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November 29, 2005

Why are there so many rags-to-riches stories?  How is it that so many people who grow up poor, never finish high school, and don’t go to college become billionaires? 

Precisely because they grew up poor, never finished high school, and didn’t go to college. 

I just finished reading an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about Thomas J. Knox, a Democratic candidate for mayor who earned his millions by buying, saving, and selling fledgling banks and insurance companies.  Says Don Di Lella, a friend of his, “For a guy who didn’t go to college, he is one of the smartest people you will find.” 

But Knox isn’t just smart:  he’s savvy, diligent, and creative; one has to be in order to save struggling companies from financial woes and turn them into multi-million dollar enterprises. 

Stories like Knox’s are telling.  They tell us that our education system has less to do with success than other factors do.  In fact, I would argue that our education system suppresses the characteristics of successful individuals by stifling creativity, fostering passive receptiveness rather than critical questioning, and providing the qualifications needed for pre-defined jobs instead of encouraging people to pursue their own ideas and passions in response to society’s needs.

I’m curious to know what you all think of their educations.  Did you feel like you left high school thinking critically about the world around you?  Were you encouraged to question what you learned, even if that meant questioning your teachers?  Did you graduate from college ready to make something of yourself by making something completely new and innovative, whether a new company, a new product, or a new discovery?  Or did you graduate with the notion that you would apply to particular positions for which you were -pre-qualified based on the degree you earned on your graduation date?  Please comment–and feel free to disagree.  I’d love to learn about schools that are getting it right.

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