’t want to do, the modern education system proves this to us, which is why every subject is here to stay.