Cost of Education, Domestic, Education Quality, Gainful Employment, Opinion, Required, STEM / Science, Technology, Education, Math, Students, University & College - Written by on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 7:00 - 0 Comments

Side-Stepping: Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens Misses The Point By Avoiding The Questions

by Dustin Diaz via Flickr under CreativeCommons

The Washington Post has a fascinating popcorn of articles on its web site recently about where education is heading. Dale Stephens, a 19-year-old Thiel Fellow, weighs in with a piece in August titled “The Case Against College.” In it, he is supposed to answer five questions about his “UnCollege” social movement. Stephens is working on a book about “hacking your education.” Thiel and crew raise interesting thoughts about saturation of college degrees, the cost of these degrees and the question of why or why not someone should attend college … but we remain unconvinced by their take on higher education. It is not helpful to the larger group of young people and workforce. And it is also an unconvincing approach even for bright young people like Stephens. I would bet he will eventually either attend college or wish he had. 

Here’s what he had to say in the opening question and answer: 

Q – How does an uncollege experience make someone more innovative? Isn’t the propensity for creativity innate?

A – Creativity is innate — the problem is that schools kill creativity. Our education system cultivates a mind-set where students are rewarded for following directions. If we still needed public education to fulfill its original purpose — to train factory workers in the industrial revolution — then school would work brilliantly. But times have changed — a May 2010 IBM poll of CEOs found that they deemed creativity to be “the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future.”

In their 1998 book “Breakpoint and Beyond,” George Land and Beth Jarman refer to a study in which 1,500 kindergartners between 3 and 5 years old were given a divergent thinking test. Divergent thinking tests don’t measure creativity, but rather one’s propensity for creativity. The test asks questions such as “How many ways could you use this paperclip?” or “How many ways could you improve this toy fire truck?” — questions designed to encourage creative thought rather than elicit right-or-wrong answers. Ninety-eight percent of kindergartners tested at the genius level. After five years of formal education, only 50 percent of children tested at the genius level. This study shows the deleterious effects school can have on a child’s creativity and desire to learn.

What Robinson doesn’t mention is that there is an alternative: unschooling, and by extension, uncollege. Instead of sitting in class, unschoolers create their education from the world by finding mentors, taking college classes only when they want to, starting businesses and learning collaboratively. By freeing yourself from the strictures of the classroom and the authority of teachers you escape the system that schools use to inadvertently squander creativity.

On the questions about STEM and the role of degrees in the workplace, he either gives weak answers or avoids the question altogether (read the rest of his answers at the link below). We continue to think the Thiel Fellowship crowd and folks like Stephens are novelty sideshows in the future of education debate. Here is the answer he gives to a question about the need to focus on STEM in American schools:

Q – If children aren’t learning the science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects when they’re in school, what’s to say they will learn them outside of the classroom?

A – This question assumes that STEM subjects are more important than other subjects. While STEM subjects have been deemed critically important to economic development, I’m not convinced that what one studies in school has anything to do with what one does after school.

Education is undergoing a transformation, thanks to the explosion of available data online. Universities and libraries no longer have a monopoly on information. Education is going from being about the acquisition of information to being about the application of information. I believe we mistake the pursuit of STEM subjects in academia with the general need to have people pursue scientific knowledge for practical applications. The latter, underlying need is the definition of “technology” almost word for word. And it’s worth noting that, although Facebook and Microsoft may have started at universities, the innovation took place outside the classroom.

 Dude, you didn’t really answer the question. The fact of the matter is we have a shortage in this country of engineers and scientists. One cannot just become an engineer by osmosis, online videos or reading MIT open course texts. You need to complete certain coursework, pass tests in a rigorous environment. Would you want to work in a skyscraper built by DIY architects and engineers? Your UnCollege approach might work for a few, but not for society as a whole. And those few, I believe, may regret their choice to forego college.

Via The Washington Post


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