Friday, October 22, 2010

In Praise of Peter Thiel

For those who have read my articles in the Dallas Morning News on education, here and here, you know that I have been increasingly questioning the basic value of certain kinds of education. I value the education I received in the humanities, but I'm not so narcissistic as to believe that, therefore, everyone should have my kind and level of education. Of course, most highly educated Leftists are so narcissistic; thus, this screed against Peter Thiel. Who is Peter Thiel? Well, among other things, he's the founder of PayPal and a founding investor of Facebook. That is internet genius. More, he's a strong libertarian -- one willing to put his millions to work to create a more libertarian world. The issue in the article -- the attitude of which is no doubt more connected to Thiel's being a libertarian rather than a good, feels-shame-at-his-wealth leftist billionaire -- is the Thiel Fellowship, which "will give entrepreneurs under age 20 a cash award of $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue their business ideas." Whether expressed this way in his announcement, the Thiel Foundation's website doesn't say anything about "having" to drop out of college. But it does point out that they will help educate those who win. They will no doubt receive the kind of education that entrepreneurs really need -- which cannot in fact be achieved at a university. Invention and creativity are two things that cannot be taught at any university, by any professor. A university education can teach you skills, structures of known things, and challenge your thinking. You can participate in discovery in the sciences, of course, and it can teach you what it known so you become aware of the existence of gaps in knowledge -- two things very necessary for the sciences to advance -- but it cannot teach you how to be innovative, entrepreneurial, creative. All too often, I have seen formal education kill those very things. I have seen great painters, poets, and fiction writers become technically much better, but conceptually much worse. To remain innovative, you have to manage to retain a rebelliousness that education is often designed to crush. And if you retain it, you are likely to suffer once you graduate, since it is the conformists who get the jobs, not the rebels. Thus, I celebrate Thiel's Fellowship. It's the sort of thing that will in fact help grow our economy and, thus, improve people's lives -- something few university professors (especially the anti-growth leftist ones) are able to accomplish.
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