Dale Stephens thinks he knows enough to know that college is a waste of time .  It’s expensive and a lot of people apparently don’t learn a lot.

I left college two months ago because it rewards conformity rather than independence, competition rather than collaboration, regurgitation rather than learning and theory rather than application. Our creativity, innovation and curiosity are schooled out of us.

Failure is punished instead of seen as a learning opportunity. We think of college as a stepping-stone to success rather than a means to gain knowledge. College fails to empower us with the skills necessary to become productive members of today’s global entrepreneurial economy.

Thanks to a Thiel Fellowship , he doesn’t have to waste his time conforming, competing, regurgitating, and theorizing; he can get right on to the important matter of “build[ing] a better world.”

I’m of two minds.  There is ample evidence that in some respects he’s probably right. A lot of students apparently don’t learn much in college , especially if they don’t work very hard .  And it’s probably the case that the students who instrumentalize higher education often wind up in unchallenging majors that don’t make enough use of what Poirot called the little gray cells.

But this young man doesn’t seem unwilling to work hard, and a good teacher or two might be able to provoke him into thinking.  In other words, if he didn’t seem to think that he knew everything already, and if he didn’t seem to disdain theory, he might be a quite exciting student to have in a classroom, he might learn quite a bit, and then he might be ready to think about making the world a better place.

So some of it is the fault of folks in higher education, who all too often, for a variety of mostly bad reasons, don’t do much to challenge their customers, er, I mean, students.  They entertain, train, and/or indoctrinate, but don’t educate.

But he seems to have lost sight of, or never heard of , another purpose of higher education, which is the tradition of a civilization, an introduction to and induction into a great conversation.  He doesn’t seem to have much patience for that.  (Of course, he’s far from alone in displaying that attitude.)

Perhaps he’s right.  A genuinely higher education may not be for him, not for the reasons he offers, but because he’s not ready for it.

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg


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