Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Most Irritating Book Ever; 40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

For all of James Altucher's fans, slow down before you begin to chastise me for the title of this post. While I absolutely found this book to be annoying, infuriating, and down right irritating I had a tough time arguing with the author's overall point - which I believe is, we need to seriously reconsider our belief system around education in the 21st century instead of simply repeating what we've always done.

If you have not heard of this book, I highly recommend that you download it (99 cents) so that you can also be irritated, and perhaps in the process of being annoyed you will be enlightened as well. Enlightened enough to at least consider some of the author's difficult questions. For instance, is college a scam? According to the author, college is one big scam. He asserts there are a multitude of agendas at work to convince young people that if they do not attend college they are worthless. [I told you up front it is an annoying book, but stay with me]. According to Altucher, kids convince each other to go because they are going, parents convince their children to go because they went, colleges want you to go up for the all mighty dollar (FACT - tuition has gone up 10 times since 1977 as compared to inflation which has gone up only 3 times), the Government wants kids to go to college because they own the debt in Government backed loans. Whether or not he is correct, it should make us think a bit...we encourage students to go on to college despite the growing number of unemployed college graduates. Debt is skyrocketing to all time new highs, perhaps we need to reconsider.

Early on in the book, Altucher answers a few questions that you may be thinking right now:
1. James, you went to college, so how can you tell your kids not to? His answer is: It's precisely because I went to college that I am most qualified. None of my jobs afterwards made use of anything I learned in college. My professors were boring and none of them were people I wanted to look up to or mentor me. And I saw exactly what was going on in college while thousands of kids parents were paying up to $40k [now $70k] a year when you include room, board, books, travel etc...

2. James, what about the statistic that was PROVEN in study after study that kids who went to college make more money 20 years later than their counterparts that did not go to college? His answer is: First off, the study is completely fake and anyone who took statistics 101 in college knows that but I'll get to that in a second. Think about 20 years ago, college was cheaper, there weren't as many reasons NOT to go. And there weren't as many alternatives as there are now. So what did smart, ambitious kids do? They went to college. What did kids who did not feel as ambitious do? They didn't go to college. So the study has what is called selection bias. They assumed they had one audience in their group that they were testing (people who went to college) but, in fact, they really had a completely different group (smart, ambitious kids versus not-as-ambitious kids). A true test would be to take 2000 kids accepted by a wide variety of colleges. Then say to half the kids "you can NEVER go to college". And then 20 years see who made more income. My guess is the group that did not go to college. How come? Because they would have a five year head start. They would not be required to take a bunch of classes they didn't want to take in the first place and would never remember, and they would have the enormous gift of not having hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. 

So again, is James Altucher correct? Up to each of us to reflect upon his point of view. I found myself annoyed for the duration of the book, and I initially told myself that was because he is so clearly wrong - and college is a great path for young people. But the more I read, the more annoyed I got, I had to admit that perhaps I was annoyed because some of what he wrote had merit. Please understand that this blog is my way of making sense of the world in real time and I am NOT saying college is bad. I am merely allowing myself to consider an alternative point of view.

The author addresses some common reasons people give when they say all kids should go to college. First, people say kids learn to be socialized at college. J.A. retorts, "are you kidding me? I'm going to spend $100-200k per year so my kids can learn how to make friends with other people their own age?
He then describes what he believes college socialization is really all about - sex and parties. Next, he says people will say you should go to college to learn how to think. He argues that college is a way to avoid learning how to think. If I want to learn how to play tennis, the best thing to do is go out on a tennis court and play tennis. If I want to learn how to live and how to think, then the best thing to do is begin living my life and thinking my thoughts instead of still having my parents pay for my life and my professors giving me my thoughts. (see his book for the full list)

So, after reading this book I am not convinced that a college education is the great evil the author describes. Maybe it is for everyone but not at 18 years old. Perhaps, our 18 year old graduates need to experience freedom that comes with adulthood for a few years, work a few different part-time jobs, volunteer at a hospital or food shelter, travel to strange places to see how different cultures live, start a business and in the process find out exactly what their passionate about - and then, pursue the course work that will give them the credentials to pursue their passion. Truth be told, my three degrees did only that - they gave me the certificates [permission] that made me elligible to apply for a teaching job, then an administrative position - I learned each of my jobs ON the job. There is little that can substitute for actually doing a job.

"Dear James Altucher, your book made me uncomfortable - I disliked it as a result, but I thank you anyway for sharing an alternative point of view. I am reflecting deeply on your thoughts."

Be open to a different point of view -