Published Online: November 12, 2004
Published in Print: November 1, 2004, as The Education Gospel
Book Review

The Education Gospel


The Economic Power of Schooling

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by W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson (Harvard, 334 pages, $45)

The “education gospel” as defined by Grubb and Lazerson, scholars at UC Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania, respectively, refers to the widely held notion that more education is the answer to economic and social problems. Believers assert that the complex nature of work in our knowledge-based society, combined with global competition, pretty much requires college for all.

But the authors argue that the almost-universal belief espoused in this gospel is false, seeing as only 30 percent of jobs require postsecondary education. The belief, they say, has led to a bizarre misalignment of supply and demand; at least one-third of the population is overschooled, with degrees that lead nowhere in particular. Others are underprepared for employment because they’ve tried to learn skills in school that could have been better acquired on the job.

Grubb and Lazerson rightfully conclude that high school in particular has been damaged by the education gospel. Students see it simply as a stop before college, where real education begins. So the authors suggest creating “theme-based” high schools, in which teens study subjects of personal interest, from the environment to the performing arts. These schools, they write, would provide off-campus activities, such as internships and service learning, and greater career guidance that clarifies “students’ future options and their relationship to both secondary and postsecondary education.”

—David Ruenzel

Vol. 16, Issue 03, Page 47

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