Peter Thiel, the renegade philosopher turned entrepreneur, is at it again. Last weekend he came to an event at MIT with his message that for aspiring entrepreneurs college is a waste of time and money . The Boston Globe reports his advice to drop out and start a business instead.
Thiel puts his money (or some of it) where his mouth is, through the Thiel Fellowship Program), cool cash for cool kids on the path to big bucks. It’s John Dewey dumbed down for the 21st century, “The best way to learn isn’t by sitting in a classroom but by doing,” as one Thiel Fellow put it. After all, the knowledge one needs for entrepreneurial success is all available on line, most of it for free. Why pay tuition?
I think Thiel is right. Right, that is, if the goal of a college education is indeed entrepreneurial success, and if success means happiness for the individual and well-being for the society. That’s not John Dewey; that’s Ayn Rand. And implicitly, that’s the message that colleges and universities give, implicitly, not so much by what they say as by what they leave unsaid. Thiel puts nit on the line. Higher education can be reduced to a simple syllogism. Money is Success;’ Success is Happiness. Therefore Money is Happiness.
$ = S
S = H
$ = H
Thiel puts it on the line for everyone who says “Go to college and learn the skills that will produce a high income for you. That’s what it’s all about. Period.” If that’s the whole story, then lots of bright young people might do well to follow Thiel’s advice and Thiel would indeed be right.