One thing I know a thing or two about is college. I hold advanced degrees in multiple subjects, and I can tell you a lot about universities. I can tell you a lot about what you ought to realistically expect from your education, too.
My grandfather, Howard Hughes Jr., dropped out of college. He wanted me to go to college, and he made sure that I was on the path towards it. Even in his last dying moments, he assured me that the funds to go to school were available to me. He loved education and learning, but he was a drop out! He dropped out of Rice University in order to become a film and aerospace entrepreneur. And a wildly successful one at that!
So, that having been said, Howard Jr. never discouraged me from school. He encouraged it. In fact, education was so well established both from Howard Jr. and my grandmother – Jean Peters – that I felt obligated to go. I even felt obligated to stay on and achieve masters, doctorates, and everything in between. This is why I am thirty three and finally getting around to making my first feature film! Howard Jr. achieved international success at 25 – quite a bit before me. And he even won an Academy Award prior to that for a previous production – before Hell’s Angels was even a thought in his mind.
Jean Peters was one of the most authoritative people in my life. Before I went off to school, after Howard Jr.’s death, she sat me down and taught me about how to balance my checkbook properly. Howard Jr. had been a lifelong bad speller, and Jean Peters used to rub it in everyone’s face that she was a fantastic speller. But is that the mindset that makes for success? No. It makes everyone upset. And the idea that I had to go to college to satisfy her makes me a bit queasy - since Howard Jr. died (most unfortunately and tragically) on June 25, 1998, when I was not much more than 15 years of age.
College, like so many other pursuits that people have, is ultimately not for everyone. In fact, college has become so common, that most lawyers can’t even find jobs fresh out of school. One in ten might be a realistic estimate, what with night schools and non-scholastic based lawyer apprenticeship/examination. That’s right, seven years or so in a law office and you can sit for the bar in many states. Well, California for sure.
But back to the story about college. The run down is that I went to school, kept going to school, and studied everything under the sun. So I’ll choose the class that most personifies education and the realistic expectations you should have for yourself.
Calculus. Why calculus? Because a professor once told me I could do anything if I passed it. So I passed it with the only B that I ever received in lower division work – but I passed nonetheless. Heck, that was an extremely hard class for a man who had been studying music most of his life.
I use math constantly now that I am a structural engineer and aircraft designer, but calculus isn’t very useful. Integrals and Riemann Sums account for the bulk of the calculus that I’ve used in designing parts – mostly to determine the exact area beneath curved objects. But an approximation using trigonometry is almost as useful if not quicker and more useful for that reason alone. It’s faster. Ah, but this isn’t math class.
Honestly, most of the aircraft calculations I use are based on the work of Isaac Newton, William Boyle, and many other classic physicists – like Robert Hooke. So it’s easy to see why professors stick to the teaching of old material. So much of it is vital – yet much more – MUCH more – mountains of it in fact – is useless. Newton’s Method is useless today, for example. Grab a calculator.
Off subject, but a high school teacher forced us to take advanced math classes without a calculator. We used to tell her that it was the modern era, and we would never be doing math without one. “But what if you don’t have one? Then what will you do?” Well, I told her that I would go to the store and buy a new one. Because I have, I will, and I always will. Why would I ever do math without the quintessential tool for the job? That is like training an architect to draw circles without a compass. Stupid! Once the tool exists, you simply make use of it. You don’t backtrack and learn every old method that is out of date.
The reason I want to mention calculus is simple. It demonstrates just how useful college ultimately can be – or cannot be. You see, if you’ve ever taken calculus, they often begin by explaining to students how derivatives work and how they are proven to exist. Furthermore, the derivative formula is shown to students, and students sit around cracking numbers about them for ages. Useful, right?
Then after your first test, the teacher tells you that derivatives can actually be done in your head. You don’t even need to know the formula for derivatives, how it’s proven, or anything else. You just take an exponent, multiply it by the non-exponent portion of a compound numeric expression, and then subtract one from the exponent’s value before re-assigning it. Yes, it takes literally five seconds for the most part. So why did we learn about the definition of a derivative in the first place when third graders can be taught how to do it in their minds? I have no answer. They have no answer. It’s just necessary, they say. That’s what our professor said.
Then later, you will learn about Newton’s Method. It’s a fascinating way to determine the values of larger decimal-based numbers in specific calculations. It’s literally a miracle method – but there’s one central problem. A calculator can do this nowadays. More useless stuff.
Then you run into integrals, which are the core of what makes calculus work. But before you learn the easy way to do them, the professor will likely choose to teach you Riemann Sums. That’s a complex way of calculating areas beneath a curve using an endless array of rectangles, basically. But it’s useless because there is a faster way that doesn’t even involve a calculator. Integrals are those. Professors just want you to have a complete understanding of mathematics from the ground up! But are these kids going to be math professors? No! Well, not the sane ones.
Yes, I guess. But what is the point? I’ve forgotten all about Riemann Sums, Newton’s Method, and many other things. Heck, with a Texas Instruments calculator, you can just plug in numbers into an integral expression and achieve an instant result. So, after three classes of complex calculus mathematics, you will ultimately learn that a calculator does everything for you. You need to know – literally – 0% of this information for real world applications. Thanks, calculus, for wasting my time.
So, why do universities insist on teaching this stuff? Well, they are stuck in the past. Universities are the old way of learning – prior to the internet, computers, and many other modern extravagances. It’s no wonder they teach trite, out-of-date things like Newton’s Method. Sure, Newton’s Method was astonishing in its day just like the Wright Brothers’ first successful airplane – but honestly – it’s just old news today. Both of those things are out of date, and we all know it when we study them.
Now, you should also remember that according to psychologists, over time, we only remember about 25% of the things that we attempt to learn. That means that we are constantly relearning things because they fall out of usefulness, and it means that you will absolutely forget Newton’s Method, Riemann Sums, the definition of the derivative, and many other similar trite pieces of information that professors love to drool over. Yes, in an ivory tower, everything under the sun seems vital and important to pass on to young people. But when you have no actual experience doing real work in the real world, you have no idea what important things ought to be passed on to young minds. That’s the whole university problem. Remember, those that cannot DO … teach!
And there are so few truly good degrees to pursue in college. Honestly, there are some useful things to learn. Medicine, diet, engineering, and business come to mind. However, as an owner of many companies myself, I have to wonder what the professors at many schools are thinking about when graduating “business” students that have no working knowledge of how the New York Stock Exchange works. Why, that is the very essence of what business in the modern world is – the buying and trading of company ownership! Yet the vast majority of schools have not a single class on stock, and often students graduate completely ignorant of the most important asset to any business – the value of its own stock shares.
So, are you nodding your head about the uselessness of college, yet? Sure, if you want to be a nurse, you’ll need a degree. Nobody is arguing with you about that. But do you really believe that subjects like physics will put you a step above others in your field? It’s dubious as to whether such people are truly learned in proper and modern scientific techniques.
In my mind, a real physicist sees a laser and says to him or herself, “Wow! How does it work?” YouTube has many videos that explain the concept in moments. You didn’t even need a 30 minute lecture. That is how learning is accomplished in the new age.
For instance, if a physicist comes down to Hughes Aircraft for a job with me in 2016, I might ask him or her how a semi-conductor laser works. Lasers were invented at Hughes Aircraft. Don’t they teach you things like this in your coursework? You know, important things a physicist should know? Most of the time such people require a whole new education about the important and unimportant. You can just flush your PhD down the toilet for all I care if the bulk of your knowledge involves exotic principals that have nothing to do with practical, real world constructions. And the two years you spent researching Einstein’s Theory of Relativity isn’t going to be very useful at the moment. Well, unless you happen to know Jean-Luc Picard and Geordi LaForge. And I’m guessing you don’t.
So, simply ask yourself what you need the degree for. Do you need a slip of paper in order to pursue your dreams, or are you just betting on the fact that your “fluff” degree in Sociology or Social Work is going to put you a hair above the rest? It might. It might not. Most of the time, it won’t at all.
Naw. Experience is the only thing that matters. A PhD could apply to my company alongside a man without a high school diploma and I would consider them both based on merit. If a person has the audacity to apply for a position, I weight that very highly. Then I consider their talents. If the man without any degree at all has built his own helicopter, that puts him light years ahead of any man with 10 PhDs in my eyes. I look at my education in science and history as worthless. In fact, most times, the education they give you at a university is horse crap. You’ve learned and breathed concepts that are so old and outdated that they make you look like a dinosaur.
So, PhDs are meaningless in my eyes. I don’t need another guy using Newton’s Method on a chalkboard all because his teachers forbade the use of a calculator. Life is a business, not a classroom. If your teachers are withholding the fastest way possible to do something, then what good are they to you and your future? Think long and hard about that one.
But still. You might need a slip of paper to be a nurse or a doctor or a radio technician or a carpet installer or anything in between. If your mission in life demands the slip of paper, then go for it. Just don’t break your back getting one. It’s not the end all be all thing that makes a man or woman successful. It’s just a slip of paper. I keep mine near the toilet, and I can’t even find my master’s degree.
Approach everything with the mind of a child, and take my advice with a grain of salt. Remember, it’s just my experience. Your mileage may vary. But seriously – college is by and large a waste of your time. They just teach you how to reinvent the wheel over and over until you don’t know how to do anything but create wheels. In a world with anti-gravity, wheels are yesterday’s news.