Our kids are becoming high-tech savvy at younger and younger ages and firms like Facebook and Twitter are hiring them. According to a recent Business Week article, to remain competitive, the big companies recruit the best and the brightest youths, lest they go off and form their own start-ups. Firms know these brilliant boys and girls have the vital know-how gained from linking up with their peers and learning the complexities of coding and software at ever more tender ages.
But in the minds of some, a big question remains. Are early vocational success and big money worth trading for the benefits of a truly liberal education for the best minds of our youngest generation? After reading the following informed opinion of a seasoned pro, Gregory Marus, see what you think, and then comment below.
Long-time software and start-up consultant Marus says, “This is an area where my gut is more conservative than libertarian. I have the old-fashioned view of the traditionally liberally-educated that it is a matter of importance to both society and state to have a citizenry that is well-educated. 'Well-educated' in this sense means having a knowledge base of one’s civilization and history, and having a set of intellectual tools that apply to problems beyond those that are narrowly vocational (however challenging and complex these workplace problems may be).
“If one becomes a millionaire at 15, one can probably go through life grossly ignorant of history, the Constitution, and other subjects that should be within the grasp of—particularly—our brightest citizens. The only good thing here is that it looks like SV can throw these super-internships at only a small, brilliant elite, not at a broad tranche of our youth.
“There are analogies to sports—LeBron James never went to college, and I doubt that he will ever regret that choice. But…how many teenagers are ignoring their studies because they’re convinced they will follow in his footsteps? ‘Early Facebook investor Peter Thiel pays people under 20 years old $100,000 to quit school to pursue their passions.’ If typical venture capital return patterns obtain for Mr. Thiel, he may get one success out of 20…and let’s just pray that the other 19 have some kind of return path to academe.
“On the one hand, I believe that there are many youth who would benefit from greater vocational training. However, I’m queasy about the short-circuiting of the chance of a true liberal education for our very brightest by dangling the carrot of early wealth.”
Greg Marus is a consultant with more than 30 years of experience in Silicon Valley in programming, marketing, management, and industry analysis.