What Good is a College Education

In Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman uses the shorthand descriptors “System 1” and “System 2” to stand for an automatic system of thinking and an effortful system of thinking respectively.  System 1 operates quickly and automatically and is generally “in charge” of our brains under ordinary circumstances and System 1 cannot be turned off.  System 2 swings into operation when matters require careful attention say when searching a crowded room for a particular person, or dividing a dinner tab among several diners or constructing a logical argument.  System 2, according to Kahneman, is lazy.  Using System 2 takes real energy-sapping effort.  Kahneman’s simplified construct for modes of thinking allows him (and his readers) to more easily understand many aspects of human decision making.

So what good is a college education – any college education.  Using Daniel Kahneman’s paradigm, I would say that college graduates have improved System 2 thinking.  They have become used to effortful, hard, and careful thinking.  That is why they are valued by society and the working world.  I have always wondered why our current social goal of increasing the number of college graduates never seemed to address the quality of such education.  I think now that the habit of effortful attention is a product of most college educations and this somewhat justifies society’s emphasis on a degree.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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