Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This Might Be the Worst Idea for "Fixing Education"

I cringe whenever I see a popular blog like Mashable run posts about "fixing education." Last week they ran a  post titled An Idea for Fixing Education: Skip College, Work at a Startup. The author of the article, Sarah Kessler,  proposes that students would be better served by spending two years in internships for these technology start-ups than they would be by going to college. I am all for students getting practical experience in the fields that they have an interest in working in, but to suggest that students can learn everything they need to know through a two year internship is ludicrous.

Internship experience is valuable if it is done correctly. Student teaching is a good example of internships done right because students get actual experience performing the job of teaching. Internships that turn students into glorified personal assistants don't benefit students. I'm not saying that these internships will do that to students, but even at their best good internships don't supply all of the other skills taught and experiences gained by spending four years college. 

Even if you think that spending two years in an internship is better than spending that time in college, committing to two years with an tech start-up is still a risky proposition. Tech start-ups rise and fall with remarkable speed. What happens to a student when the start-up fails one year into his internship? 

Yes, four years of college is expensive and students are increasingly taking on enormous amounts of debt, but the knowledge and experience good students gain are invaluable. An internship can be a part of that four year experience. An internship should not be a replacement for four years of education. The internships with which I am familiar expect that students already know how to write, research, and communicate. The internship is where those skills are refined and put to use in a career field. The internship is not where you learn those skills.

For the writers and editors at Mashable, please stick to making lists of Adorable Google Doodles for Valentine's Day and leave "fixing education" to educators before you send more students down a dangerous path. I know that you all think that anyone can become the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates by dropping out of college and working on their tech start-ups. Just remember Zuckerberg and Gates graduated from exclusive prep schools and dropped out of Ivy League schools, so on some level they were already exceptional before they became exceptional. If you can afford (financially and personally) to go to and drop out of Ivy League schools then maybe you should just spend a couple of years at an internship. The rest of us should stay in school, graduate, and then work on building the next big thing.