I''m hoping Atatax hasn't given up on this post.
Let's find a middle ground by dividing this question.
1. Is it worth going to school?
2. Is going to culinary school worth the money?
In answer to the first question the answer is a resounding YES. Going to school for anything is better than not going to school. A school is a place completely dedicated to teaching. There are instructors/professors to guide learning the right information in the right order. Class and lab times are for focused learning of the material with the opportunity for question and answer, trial and error and the students development in understanding the topic at hand. The school curriculum has been set up to pass on as much established information on the topic as possible in a given time frame. School will expose the student to the history of the topic to understand how the current state of the topic was arrived at, present a broad and inclusive scope of the topic in its contemporary form with multiple perspectives so that the student is aware of as many aspects of said topic as possible. In doing so, the student is provided with a better overall understanding of the topic generally and where various areas have their place within the larger scope. School curriculum has been prepared in such a way as to prevent the student from wasting time and effort in learning information that is irrelevant, immaterial, incorrect or misguided. Learning is guided and graded before graduation to ensure the proper lessons have been understood and the student has shown a certain level proficiency. In certain kinds of schools this may include the development of a "professional" outlook, including appearance and attitude and method of relating to others.
In terms of efficient learning, school has no equal. You can spend decades trying to learn on your own while sifting through useless, pointless information or devote yourself to the time and effort of school to learn so much more in so much less time. I was once told "Someone with a degree will learn in five years what someone without a degree will learn in fifteen years". I have found that to be true.
2. Is going to culinary school worth the money? It used to be but these days, mostly No. I hate saying that but as everyone has pointed out, spending 50K on a two year degree only to get out and earn $12 an hour is absurd. I had the good fortune to attend Johnson and Wales University in Providence RI back in the early 1980's when tuition was about 7K per year. I graduated with about $3K in debt. That was tough enough to pay off at the time but my education was excellent and had a profound effect on my career afterward, both in greater opportunity and in my professional development as a young cook. Culinary schools have sprouted up everywhere and I have serious doubts that they can all provide the level of education I received at J&W, whatever price they may charge.
I'll finish by using an analogy to illustrate the difference between school and no school. A good culinary education, or any other good schooling for that matter, is like paying admission for a guided tour to an enormous mansion with all the lights on in every room. The tour is quicker than you would like as you pass through each room but you do get to see each room and at least gain some understanding of its' contents. When you leave, you are no expert but you are at least aware of what the mansion contains overall, how the various rooms fit together and which rooms held the most interest for you.
Not going to school is walking in to the same mansion with No lights on but it's "free". It may not cost the admission fee but you have to fumble around from one room to another until you find a light switch. You may eventually and with great effort find the lights in more than one room but given the effort it takes you are quite likely to give up searching and simply remain in the room you were in when you decided you had enough of fumbling around. Because of this, you are never really aware of what all the other rooms have to offer although you may hear rumors but you aren't inclined to continue searching when you have become so accustomed to your surroundings.
So I will say it is a beautiful mansion with astonishing rooms and grand interiors. But the price of admission has gotten out of hand.