Turning the Education World On It’s Ear
Flip on the television, turn on the radio, or drive down the freeway and watch the billboards flash past and you will be inundated with advertisements and information about education.
“People with college degrees earn up to one million dollars more than people without degrees” they say; and “education sets the standard for success” is another popular mantra chanted by the education gurus. But is it true? Is higher education really all it is cracked up to be? Or is America just going through a temporary “education bubble”?
The Education Bubble
According to Peter Thiel (co-founder of Pay-Pal, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, hedge-fund manager, and philanthropist) that’s exactly what is happening – an education bubble. This so called higher education bubble has taken the place of the infamous housing bubble. Thiel says,
“A true bubble is when something is overvalued and intensely believed. Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Clause.”
Thiel further states that,
“Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe. The excesses of both were always excused by a core national belief that no matter what happens in the world, these were the best investments you could make. Housing prices would always go up, and you will always make more money if you are college educated. Like any good bubble, this belief– while rooted in truth– gets pushed to unhealthy levels.”
Today’s economy and job market seem to back up Thiel’s beliefs. Unemployment is flirting with its highest levels since the Great Depression and (according to a CNN poll) 84% of Americans expect another Great Depression within the next three years. Yet the cost of education continues to rise, graduates rack up record amounts of college loan debt, then find themselves jobless and moving back in with Mom and Dad.
Tales of Rags to Riches
Another truth backing up Thiel’s claims is common sense. We’ve all heard the success stories of millionaires and multimillionaires who never attended college, but there are thousands of small time guy who makes good- and these often did not attended college. I personally know a man who is a highly sought after engineer. His skills and knowledge are in demand all over the world and he receives numerous calls each week from people wanting to hire him. He never attended college. His tremendous knowledge and skill base came from hard work and on-the-job training. I also know a general contractor who is always in demand because he builds safe buildings, up to code, brings them in on time and under budget, and has never faced problems once he completes a job. He never even finished high school.
We see it all around us every day. People who do what they do, do it very well, and all without a college education. After all, why do you need to know who wrote Don Quixote in order to install insulation? Why do you need to understand wave-particle duality in order to teach third graders how to read? Now I’m not saying I would choose a doctor or a dentist with no educational background – but there are so many jobs out there that can be done beyond satisfactory levels without a college degree to back them up. I honestly believe most skills are actually better learned on the job than in any classroom. Education has merit; it has an important place in the world. But maybe, just maybe, education is not quite the revered standard we have held it up to be.
Mr. Thiel not only believes that philosophy, but is also willing to put his money where his mouth is. He has pledged to give $100,000 to 24 people, under the age of 20, who are willing to drop out of college and make a go at entrepreneurship using only their own creative talents and ingenuity.
Thiel may be on to something big here. Technology and innovation don’t usually come out of the classroom anyway. They usually stem from talent within the workplace. The biggest innovations in history have come from people who were simply trying to improve their own lives and make living easier. It doesn’t take a college education to see ways of improving the present and the future. And the future of our society certainly does not lie in conformity and the socialistic belief that control and regulation equals safety and innovation.
The Flip Side
However, it should also be noted that Thiel:
- is a graduate of Stanford University
- holds a B.A. in Philosophy
- earned his J.D. from Stanford Law School
Does this put a crimp in his theory? Possibly, since high end schools do tend to be a Mecca of sorts for the highly intelligent, highly creative, and highly innovative thinkers in our world. But at the same time Universities by very nature are elitist and exclusionary. Only those who can afford to attend do so. And only those who can afford college are able to get their innovative ideas out into the world. That dynamic all but completely eliminates bright and talented people who are not lucky enough to be born into an upper class position.
Help the Cream to Rise
In the past innovation was accepted from all walks of life, today it is more readily accepted from the “well educated”. Thiel is attempting to change that stereotype, and I hope he can manage it! Creativity, innovation, technology . . . don’t necessarily need a classroom setting to ignite their spark. Perhaps we can help put America back on the road to economic greatness if we allow all people with imagination and inspiration to work on and improve our future – not just the “well educated.”