Sorry in advance.


Mechanics of Tradecraft

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Why are economic justifications the important justifications? If I give an instruction of "teach this kid about separation of powers", the civic justifications are quite clear, while the economic justifications would be quite nebolous and I think the criteria would not be that up in the air.

If you say so. I hope you don't mind if we also do a follow up survey to examine whether or not the kid remembers that information when he's old enough to vote, and trial the class on a random half of the students to see whether or not it makes a difference on political opinions 10y down the line as well. I prefer economic justifications because all of the other types of justifications people make seem to be pulled out of thin air, and they don't seem too enthusiastic about proving their existence, but if you're one of the rare other people, sure, we can try out the civics classes with the goal of doing science to figure out if these benefits actually manifest themselves in practice.

I am a bit surprised that the teacher would be scared of a low outcome. I guess it makes somewhat sense if it is a PvP ranking game among students and among teachers.

I absolutely never said that. The tutor in my scenario simply wants to know what it is he is expected to teach and how such learning will be measured, just like any contractor. There's no PvP dynamic here because student learning on an objective skill like "basic literacy" can be measured by a fixed bar. Everyone gets a 'Pass' on a literacy test if they are able to pass that bar, and the bar for such a test would not move up or down based on the increasing or decreasing aptitude of students.

Contrast this with the situation we have now, where schools that give students high marks on average are accused of "grade inflation" by the other schools, because grades are actually a PvP ranking game between students and are valued not as indicators of learning but as signals important in only relative terms for getting admitted to high ranking colleges.


I can't tell you because I have absolutely no idea what skills and information elementary, middle, and high school students are intended to absorb in the current regime and why. No one does, by design. But an answer to how to verify such learning would come naturally to someone who had a specific reason for compelling children to learn about a subject, and thus knew what those children were supposed to be able to do by the end of the year with that knowledge.

As an example, one possible exception to my "current school curriculums are useless" brush is literacy. I see a case for compelling chiildren to learn that skill (as opposed to skills that are only personally beneficial, and which could be handled by school vouchers), because communication protocols have beneficial network effects. It's obvious to everyone how a third party could verify literacy, since we know why kids should be able to read and under what circumstances they'd do that. It would work to give children grade-level appropriate manuals, mall maps, technical documentation, essays, etc. - things they might like to read in real life - and just then asking them questions.

Notice that you could say to a tutor "teach this kid how to read" and there's not much confusion with regard to what the child is supposed to be able to do, because it's common knowledge what that means and there's an obvious reason why you want the child to be able to do it.

On the other hand, if I tell the tutor "teach this kid about ancient egypt", the test could be fucking anything because there's actually no economic justification for compelling children to learn about ancient egypt. I would have to write eight more paragraphs either specifying exactly what information I was going to need the kid to memorize by the end of the semester, or drop hints to the tutor as to what was going to be on the test, in order for the tutor to feel comfortable staking his professional reputation on successfully teaching the child.


It is kind of ironic that in my local culture the stance is more that by not focusing on testing school and teachers have room to care about learning.

This is not the kind of "stance" that people have when thinking about subjects in near mode instead of far mode. Imagine a doctor who told you that his policy was not to focus on diagnostics so that he could have more room to care about treating patients, or a hedge fund manager who said that by not focusing on returns he has more room to care about making good trades. It doesn't even make sense. You create and "focus on" the best measurements you have of health/returns/learning if you care about those things, you don't if you don't.

To be clear, there is a sense in which not caring about testing does make children's lives easier, because most of what we force children to do is learn socially and personally useless skills and subjects and perform busywork, and there's a strong case to be made that if you added consistent and effective testing to the system it would increase their suffering. Perhaps the people in your local culture understand this on an intuitive level and so don't want to measure progress. But the fact that there is no consistent and effective testing at all - never mind the uselessness of the process in the first place - the fact that people hold stances like "tests get in the way of learning", is painfully indicative of how ridiculous the existing system is.


Here is an example: in the current system, K12 students are randomly assigned a subject-specific teacher-grader by their local government. These teacher-graders are tasked with both imparting either background knowledge or skills, such as history, and also giving students personally built examinations designed to determine whether or not they understand the subject. In university, the situation is even worse (from the perspective of the hypothetical person who cares that young adults learn about the subjects they take in university). There, students select their teacher-graders and so systematically migrate to the ones most likely to give them good grades.

If schools were actually invested in children and adults learning the subject of history, they wouldn't have the person charged with teaching students be the same person tasked with deciding whether or not the students were taught, because that's insane. There would be a second organization, not embedded inside the school, verifying that in fact students know the things that the school was aiming for them to know, that year and at least several years afterwards. The marks students receive that are supposed to indicate successful learning would be certified by that second party, not from their tutor. The reason that schools have the existing system instead isn't because school administrators are stupid, it's because they do not actually care that children learn the things they say they're trying to teach.

"Have a third party verify that the thing you want to happen is happening" is the sort of reasoning that is natural to people earnestly trying to accomplish a goal and unnatural to bureaucracies like the ones that manage our school system. Creating a better system would mean actually figuring out what it is that schools want children to learn, and an administrator would have to expend large amounts of political capital to assert that for little professional gain, so they don't do it. In this fantasy universe where school districts did have a specific interest in making sure kids learned socially positive skills, there would be third parties measuring such skills acquisition, and not just yearly standardized tests organized by another bureaucracy of the province which don't have any impact on a student's actual marks.


Requires extremely coordinated incompetence to work.

It's indeed an incredible waste that higher education is almost entirely a credentialing race; doesn't mean it requires that much coordination or even incompetence. The root causes are simple (intense government subsidies + a natural race to the bottom to be Most Credentialed among the working class), and could only be fixed by people and institutions which aren't fired if they govern incorrectly. Biden and Xi are simply optimizing for different things than the general welfare of their constituents. You should read this if you have the time.

For what it's worth, however counterintuitive you find this, I am fairly certain I find the idea that schooling does anything worth paying for more counterintuitive.


There is no signaling reason if it's your own employee. You already know the guy. You know him far more intimately than any degree.

I understand. My point is that if a person is going to get a Master's degree anyways, it's cheaper for the employer to compensate them by paying for their education than by actually paying them extra money, because the government will give them tax breaks for doing so. This is the real reason employers pay for employees' education (besides a misguided sense of charity), not the other thing.

And people audit college courses all the time for upskilling. I'm considering doing so for grad courses right now.

Yet the vast majority don't audit courses, even when it's free. In the United States, you can walk into very respectable universities like UC Berkeley and sit in on any class you like. Even people who live next to the campus almost never do. Anomalous if you believe most of the value of education comes from imparting skills, obvious if you believe most of the value of UC Berkeley education is transacted via the degree that says "UC Berkeley grad" and not the information students study while attending.


China had a massive program to send students for college education in the US.

Governments make mostly incorrect decisions, both for reasons of misalignment and incompetence. They're not hedge funds. Xi and Biden don't get paid more if they hit good Gross Domestic Product targets.

I'm sure that if keeping the same person around at the company doing the same job but with a bit more mentoring was more efficient than asking them to take a few years off to get a Master's/PhD, more companies around here would do so.

I'm unfamiliar with the business practice of letting employees "take a few years off" to get a Master's/PhD; that might be a Chinese thing. Here employers will pay for employee's higher education, but that's generally pitched as part of the compensation package for working there and done for tax reasons, not upskilling. Employees go for higher education because of the signaling value of having more education, not because the knowledge will make them more valuable employees. No one would ever go to anything like a University if the University was unable to award degrees certifying that the person had done so. This is obvious.

A lot of what students learn in school is sheer willpower...

Citation needed. This willpower certainly does not seem to manifest itself empirically in terms of increased wages or career prospects, EXCEPT in terms of how the subsequent degree and certification signals preexisting conformity+intelligence+conscientiousness, which are traits valued by employers.

At best (in any country) I'll grant that children are heavily coerced to follow arduous orders, and the ones that have the least pride and are most enthusiastic to do that get promoted into top government and official positions, who then set policy so that the next batch of students are rewarded based on their willingness to do pointless work at the behest of their bosses, etc. etc. However "ability to do lots of useless work when an authority figure tells you to" is a very different psychological skill than the kind needed to do actually productive work, proactively, for your or the world's benefit.

Then why are they called "anti-schooling arguments" and not "arguments for big school reforms"?...Schools are literally worse than no schools, all else equal? I think, no, they aren't.

In the case of higher education, yes, they are literally worse than no schools, all else equal. If you burned all higher educational institutions to the ground, my prediction is that after a small transition period where people figured out how to get the 5% of actually economically productive information somewhere else, global GDP would significantly increase. A world where adults skip paying a hundred thousand dollars for 4-6 years of college, and learn how to perform their trade, for free, via a 1-2 year unpaid internship at an actual company, or at the equivalent of a bootcamp, is much better than the extraordinarily expensive and wasteful credentialing race we have now. I cannot understand why this is so controversial, and why people resist the vast empirical evidence supporting this take with such absurd intensity.

In the case of K12, I still call my position "anti-schooling", because the vast majority of the stuff we coerce and threaten children into "studying" is useless. It happens that a couple of those things are really important, like literacy and numeracy, but since the important lessons represent less than 10% of what K12 does, and it's accomplished in such a harmful way, I still call my position "anti-school".


Full literacy and numeracy are not what the school system is designed to teach, and certainly can be learned for most people without going to college. The vast majority of anti-schooling arguments you'll see from anti-schoolers have nothing to do with expecting people to learn things on their own. We simply question the value in coercing children to learn most of the things schools teach, and think that putting children in halfway houses and forcing them to do meaningless busywork is mean. We also don't want hundreds of billions of tax dollars funding what is empirically and definitively an actual signaling contest.

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