Another dot in the blogosphere?

The same difference

Posted on: June 12, 2013

Some weeks ago, the New York Times wrote a piece on David Karp, founder of Tumblr. The company had been acquired by Yahoo for US$1.1 billion.

Karp did not complete high school. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs walked similar paths (they did not graduate from college), but they were hugely successful. Their successes seemed to be a confluence of innate talent, daring-do, and good timing and circumstance.

Consider what actions Karp’s mother took early on:

When David Karp was 14, he was clearly a bright teenager. Quiet, somewhat reclusive, bored with his classes at the Bronx High School of Science. He spent most of his free time in his bedroom, glued to his computer.

But instead of trying to pry him away from his machine or coaxing him outside to get some fresh air, his mother, Barbara Ackerman, had another solution: she suggested that he drop out of high school to be home-schooled.

“I saw him at school all day and absorbed all night into his computer,” said Ms. Ackerman, reached by phone Monday afternoon. “It became very clear that David needed the space to live his passion. Which was computers. All things computers.”

Why do we struggle to nurture our own Jobs, Gates, and Karps?

First consider how any parent with more than one child will tell you that one child is very different from the other. But we try to treat them all the same in schools. We even go to the extent of putting them in uniforms.

Same clothes, same books, same speed, same treatment. I am referring to rank-and-file mindsets and procedures, fear of meaningful change, and paying lip service to calls for change.

Yes, we have different paths in our schooling system. But learners are treated the same in the name of efficiency and tests. They are subject to the same differences.

The promise of individualized learning tend to happen outside the classroom. Unfortunately, in our context this refers to “extra” tuition and “enrichment” classes. Those who can afford these are subject to the same differences again.

If we watch and learn from our kids and the MOOC movement, we can learn a thing or two. Like how they are learning languages, dance moves, or gaming strategies on their own from YouTube. Like how learners can pursue their interests and nurture their talents by reaching out on social media and taking courses that matter to them.

They are all doing the same thing. But for them it makes a difference because they can be different and do different.

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