Here's the relevant point from Freakonomics. As society grows more complex, more and more specialists evolve. Doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, property agents, journalists, religious leaders and car salesmen - all of them are specialists of a different kind.
The individual cannot possibly be an expert in every field relevant to his life. So he must often rely on advice from different specialists. For example, if he is ill, he will consult a doctor. If he wants to buy a car or sell an apartment, he will talk to a car salesman or a property agent.
The Freakonomics authors warn us that very often, the specialist's self-interest is not fully aligned with the self-interest of the person seeking information or advice. In other words, it often does not serve the specialist to tell you everything that you should know.
For example, it may take too much time for the specialist to tell you everything you should know, and there is no reward for doing so - therefore he won't.
Or the specialist might deliberately withhold certain information about his product / service, because if you knew all its flaws, limitations or disadvantages, you might not want his product / service any more.
Or he may deliberately slant or angle his advice in certain ways, so that you will be inclined to make a decision that serves his own self-interest.
And there is usually no equal footing, because the specialist, by virtue of being a specialist, already knows more than you. He holds the edge.
Let's now consider our education system. Socially, we are conditioned to think of education as a noble thing, and of educators as noble people. Certainly this view has some validity - some people would say, a lot of validity.
But at the same time, we must realise that there are different actors within the school system. Different actors means different self-interests, and that means the Freakonomics info/advice problem must arise again.
What's good for the Ministry of Education is not necessarily good for the principal. What's good for the principal is not necessarily good for the teachers. What's good for the teachers is not necessarily good for the students.
And what's good for the students may not necessarily be good for the teachers, principal or the Ministry of Education.
(Minor digression - here is a brief account of how I, as a student, went against the government's then-prevailing career advice for young Singaporeans. I thereby became quite rich and successful).
It is very good for the principal, if the school achieves a high overall pass score. An ambitious principal may well aim to achieve, say, a 98% or 100% pass score. It is conceivable that such an ambition may heavily shape a principal's advice to the students or the way the principal runs the school.
For example, the principal may discourage students from exploring knowledge outside the formal school syllabus (such extra learning may be good for the students, but will not help the overall pass scores).
Or the principal may prevent the students from taking subjects which the students are interested in, but which are considered harder to pass (for example, Further Maths, or Art, or Literature).
Or the principal may seek ways to put extreme pressure on the students to work as hard as possible, such that a few of the less-resilient students will inevitably suffer severe stress.
Or the principal may advise the weak students to leave the school and pursue other options elsewhere (if these students stay, and fail their exams, then the overall pass scores would be damaged).
And the students may never realise that their education is being shaped, not by considerations of what is good for them, but of what is good for their principal.
The Freakonomics authors do not say, of course, that in every case, specialists are out to hurt the advisee's position. In many situations, the interests of the advisor and the advisee could be well-aligned - this means that the advisor has a strong incentive to be genuinely helpful.
What Freakonomics does warn us is that when we receive any specialist advice, we should pause to ask ourselves - what are all the possible reasons why the specialist is telling us what the specialist is telling us?
Final food for thought. Here's that Bertrand Russell quote again:
"Passive acceptance of the teacher's wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position." - Bertrand Russell.So beware of the specialists in your life, whoever they may be.