Sunday, March 27, 2005


Of late I have been discussing with a friend some possibilities for revamping the curriculum and methods of teaching at Beloit College. This is mainly a thought experiment.

My latest response began like this:

It seems to me that if all these ideas are as viable and workable as you claim, they would have been tried by now. Doesn't the fact that no college has a curriculum like you want suggest that the market has determined that this is not the best outcome?

I should be ashamed of myself, and I am. I adhere to what I consider truth: that markets solve problems, and when a problem exists the market actively works to solve it. However, I took it a step too far in assuming that if the market (in this case, the college system) had yet to try something, then it was hardly worth looking at. This logic of course precludes all forms of entrepreneurship. To say that an idea is not workable because if it were, then "the market would have already done that" ignores that the market is a dynamic process. I am not the only one to commit this fallacy (heck, I probably find myself guilty of it regularly). How many times has a student been told that a research topic, if valuable, would have already been researched? I have seen (and probably done it myself) friends dismiss new products under the guise that they can't possibly be innovative.

And of course my favorite tale is one of a teacher I once had, who claimed with absolute sincerity, that there was nothing new that could be thought of or done; all the "newness" was exhausted.

Clearly, this is a fallacy of thought. It is especially a fallacy of economic thought. But I do not know what to call it. The fallacy of premature dismissal? Ideas?

1 comment:

Chris said...

Sheesh, Mike, really. I think Thomas Edison was also dismissed for trying to invent things, but maybe I'm mixing up things too. Anyways, I know that I've definitely heard the claim that all things that would be invented had been - and that quote was attributed to the late 19th century, boy were they wrong, huh?

Also, I'm curious as to what your model curriculum is? I've heard that Beloit is famous for its unique curriculum, so what exactly did you have in mind?

Finally, it's nice to see you back on the blog again.