Dean Kamen on Education


I just read this interesting interview of Dean Kamen on Make: Magazine and it included this interesting bit about education:

You dropped out of college to pursue a more “hands-on” education. So, too, did Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, among many other creative luminaries. Is there a pattern here? Does public education and higher education actually stifle creativity and innovation?

I think that most of the people who succeed in some extraordinary way, and most of the people who fail in some extraordinary way, tend to be people who did really well or really poorly in school. I think that school systems are really good at telling people how to do “okay” in the world. That is what their curriculum is about. That is what their institutional capability is about. That is what the people who run them are about. This is not to say that there isn’t a world full of hugely talented teachers working hard every day to make a difference and change kids’ lives. It is simply to say that the bureaucracy of the educational system limits the ability of educators to address the fringes. So if somebody was a good “B” student in school, you can be pretty sure that he or she is a good, average person. If a person gets A pluses in everything, or F minuses in everything, you can be pretty sure that he or she is an unusual person. Unusual people wrap around the ends of the bell curve. The system does not deal well with them. And I am not sure that the A+ person and the F- person are particularly different. It does not surprise me that when you look at people later in life, the people who got A pluses and F minuses end up doing substantially differently than the average people who are doing well in a system designed to accommodate the center of the bell curve.

At work we hired a new developer and while he was introducing himself to the team, he explained that he was homeschooling his son, “Basically, because we don’t want him to waste his time.” he explained. There is so much wasted time at school. Education is so important, but that doesn’t mean school is. How you get your education is something you choose. No matter your choice, education costs. It costs time. It costs energy. The return on your invested time and energy however, can vary dramatically.

One thought on “Dean Kamen on Education

  1. I don’t think Dean Kamen’s comments are worth very much— I find most college dropouts, Steve Jobs included (whose favorite course in college was … typography!), to have very uninformed ideas about education. For example, really good universities do quite well with talented, “unusual people.”

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