I’ll preface this by saying I have some fairly strong opinions on the education system in the US. To be blunt, the traditional US eduction system is, by and large, a complete waste of time for an intelligent student. It teaches young people bad habits, sets unreasonable expectations, and differs in most fundamental aspects from the reality of the adult world.
I have friends who graduated high school with perfect GPAs and excelled at Ivy League universities. They are, by and large, a certain type of person: they understand that they need to play by the rules to get ahead. They went to classes, they did their homework, they captained the debate team and poured their hearts into their college applications.
I am not that person. I hate rules, I don’t like being told what to do, and I can’t accept that things are done a certain way “just because.”
In other words, I’m an entrepreneur.
I managed to make it out alive but I consider myself successful in spite of my education. High school and college wouldn’t rank in the top 50 contributing factors to my success. In fact, I’m confident that I could have pieced together a much better (and cheaper) education with a combination of business books, TED talks, and a few smart friends.
Traditional education fails countless brilliant and promising potential stars. They’re usually called “wasted talent,” and here’s why education doesn’t work for them.
1. Schools trail the leading edge of
Ten years ago, it was funny that students knew more about technology than the computer lab teacher. Today, it’s just sad.
Schools are hopelessly behind in all aspects – from outdated hardware to antiquated software – but most importantly, high school teachers don’t have anything to teach students, because the students know more than the teachers do.
Technology is not a silo – it’s not a single discipline that can be taught from a textbook. Technology is everything. Today’s most innovative companies are leveraging today’s latest technology breakthroughs. Students especially need to be educated on how to make best use of personal productivity software – things like Evernote, TimeTrade, Elance, TaskRabbit, and Mint, to name a few.
Are students still learning cursive writing? Doing months of long division? Not allowed to use formulas in their calculators? Reading Jane Eyre? I hope not. If kids are going to have access to better tools in the real world, it’s insulting to ask them to go without them in school. It makes them hate school, and, as a result, hate learning.
2. Mandatory classes in high school.
At risk of sounding dramatic, I’ll tell you what I believe high school is – a four-year boot camp to prepare you for the soul-sucking corporate world that lies ahead. High school trains you to believe that you’re supposed to be good at everything (once you get into the business world, they call this “cross-functional abilities”). You’re forced to take classes in every subject – history, science, math, English, physical education – regardless of your interests, abilities, or future goals.
High school teaches the myth you are going to have to do things that you hate doing. The truth is, I don’t do anything that I hate doing. I outsource reviewing my annoying medical bills to a medical billing specialist, I outsource my apartment cleaning to a maid, and I outsource cooking to a restaurant when I’m tired.
Within reason, kids should be able to choose their own classes.
3. Classes move at an unreasonably slow pace
For a student of above-average capability, the classes move at a slow pace – wasting valuable time and dulling a students’ appetite for learning. Though I had a nearly perfect straight-A record (at least until I started refusing to do homework), high school classes were agony for me. I grasped the concepts more quickly than most students and then had to sit still while the rest of the students caught up. And I wasn’t alone – in most of my classes, there was a group of 3-5 of us that just learned significantly faster than our peers.
I spent most of my time zoning out and sleeping in class, cultivating a flourishing case of ADD. This is great training for the corporate world, where you spend half your time trying to fill up your day with useless tasks and waiting for your boss to give you something new to do.
4. Extracurricular programs are lame
In order to get into a good school, everyone knows that you have to participate in extracurricular activities. But I was so bored with high school classes – the last thing I wanted to do was pile more boredom on top of it. You encounter the same problems with these programs that you do with normal classes – you’re lumped in with kids with a wide variety of skill levels and the program moves at the pace of the average learner.
5. “Wasted talent” doesn’t go to top schools
Entrance into college is more competitive than ever. Colleges screen students on several points – in order to get into a top school, you need to hit all of them: GPA, SATs, extracurriculars, etc.
The boredom of high school proved too great to bear and I ended up skipping my senior year and opted to go straight to college instead. The problem was that the only bright spot on my application were my SAT scores.
I wasn’t in the top of my class GPA-wise because I was too bored to do the homework. I didn’t participate in stand-out extracurriculars – I was too demoralized by the terrible boredom in my normal classes to pile more boredom on top of it. Boredom begets boredom, and I just did the bare minimum to scrape by.
As a result, I didn’t get into any of the top-tier schools that would have actually challenged me.
6. College is a continuation of high school
By the time I got to college, I had lost faith in traditional education – I continued the pattern of doing the bare minimum to get by. I graduated with a BS in Marketing (Bachelors of Science, but it works with the other definition, too) and I learned absolutely nothing. The program was incredibly easy.
I went to Rutgers, and it was the kind of school where you’ll get out what you put in – there are plenty of opportunities if you have the drive to look. But I didn’t have the drive to look – I just wanted to get out into the real world and start working. I had zero faith that traditional education could deliver a meaningful and satisfying curriculum. What I really needed was a program that would challenge me in spite of myself – a small, intensive, challenging school catered to what I wanted to do with my life: run a business.
Perhaps things would have been different if I went to a challenging program at Harvard or Penn, but with my record, I wasn’t going to get in.
As an adult, I’m just now rediscovering things that the educational system made me hate – reading, language, and learning new skills. Between high school, college, and the years that followed, I wasted over a decade thinking that I had a hatred for learning. I swore I’d never take a class again.
The truth is that I love learning – given the right circumstances. I can choose exactly what and from whom I learn. I can take classes that move at breakneck speed. If I don’t like the way my teacher teaches, I can find a new one (if I don’t like my classmates, I can change that, too).
I believe that this level of freedom should not be limited to adults. I think of how different my life could have been if I had fostered an early appreciation for learning – if I had been exposed to an education system worth participating in.
If you’re like me – or if you have a son or daughter that could do great things “if they only applied themselves” – seek out nontraditional education. It doesn’t matter if it’s math, karate, or racecar driving – just get out there and learn something. Help foster an appetite for learning. Pull them out of traditional education if at all possible, before it kills their soul.
I think that education is going to begin to change over the coming years. I read today about an entrepreneurial incubator that is beginning to think of themselves as a university for elite entrepreneurs. I think that these new forms of targeted education are extremely exciting, and though I missed out on an incredible childhood education, I am confident that the tools to arrange one will be available when I someday start a family.
Here are a few resources for nontraditional education. If you know of any more, please feel free to post them in the comments section below and I’ll update the list.
Free or Cheap Awesome Education
- Khan Academy – learn just about anything for free.
- Y Combinator – an incubator that accepts applications from promising entrepreneurs without any startup ideas.
- TED talks – thousands of incredible videos by inspiring speakers.
- Personal MBA – a list of the 99 best business books. You don’t need to spend six figures for a world-class education.
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich – everything you need to know about personal finance without any of the confusing BS.
Until the next time – un abrazo fuerte, my friends.