Roll-your-own higher ed

Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.

Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.

Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”

Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.

Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.

Can gaming close the high-tech gender gap?

To close the high-tech gender gap, “encourage your daughters to play video games,” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg told Dana Goldstein.

. . .  childhood gaming and hacking experience has motivated many computer programmers to enter the field, including Sandberg’s boss, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

The leap toward more advanced computing comes not only from playing games—today, 94 percent of girls are gaming, compared with 99 percent of boys—but in becoming curious about how they work and then beginning to tinker with code in order to modify game results. Boys are still much more likely than girls to explore this type of simple computer programming, and not every young girl who is curious about how computers work has an encouraging parent at home or the hardware she needs.

So it’s not just the gaming. It’s the tinkering. My nephew just got hired (first paying job out of college!!!) by a company that makes “pink market” fashion design games.  Girls might learn about fashion design, but I don’t think they’ll learn programming. That’s Alan’s job. (He may know less about fashion than anyone on the planet.)

K-12 educators are trying to hook girls on the “computational thinking” that makes programming possible, writes Goldstein.

The Academy for Software Engineering, a public school whose curriculum will be built around computer programming and Web development, will open in New York City this September. Just one-quarter of the incoming freshman class is female, but the school’s founders, who are closely tied to the New York tech community, have ambitious plans for pairing female students with women mentors working in the field, in order to tamp down on attrition, direct girls into meaningful careers, and recruit more female students to the school in future classes.

In Pajaro Valley, Calif., south of Santa Cruz, researcher Jill Denner launched a program that teaches low-income Latina girls and boys, in gender-segregated classrooms, to create their own computer games.

I’m skeptical that mentors or “pink” games will turn girls into programmers, but I guess it’s worth a try.

A technology-free school in Silicon Valley

In the heart of Silicon Valley (and very near where I live), a Waldorf school has banned computers, PowerPoint and any technology more advanced than colored chalk, reports the New York Times. Who sends their kids there? Three quarters of parents work in high-tech companies, such as Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Los Altos.

On a recent Tuesday, Andie Eagle and her fifth-grade classmates refreshed their knitting skills, crisscrossing wooden needles around balls of yarn, making fabric swatches. It’s an activity the school says helps develop problem-solving, patterning, math skills and coordination. The long-term goal: make socks.

Down the hall, a teacher drilled third-graders on multiplication by asking them to pretend to turn their bodies into lightning bolts. She asked them a math problem — four times five — and, in unison, they shouted “20” and zapped their fingers at the number on the blackboard. A roomful of human calculators.

. . . Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?”

Today’s high-tech kids are bored by low-tech environments, some argue. Schools that don’t use computers are “cheating our children,” Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, told the Times.

Waldorf’s high-tech parents say their children will have plenty of time to learn computer skills.

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

Most Waldorf parents limit their children’s screen time at home.