I don’t think Gates and Zuckerberg are good role models for young people. And not just because they dropped out. It’s more subtle. Most kids who try to be the next billionaire entrepreneur will fail. There probably isn’t even one such success in the class of 2013. So most will be disappointed. And if we push the kids toward that, we will lead them to believe, mistakenly, that it’s enough to create a massive fortune. It is not enough. And if they fail to create the fortune, according to this standard, they will have failed in life. So, not only will we have set this generation up to fail, but we have just certified the mistake of past generations, that wealth itself has meaning. It has a lot less meaning, imho, than most people think.
There is also a larger point here: we keep demanding colleges and universities create the new generation of workers and leaders. That’s not necessarily the goal of higher education. The goal of higher education is to educate, to inform, to provide the skills and background to think critically and articulate one’s ideas, whether they be written, oral, or displayed in the lab or by mathematical or scientific formula. All the other stuff flows from there. But the astronomical costs of tuition these days are likely to turn the collegiate learning experience into the same dreary gruel that K-12 education has become — where it’s not about how informed you are as a person and what basic critical thinking skills you have, but about how well you take a test and how docile you are for the workplace.
We don’t need to get out in front of creating the next Gates or Zuckerberg. We need to get out in front in making sure that a larger number of children are given tools and the means to be able to think critically, to learn in the way that works to lead them to goals that make them self-sufficient adults, and the means to think for themselves.