Since the 1.1 billion dollar deal between Yahoo and David Karp, CEO of Tumblr and high school dropout, was signed earlier this week, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether a diploma is really as necessary as everyone thinks it is. What I want to know is who in their right mind is even asking this question? Of course a high school education is necessary, even for the most promising minds.
For the vast majority of students, high school is about learning, exploring, developing character and navigating social situations. David Karp and those of his ilk are few and far between. Karp’s mother didn’t so much make the wise decision to allow her child to drop out of his competitive magnet high school as she did accept the writing that was on the wall. After his freshman year at Bronx High School of Science, Karp landed an internship at an animation production company and by age 16 had a job working for a website. Karp’s mother recognized from her son’s actions that was on his way to become a tech entrepreneur and ”needed the time in the day in order to create.”
Karp is trying to do his part, advising teens not to follow in his footsteps.
“That is not a path that I would haphazardly recommend to kids out there,” he said. “I was in a very unique position of knowing exactly what I wanted to do at a time when computer science education certainly wasn’t that good in high school in New York City.”
As sage as his advice is, I fear it’s targeted at the wrong people. Someone needs to tell the parents. I can just see mothers and fathers everywhere scheduling appointments with their child’s guidance counselor to discuss whether or not their own Karp-esque wunderkind should drop out of school. Or grilling teachers to find out whether their geniuses are being appropriately challenged because they drew a picture in pre-K of what they know will be the future super computer.
A recent AP story dug up a few more of Karp-types to plant the seed in every parent’s head that their kid is as special as they think. Take Thomas Sohmers, of Hudson, Mass., who dropped out during his junior year of high school. His mom, Penny Mills, said the move was inevitable as the years went on.
“I could see how much of the work he was doing at school wasn’t relevant to what he wanted to learn,” she said. “He always wanted to learn more than what the schools wanted to teach him. At times it was very frustrating. I was fortunate to find people that were able to teach him more, but he has gone beyond what high school could ever give him.”
“The part that really bothers me is that there are a lot of Thomases out there and their needs are not being met,” said Mills.
No, Mrs. Mills, that’s not the case. Your son is a rare. How rare? Aside from working at MIT since he was 13, he just won a Thiel Fellowship, which each year gives $100,000 to 20 people under the age of 20 so they can focus on research or a dream project of their choice. There could not possibly be a “lot of Thomases” out there, unless you mean males with the same name.
It’s not just about being smart. The Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerbergs – and now add David Karp to the list – of the world are brilliant, of course, but more importantly they are extremely hard-working, focused, ambitious and self-motivated. Nothing in their lives is more important than what they are creating. These outward expressions and actions are the only tell-tale signs that traditional school might not be necessary.
I happen to think my kids are exceptionally smart, but at this point I am 100% certain they will collect their high school diploma with the rest of their peers. Now, if they ever get to the point where they are so busy putting in time at the office — whether it be an internship, grant or an old-fashioned paying job — that’s when I’ll let them drop out. Short of that, this really isn’t a question.