Thiel (& friend) on Education

I caught Peter Thiel’s interview on Tim Ferriss podcast last night. It was, as expected, a thought-provoking Q & A from one of the more intelligent and experienced names in Silicon Valley.

And while the whole 23 minutes is worthwhile, I wanted to blog on one part of it. Thiel is asked about education, a subject he’s familiar with as he’s invested in university-busting startups and talked long and passionately about disturbing the one-size-fits-all trend in higher Ed.

The comment stemmed from something Thiel’s friend said to him — that Higher Education right now in the US is akin to the Catholic Church in the 16th century in the years leading to the Reformation.

And how it true it seems. The Church, at that point, was greedily taking money for repentence, convincing people that it could only be saved by going through its doors. It was a ‘too big to fail’ type deal, and too big, really, to even disrupt.

Until Martin Luther did something bold and changed people’s minds around him and elsewhere and changed the history of the world in doing so.

Education could use its Luther, that’s for sure. But that’s not the important part. The important part is whether our society is ready to take the leap to get behind a bold action that takes a system down. The University system has become, in modern nations and especially the US, a seemingly untackle-able beast.

Businesses consider it necessary and base salary and financial offerings on accreditation from these places.

Adults think their kids need it. (In one study, parents were asked if they thought US students needed to go college. 54% said yes. Then they were asked if their kids needed to go to college. 89% said yes.)

And, we’re defining childhood success based on this system which ultimately is made to get you into a college.

We need something to pull the fabric away and offer a (what will seem radical but will soon cease to be) alternative. There have been some intriguing ones offered, but none that have convinced a skeptical (and compliant) public that its viable.

Investors like Thiel have helped carve some spots in adult and continuing education. To be blunt, that’s cute, but it’s a far cry from taken down the bloated beast that is tuition-starved institutions.

So what’ll be? Well, I hope to see it soon. My inkling is that it will. And then we’ll be the fun part — the slow dismantle and reformation of another great institutional titan. And then all the cards are in the air.

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