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Peter Thiel to Teach the Last Class You’ll Ever Need?

A cruise down El Camino Real on your way to Stanford University takes you right through the heart of Palo Alto, the center of Silicon Valley. Innovation thrives there, where venture capitalists, electrical engineers and math nerds mix together in a potent brew of new technologies and businesses.

The paradox of Palo Alto, though, is that the hardworking students of Stanford study just blocks from the headquarters of tech firms founded or led by people who never graduated from college. Peter Thiel himself has several Stanford degrees under his belt (BA ’89, JD ’92), but the PayPal founder and successful investor in Facebook, Zynga and other rising companies has also argued that higher education costs too much, and in most cases doesn’t prepare students for the turmoil of the real world. Thiel even started a fellowship that awards students $100,000 to drop out of college and start a tech business.

But now Thiel is going back to school. The NYT reported last week that he will teach a class at his alma mater: “Computer Science 183: Startup.” Why?

Thiel clearly does not need the money. Nor does he really need increased access to bright young minds; plenty of ambitious entrepreneurs would kill just to ride in the same elevator as one of the most famous names in tech.

Jim O’Niell, head of the Thiel Foundation, tells the Times that Thiel just “wants to reach out to people in many different spaces, and thought Stanford’s start-up culture made it a “natural fit.” For his part, Thiel said through a spokesman, “If I do my job right, this is the last class you’ll ever have to take.”

Has Stanford let a fox into its henhouse? If so, we applaud: some of those chickens need a little excitement in their lives. Via Meadia has frequently pointed to the increasingly costly failures of higher education. Letting more people onto the campus who are skeptical of the whole enterprise is, on balance, a good thing.

In the old days, when kids grew up working side by side with their parents on the family farm or in the family store, giving them a precious few years away from the grind of the workplace to study Homer and Dante was a wonderful thing. These days, when large majorities of upper middle class kids hit their twenties without a clue about the working world or how most people live, what many need more than another year of classes is some real world exposure.  Many of our kids are drowning in a surfeit of leisure and structured leisure experiences ranging from glee club to hockey camp; Peter’s class if nothing else should help clue them in on what the real world is actually like.

And for those of us not lucky enough to sit in on Peter’s class, here’s a conversation he recently had with TAI‘s Francis Fukuyama. Maybe it will be the last interview you ever have to read.

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  • Jim.

    You find more companies closer to the 101. (280, in Apple’s case.) El Camino is where we have lunch.

    Although, Castro Street (not to be confused with the one in SF!) has a better selection of sit-down places.

  • Andrew Allison

    A tiny nit: whether you drive up or down El Camino Real to get to Stanford, you’ll avoid the heart of Palo Alto. If, on the other hand, you take Highway 101 . . .
    (@1, only southern Californians append an article to a highway number, but you are right about Castro Street LOL)

  • Luke Lea

    Thiel: ” part of what fuels the education bubble is that we’re not allowed to articulate certain truths about the inequality of abilities.”

    He got that right.

  • BillH

    Good Grief! A relevant college course? What’s the world coming to?

  • Steve

    Mr. Mead, I have been thinking about Peter Thiel’s arguments lately while reading your work. Do you have any thoughts on Thiel’s argument that technology is not increasing as fast as most people think? He says real wages for the median worker have not increased since (I believe) 1973, and he cites a slowdown in technology growth as the reason. He says it may be that a service economy just grows more slowly than a manufacturing economy.

  • Kris

    “some of those chickens need a little excitement in their lives. … Letting more people onto the campus who are skeptical of the whole enterprise is, on balance, a good thing.”

    Squawk! So not only are they deep in debt, but now you want to depress them? 🙂

    Steve@5: On the other hand, standards of living have increased, very much thanks to technology.

  • gs

    Thiel’s successes are somewhat offset by the poor performance of his hedge fund.

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