Monday, May 30, 2011
A successful businessman is offering students fellowships -- to drop out of school.
Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, will pay each of the 24 winners of his Thiel Fellowship $100,000 not to attend college for two years and to develop business ideas instead.Thiel makes excellent points, but none so perspicacious as the following:
The fellowship seeks to help winners develop their ideas more quickly than they would at a traditional university. Its broader aim goes beyond helping the 24 winners, by raising big questions about the state of higher education.
Mr. Thiel ignited controversy when he told TechCrunch in April that he sees higher education as the next bubble, comparable to previously overvalued markets in technology and housing.
Both cost and demand for a college education have grown significantly in the years since Mr. Thiel was a student. He sees that rise as irrational.
Students today are taking on more debt, and recently tightened bankruptcy laws make it more difficult to shake that debt, he argues, and those factors make higher education a risky investment. "If you get this wrong, it's actually a mistake that's hard to undo for the rest of your life," he said.
Mr. Thiel studied philosophy at Stanford in the 1980s and later completed law school there, but he now wishes he had given more thought to the educational decisions he made and their implications.I have seen the notion that there is an "education bubble" bandied about quite a bit lately, and have written about several aspects of it myself a few times already, but I have seen few with such a good grasp of the problem on as many levels at once as Thiel. I am not sure how much Thiel appreciates the role of government in making non-stop schooling a default activity for young adults; nevertheless it is a profound observation that it has become a default, and that this is not a good thing.
"Instead, it was just this default activity," he said. [bold added]
While dropping out of college or grad school clearly isn't the right thing for everyone to do, I am glad to see Thiel making it easier for the most talented students to stop for a moment and think about whether attending school (at present or, perhaps, at all) truly is the best way for them to get ahead.
--- In Other News ---
Mrs. Van Horn and I watched Agora yesterday. What a movie!
As Christianity gains steam in Roman Egypt toward the end of the fourth century A.D., a young slave (Max Minghella) weighs his desire for freedom against his growing love for his mistress (Rachel Weisz), an atheist as well as a professor of philosophy. Alejandro Amenábar (The Others) directs this epic drama based on the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, a noted Greek scholar and mathematician. Rupert Evans co-stars. [format edit, link added]Although it is accurate, the above description of the film from Netflix still does a comical job of failing to capture how well Amenábar makes intellectual inquiry come alive, develops his characters, and uses symbolism. The final scenes brought us to tears.
From a somewhat rambling essay on Marxism comes an amusing partial refutation of the labor theory of value: "Clearly Marx never taught a child to cook. You start with raw materials worth something, you spend hours on cooking (and putting out small fires), and the result is, more often than not, a mess that has to be thrown away."
After reading this long article about the poor business model and complete lack of innovation at the tottering U.S. Postal Service, I'd love to be in a position to tell them, "Your check is in the mail," as it were. This government-imposed monopoly needs to go.