This was a very interesting interview with Elon Musk about college degrees and the value of them. Its important to note due to the extraordinary costs of college that obtaining a degree is not an indicator of exceptional ability. It might make whomever has a college degree attractive to an employer looking for someone who won’t rock the boat and will give predictable results as an employee. But having the degree won’t by itself produce an employee who will change the world. Exceptional ability can’t be bought and to a large degree that has been the message. That college will produce better employees than those without a degree, and that simply isn’t true. Not in any way. People who are driven and are accomplished don’t need a college degree and its interesting that Musk who employs lots of technical people in his companies is willing to take a position on college, but I agree with him. To my experience a college degree holds people back, it doesn’t help them and is certainly an element to consider when the cost of obtaining one is so incredibly high.
Nobody wants to hear that all the hard work and money they spent on a college degree was a waste. Of course it’s going to hurt the feelings of the people who have a degree to hear that the world really doesn’t value them. But really the whole concept goes back to the Wizard of Oz story were at the end the main characters were given pieces of paper stating that they had a brain, or a heart and were therefore valuable to society. The suggestion that the college experience would take a nobody and make them into somebody is a falsehood that our governments have essentially perpetuated to keep everyone in a compliant culture. The person who works hard for the sake of discovery and self-preservation is more likely to be that exceptional employee that everyone is looking for.
But then again, not everyone is looking for an exceptional employee. Elon Musk certainly is, otherwise Tesla and Space X wouldn’t be such market drivers in modern science. But many companies, especially those with rigid cultures well established don’t want some crazy hard worker coming along that wants to change the world. They may well be looking for the drunk, the loser, the whore that embarrassed themselves in college so that they will fit well into their current culture of complacency. That after all is the big secret that most employers are dealing with. While the ownership and board may want the exceptional results that drive up value, the management does not. What most work cultures want is compliance and nothing more and for that, the college degree is perfect for them.
Elon Musk of course is coming from the perspective of a change agent in the technical fields. The proof is in cultures that are very top heavy in college graduates but are lacking in technical innovation. Take China for instance, a very compliant culture where education structure is well understood. There is a reason they have to steal so much technology from countries like the United States. That is what students learn in college, to copy what the professor instructs them, but they don’t learn to think. The college graduate is typically good at unpacking something that is already known, but they can’t invent it from scratch. That is fine if the results desired are not ambitious. But if the desire is to always push for innovation, then more of a gunslinger approach is needed, an individual who is quick on their feet, willing to take risks and push forward ideas and to explore their potentials fearlessly. In the United States we have great experience with this kind of business approach and many of the best in our entrepreneurial fields have not obtained success through college.
In truth colleges are filled with those who can’t do things in real life, that’s why they seek the safety of the university system to obtain employment. What they sell to potential students is simply the boon of a typical snake oil salesman. They are selling Dumbo’s feather to give false confidence into their recipients making them think that it is the feather that makes them fly, not their own ears. By the time a student leaves a four year degree, or a six, the world has changed yet again and they enter the workplace a half a decade behind the cutting edge trends. The ones who are on those trends are the bold and ambitious who get there the old-fashioned way, through tenacity and lots, and lots of hard work. You can’t fake success and you certainly can’t buy your way into it.
People are more willing to talk about the failures of the college system now than they were just a few years ago. Given the amount of college graduates that we have now, and the cost of college to begin with, we should all be beaming with intelligence. I have the advantage of watching my two daughters’ generation who just came out of this age. Many of their friends, a few that come to mind have been going to college for over a decade, have actually regressed intellectually. They entered their college years unfocused and changed their majors many times over and simply went because their parents told them to. So much of the money spent was to discover themselves and sure enough, in college there were many liberal professors there to show them the ways to liberalism and socialism. When my wife and I went we didn’t have a good time. I hated every stinking minute of it, because it was obvious to me that the whole thing was a scam. And with my wife, she went round and round with her professors who were far more interested in getting her to read the Quran and to re-write the history of the Revolutionary War to include the crime of slavery as the biggest concern instead of the liberty and independence of all people, which is what the war was all about. I was very offended personally by this activism. It’s not that learning about other cultures is a problem with me. Quite the opposite, there are probably few people out there who care about other cultures as much as I do. What I didn’t like about the college experience is that they were actively putting down American culture and that pissed me off 30 years ago and I feel no differently now. Colleges with just a few exceptions are incubators for liberalism and the longer kids spend there, the worse they become.
The most cutting edge of us have known it all along. The rest of the world is coming to it. But college is a scam that sells nothing but air. It’s like buying bottled water when you can get perfectly good water right out of the faucet. They declare that what you are getting in college is better, and cleaner. But water is water, and many of us don’t like the additives that do come in the bottled version. With college we are essentially programming people toward a compliance based political ideology. We aren’t teaching them to think, which an employer like Elon Musk is always on the lookout for. It’s only a matter of time before the need for bold and ambitious people in a marketplace that requires dynamics overrules the desire for compliance-based employees who do what you tell them to do, and nothing more. In the kind of exploding economy that we have now, we don’t have time to wait for students to leave college to enter the marketplace and we certainly don’t have a decade to wait for them to deprogram themselves into being reasonable people again. We need people to learn more things fast and with greater independence, and for that we will never get them in abundance from a college graduate.
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