Living in the Silicon Valley, I have heard this argument for a while now. To be a real creative force in the technological world or to create jobs to better the economy, you have to drop out of college, sometimes the best colleges in America (Zuckerberg and Moscovitz dropped out of Harvard ) or not even go at all (Gates and Allen). Many other big names can also be mentioned, Flickr, Twitter and Etsy among them, as being founded by college dropouts.
Lately I am also seeing this argument all over the internet, with authors like Michael Ellsberg, Joel Mathis and Matt Drudge chiming in. Michael Ellsberg authored the new book The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think and It’s Not Too Late.
One angel investor says that he has funded college dropouts because they simply didn’t need the rest of their degree to finish their ideas in the real world. And he argues, isn’t that what college was meant to do in the first place? To teach the fundamentals of a science so that new innovations can then be made?
Furthering the argument is the idea that colleges are degree factories where the manufacture date is the graduation year. Sir Ken Robinson, an educational revolutionary, has described it as a Fast Food Paradigm. He goes on to say that creativity has been killed in the American school system. The ability to handle failure, too. Many of the entrepreneurs mentioned here speak passionately about their business failures leading to success. Our education system asks students to play it safe and give up at the first sign of failure (assuming that any failure will look bad on college applications and resumes).
Add to this the sages who remark on the lack of social interaction in the competitive schools and note that all businesses rely on someone buying something from someone. Salesmanship isn’t taught in most educational systems, and this is what has made the Bigs so big. You have to know how to talk face to face and academia is not big on collaboration, even as it is in their best interest to be.
Perhaps it is a safer bet to point out that all of these people have had a middle to upper class white background, and because of that have a fundamental understanding of how college works, and how the American system works. After all, they had to get into college to drop out of it. And we do know that it is much easier to get into college if you are from this type of background.
What about their mentors and advisers? They are usually college educated, as are the angel investors. And we as a nation are still telling our children to get good grades, do well on their SATs and spend an average of $45,000 on tuition — after accounting for scholarships — while taking on $23,000 in debt to get a private four-year college education.
I am not sure that there is not an argument to be made for the dropouts, but I also don’t think we as educators should advocate throwing away a Harvard education, even if it did work for one guy named Zuckerberg.
Photo credit: Dr. Starbuck
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