Skipping College

The founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, has given out a dozen six figure scholarships to very bright high school students on the condition they forgo college. In return, the recipients are able to pursue entrepreneurial projects that presumably would be put on hold, or forgotten altogether, if they continued as students.

Mr. Thiel is to be commended for wresting the best and brightest of America’s youth from the universities who want them. (It's true, not everyone is meant for college, and this applies to brilliant people as well.) I find it troubling, however, that every project these young people are undertaking has to do with inventing some new product. We are inundated with products; we live amidst products; we breath products. What about bright students who want to devote themselves to art, to literature, to the stage? Where are their scholarships?

Of course, I can’t quibble with how Mr. Thiel chooses to spend his money, but I do wish some other rich benefactor would come forward to sponsor students whose ideas of creation are somewhat less material than Mr. Thiel’s. You might think it odd that brilliant students interested in the arts should dispense with a university education; in fact, it’s the most natural thing in the world. Most geniuses have no use for schooling, be it higher education or otherwise. Edward Gibbon called his time at Oxford the "most idle and unprofitable" of his life. And yet, the patrons of artists are usually disappointed by their charges. I hope Mr. Thiel isn't disappointed by his.