PayPal Co-Founder Challenges Effectiveness of Traditional Education

Aspergers boarding school

While the rise of the common core and other controversial issues in the United States education system have somewhat challenged the way children are taught today, a lot of misconceptions still exist. For example, the idea that a person will get the best education from a prestigious institution: in truth, the average child will perform better in a system that recognizes their individual strengths and works with them accordingly. Because of this, boarding schools for ADHD and dyslexia, as well as Aspergers schools, are becoming a popular method for parents to help their children succeed. And recently, the concept that standardized education is best was challenged by a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spoke about Asperger Syndrome, distinguished business schools, and the potentially damaging spirit of competition.

Peter Thiel is a billionaire co-founder of the online payment service Paypal and a venture capitalist. In a talk in San Francisco to promote his book Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Thiel contradicted the notion that eminent institutions like Harvard Business School can actually teach students to become successful. “HBS perfectly timed the dot-com bubble” said Thiel, claiming that traditional business schools teach people to favor competition over creativity, leading them to take interest in an innovation only when they have peaked, missing out on a real chance for success.

According to Thiel, too much competition ruins opportunities for creativity, a sentiment surely familiar to many parents whose children are judged solely based on how they compare to other students. Interestingly, to explain how this problem could be circumvented, he compared the traditional business mindset to that of someone with a condition like Aspergers: Thiel pointed out that people with Aspergers are often extremely passionate about specific subjects and are therefore unafraid of pursuing things that seem strange. While these people often have limited social skills, many people who have found success in the modern business world have a mild form of Aspergers or autism. Thiel says he believes this is due to their willingness to focus on creative, offbeat ideas they are passionate about rather than ignoring them for options that might appear more competitive.

Aspergers is a neurological disorder that has rapidly become standardized as a diagnosis over the last 20 or 30 years, although the exact cause of the condition is unknown. As Thiel has said, Aspergers is often characterized by poor social skills, behavioral problems and obsessive interests. Many people with Aspergers attend standardized education classes, while others attend specialized Aspergers schools which are designed to help their social and behavioral difficulties.

Evidence suggests that many children with Aspergers may see their symptoms lessen over time, with 20% of children no longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the disorder as adults. However, Aspergers is not a problem: as Thiel says, it is more of an opportunity to see and live differently from the average person. Aspergers does present difficulties, of course, which is why the best school for Aspergers will focus on improving students’ communication problems and reducing obsessive or repetitive routines. However, Aspergers schools also help students learn to work with their disorder, rather than against it. If Thiel and other people are correct, this could be instrumental in promoting creativity and achieving success.

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