Solving Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem, One Fellow at a Time

Tech boot camp General Assembly offers scholarships for minorities and veterans. Three recent grads share what they learned.

Photo courtesy of General Assembly

All eyes were on Silicon Valley this past summer, not only for the latest and greatest tech innovations, but also for the latest (but not so great) indications that the industry’s diversity is sorely lacking. From Apple to Google to Facebook to Twitter, several companies publicly confessed that their employee bases are predominantly men, as well as largely white or Asian.

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Why Are Silicon Valley Executives Sending Their Kids to a Tech-Free School?

Parents employed by Google and Apple are sending their kids to computer-free Waldorf schools. Are they on the right track?

You'd think executives at Silicon Valley's top tech firms would be keen to enroll their children in schools chock-full of the latest education technology: one-to-one laptops, iPad programs, digital textbooks, and teachers engaging students using Twitter. But according to The New York Times, some Silicon Valley parents—including the chief technology officer of eBay and execs from Google and Apple—are doing a 180 and sending their kids to the area's decidedly low-tech Waldorf school.

Waldorf's computer-free campuses—teachers use old-school chalkboards and students learn cursive writing with pen and paper—are a sharp contrast from most schools, where access to technology is seen as key to getting kids college- and career-ready. Advocates of Waldorf education say they're not opposed to technology, but there's a time and a place for everything. There are no iPads in kindergarten classrooms at Waldorf schools—instead you'll find plenty of play-based learning and storytelling.

"The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or to do arithmetic, that's ridiculous," Alan Eagle, an executive communications employee at Google, told the Times. His fifth-grade daughter attends a Waldorf school and "doesn't know how to use Google," and his middle school-age son is just learning to use the search engine. Instead, his daughter's class is honing their knitting skills in the hopes of eventually producing socks.

While that may sound out of place at a time when moms brag about their 3-year-olds' abilities to operate iPads, there's an appeal to Waldorf schools' philosophy that students should "experience" literature, math, and science—along with visual and performing arts—in a developmentally appropriate way. The tech-free teaching methods are designed to foster a lifelong love of learning and teach students how to concentrate deeply and master human interaction, critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Indeed, through knitting socks, Waldorf students pick up math and patterning skills, and they come out of it with something beyond a standardized test score to show for their effort.

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Can We Educate Our Way Out of the Unemployment Crisis?

The connection between education and ending the nation's unemployment crisis dominated Obama's Silicon Valley town hall yesterday.

President Barack Obama spent yesterday in California, fielding questions about creating economic opportunity and putting America back to work at a Silicon Valley town hall hosted by social media site LinkedIn. As the nation grapples with a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, the connection between education and ending the nation's unemployment crisis dominated the conversation.

"When we were at our peak it was in large part because we were doing a better job than anyone else in the world in training our workers," Obama told the crowd. "The rest of the world is catching up." He pointed out that China and India are increasing the number of high school and college graduates well-trained in math and science and ready for the tech jobs of the future, while the United States still struggles with ending its high school dropout crisis.

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PayPal Billionaire Peter Thiel Should Stop Telling College Students to Drop Out

Thiel's program to turn dropouts into tech entrepreneurs isn't just hypocritical, it's also irresponsible.

We've survived the tech bubble and the housing bubble, but according to Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, we're in the grips of a brand new bubble: higher education. Thiel, who is not a dropout—he attended Stanford for both his undergraduate and law degree—is challenging the idea that you need a degree to succeed in life through a new venture, his "20 Under 20" project. Instead of hiring graduates from the nation's most elite schools, he's paying 20 of them $100,000 to drop out of college, run with their entrepreneurial spirit, and start companies.

Thiel told TechCrunch that, "A true bubble is when something is over-valued and intensely believed," noting that, "Education may be the only thing people still believe in in the United States. To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there’s no Santa Claus."

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