We Don’t Need No Education!


We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

I just watched 60 minutes. They did a couple of segments that were interesting, not so much in what was revealed, but rather in the apparent unintended irony of airing both segments on the same program.

We had on the one hand, a piece about Peter Thiel’s Fellowship Program, which awards $100,000 to applicants who compete for one of twenty such scholarships each year, in order to pursue their dream over a two year period. This often requires that applicants drop out of school to focus full time on their aspiration.

On the other hand, we saw a segment devoted to the world tour of one of my rock idols, Roger Waters, as he and his fellow musicians (not including any members of Pink Floyd) re-construct his monumental opus, The Wall, in a grand, operatic, concert-style production. This tour is essentially about performing a double album that was first recorded on vinyl 33 years ago. Roger is the lyricist, bass player, and creative force behind the legendary rock band Pink Floyd.

The Wall has its roots in Roger’s non-relationship with his biological father and describes the process by which he begins to build a mental wall between himself and the rest of the world, so that he can live in a constant, alienated equilibrium, free from life’s emotional troubles. Every incident that causes him pain is yet another brick in his ever-growing wall: a fatherless childhood, a domineering mother, an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel, a government that treats its citizens like chess pieces, the superficiality of stardom, an estranged marriage, even the very drugs he turns to in order to find release.

The wonderful hook between this story and Peter Thiel’s Fellowship Program is the reality of an out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel, even in that pre-historic era of 1979.

Morley Safer’s generally combative and disrespectful interview of Thiel, promotes the idea that Thiel is quirky, cavalier and out of touch with reality. His plan is characterized as paying college students to develop their promising concepts instead of attending to school. And, of course Morley misses the whole connection between The Wall and a Fellowship Program that is designed to put an end to educational snobbery, enormous wastes of money and time, with nothing to show for it at the end. Now, I have nothing against old guys or the wisdom of age, but whose boat would you hitch a ride in, Safer’s or Thiel’s? 

Thiel’s critics include Vivek Wadhwa, a self-important, and successful bureaucrat-entrepreneur* turned professor who teaches at Duke and Stanford, who told Safer, “Peter Thiel has made so much money that he is out of touch with the real world. He doesn’t understand how important education is for the masses.”

“What I worry about is a message that’s getting out there to America that it’s okay to drop out of school, that you don’t have to get college. Absolutely dead wrong.”

What I think this says about Vivek Wadhwa, is that he is more worried about his career as a college professor, than he is about young entrepreneurs’ ability to follow their dreams.

Every college student interviewed for the program said essentially the same thing, “Yes, we are being challenged at school, but not in ways we want to be.”

Thiel is best known as a co-founder of PayPal. He is also the Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur who made early stage investments in companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yelp. Now he’s investing in college students, awarding fellowships of $100,000 each to youth under 20 years old, essentially encouraging them to drop out of college to become entrepreneurs. See >>> http://thielfoundation.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=22

In tonight’s interview, Thiel tells Safer that his program is a viable alternative to what he sees as a largely ineffective university system where costs far outweigh benefits. It’s not for everybody, but if a young person is excited about creating something, she should have an avenue to go and do that.

“We have a bubble in education, like we had a bubble in housing…everybody believed you had to have a house, they’d pay whatever it took,” says Thiel. “Today, everybody believes that we need to go to college, and people will pay — whatever it takes.”

While he acknowledges that college degrees are necessary for those careers requiring a formal credential, like doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc., he also notes that a college degree is not necessary to land a high-paying job. “There are all sorts of vocational careers that pay extremely well today, so the average plumber makes as much as the average doctor,” Thiel tells Safer. I think some guy named Obama just said the same thing.

And, to his critics who say that most of his fellows will fail, Thiel says, “Sure. That’s possible. But, they will be so much better off having gone through the experience, and better prepared for the next one. In any case, they can also return to college if they find that the entrepreneurial life isn’t what they thought or hoped it would be.” (Roughly what I think he said)

This of course, reminds me of Sal Khan, who I wrote about in an earlier blog, who believes he can transform education worldwide, and his approach is now being tested in American schools. Along the way, the former hedge fund analyst has won the support of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who calls Khan “a teacher of the world.” He has revolutionized classroom teaching in Los Altos and Palo Alto, California. See https://isellerfinance.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/dont-all-fifth-graders-know-calculus/

What is heartening to me is that these little steps forward have the support of many of the giants in my industry, and almost every day, I run across an event or story that suggests we are moving to the Startup University state faster than I would have ever hoped or imagined. And, that is a really great thing.

I watch the ripples change their size

But never leave the stream

Of warm impermanence and

So the days float through my eyes

But still the days seem the same

And these children that you spit on

As they try to change their worlds

Are immune to your consultations

They’re quite aware of what they’re going through



(Turn and face the strange)


Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it


(Turn and face the strange)


Where’s your shame

You’ve left us up to our necks in it

Time may change me

But you can’t trace time

*Bureaucrat-entrepreneur: one who used the corporate capital of his employer on an internal project that was successful enough for its own application, that external applications were discovered in similar businesses and presented a commercial opportunity. Very different from, and not to be confused with a startup. In Wadhwa’s case, he began his career at the New York–based investment banking powerhouse, CS First Boston (CSFB), where he was Vice President of Information Services.  There he spearheaded the development of technology for creating computer-aided software-writing systems that was so successful that CSFB decided to spin off that business unit into its own company, Seer Technologies.  As its Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Wadhwa helped grow that fully funded startup into a $118 million publicly traded company, and leveraged that success to his current teaching roles at Duke and Stanford. Thiel or Wadhwa? You decide.


About Steve King

iPeopleFINANCE™ Chief Operating Officer. Former CEO of Endymion Systems, Inc. a $36m Information Systems Services company. Co-founder of the Cambridge Systems Group, the creator of ACF2, the leading IBM Mainframe Data Center Security product; acquired by Computer Associates. IBM, seeCommerce, marchFIRST, Connectandsell alumni. UC Berkeley alumni. View all posts by Steve King

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