In the first version of my life, I was going to be a Professor of Math. I love math. If I had continued on that path, then I would probably have my PhD now. Fortunately, I did not pursue that path. Instead, I took a different path. The purpose of the writing is to express my concerns with academia, and I have a few bones to pick.
Why I left
I left academia, and I did so my dropping out of my program. Before I am dismissed as someone who washed out, I was doing well. I was a studying mathematics at Kansas State University, and I was fairly happy with my life. Sure, I was homeless living in Nichols's hall. It was a good time for me. I was productive, coding, doing original research, and living the life of the mind while teaching recitations, so why leave?
A fairly unique confluence of three things: an opportunity, a lack of faith, and my mother's attempted suicide. Since you are probably experiencing a mild bit of shock, I want to rewind and paint of picture of my early version of my life (early 20s). I was a very black and white kind of person, there were wrong and right answers to everything. All problems could be fixed with code. That was who I was. Then, a phone call, and my dad notified me that my mother attempted suicide. The shock left me be numb as I was experiencing every possible negative emotion.
It is difficult to talk about some of the emotions, but it is fair, I believe, to say I was depressed. An odd thing happened though, I started to see the students as human. In a few moments, I realized that teaching calculus or college algebra was not a useful thing to do. The students that need it, will figure it out. The students that don't are being tortured. You may claim that everyone should know math, but I argue that with the coming of the computer age, this is not a true statement. People don't take the minimum required courses and suddenly because savvy with numbers, and I had lost the faith that the average person needed math.
To my fortune, a couple of my friends were going to make a social network (because that was you did back then). So, I joined with them. This opportunity started as a bit of moonlighting until one productive spring break, and that's when I went balls deep. I dropped out. No real job. Student loan debt. No safety net. It was a do or die moment.
My friends and I are we are doing well. You may claim survivor bias on many of the lessons I have learned over the years, but I think some of my conclusions are spot on.
Fear is a Flaw
For the most part, most students are enrolled in school not to enhance their understanding of the world. They are at school to have the good life that is sold on the television. There is a joke, that I recently heard is told around Harvard.
“A” students become professors, and “B” students work for “C” students.
There is a great deal of truth to this, and it saddens me to see parents rush their kids around trying to get them to pass these standardized tests so they can get to good colleges. This hope of getting into a good college will lead to a good job where they can finally work hard to retire and have a good retirement. Retirement, naturally, is followed by death.
Getting good grades is by far the most useless activity that you can engage in, so what is the kernel of truth in the joke. My theory is that C students are abandoned early by our societal machinations, so they gain freedom to fail. A part of me wants to say that not all people are not equipped to deal with the freedom to fail, but I think that is a huge disservice to the species. After all, do you see in the news how many people are dying left and right?
The problem with the B students is that they need a course laid out for them. If something, then good thing. This path is full of busy work, laden with maintaining the status-quo, and laden with being conservative on the one true path.
So, what is the problem? The flaw is that the more you buy into the system, the more risk averse you become. It makes you easily manipulative as fear is deeply rooted into your decision making. Instead, imagine if you realized that occasionally getting an F would make your life better? How would that affect your decision making?
Please do not get me wrong, education is important. The thing that I question is how does one obtain it. The current system, I believe, costs too much and delivers too little.
Fixing the Flaw
Do I have a solution? Well, I think about it now and again as evidenced by this document. My current focus is how to encourage risk taking in the people I work with.
The near evil aspect of this is that I can play the game on the other side, and I can use the people programmed by the system to orchestrate my own desires. If you find this appalling, then you may want to consider how you would fix the adult pipeline.