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The First Rule Of Education Should Be:
"Do No Harm"

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

The present day educational system is damaging to young people.  Evidence of this harm is being presented from psychological, neurological, sociological, statistical, and common-sense perspectives.

There are many notable people, who did not complete their formal education, but accomplished great things.  Bill Gates, founder of the software giant Microsoft, and the wealthiest person in the world, dropped out of Harvard in his freshman year.  His incredible rise to prominence in the computer industry is testimony to the fact that formal education is not synonymous with success.  In fact, his phenomenal knowledge of computers was not acquired in the structured environment of the classroom.  Instead, Gates pursued this interest after school by studying the BASIC language from a manual with his friend Paul Allen, helping a local company debug its computers, and designing computer programs.

Many will dismiss Gates as an exceptional individual, who may have dropped out of college, but excelled in high school before being accepted at Harvard.  There are, however, many other people who have reached the highest echelons of their profession without even completing elementary school, let alone high school.  The following list offers a small sample of the thousands of individuals who have achieved tremendous success in their lives without completing their formal education:

• Albert Einstein: Nobel Prize-winning physicist; "Time" magazine's "Man of the Century" (20th century) (after dropping out of high school, he studied on his own and passed the entrance exam on his second try to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology)

• John D. Rockefeller Sr.: Self-made billionaire American businessman-philanthropist; co-founder of "The Standard Oil Company"; history's first recorded billionaire (dropped out of high school two months before graduation; took business courses for ten weeks at Folsom Mercantile College [a chain business school])

• Henry Ford: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; assembly-line auto manufacturing pioneer; founder of the "Ford Motor Company"

• Walt Disney: Oscar-winning American film/TV producer; animation and theme park pioneer; self-made multimillionaire founder and spokesperson of "The Walt Disney Studios/Company"; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient; French Legion of Honor admittee/Medal recipient (received honorary high-school diploma from hometown high school at age 58)

• Abraham Lincoln: 16th President of the United States; (little formal education - Lincoln himself estimated approximately one year; home schooling/life experience; later earned a law degree through self study of books that he borrowed from friends)

• Carl Sandburg: Pulitzer Prize-winning American author (little formal education; later passed entrance exam to Lombard College and graduated)

• Diana, Princess of Wales

• George Burns: Oscar-winning actor/comedian (elementary school dropout)

• Dave Thomas: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder-spokesperson of the "Wendy's" fast-food restaurant chain (equivalency diploma)

• Martin Van Buren: 8th President of the United States (little formal education; began studying law at age 14 while an apprentice at a law firm, later became a lawyer)

• Andrew Carnegie: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman and philanthropist (elementary school dropout)

• John Chancellor: American television journalist; evening news anchorman

• "Colonel" Harlan Sanders: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder-spokesperson of the "Kentucky Fried Chicken/KFC" fast-food restaurant chain (elementary school dropout; later earned a correspondence course law degree)

• Samuel L. Clemens ("Mark Twain"): Best-selling American author and humorist (elementary school dropout)

• Christopher Columbus: Italian explorer (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• Davy Crockett: Early American frontiersman; U.S. Congressman (Tennessee Representative); died at the battle of the Alamo (little formal education - less than six months; home schooling/life experience)

• Charles Dickens: Best-selling British author (elementary school dropout)

• Joe DiMaggio: National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient

• Sir Francis Drake: British explorer; knighted in the United Kingdom (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• George Eastman: Self-made multimillionaire American inventor; founder of the "Kodak" roll film camera, corporation, and chemical company

• Thomas Edison: Self-made multimillionaire, most famous and productive inventor of all time; invented the filament electric light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera; electrical power usage pioneer; Congressional Gold Medal recipient; knighted (France: bestowed the rank of Chevalier, (had no formal education - home schooled)

• Benjamin Franklin: American politician - diplomat - author - printer - publisher-scientist - inventor; co-author and co-signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; one of the founders of The United States of America; face is pictured on the U.S. one-hundred dollar bill (little formal education [less than two years]; home schooling/life experience)

• Clark Gable: Oscar-winning actor

• George Gershwin: Oscar-nominated and most celebrated American songwriter-and classical composer; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

• Amadeo Peter Giannini: American-born founder of "Bank of America"

• Cary Grant: Oscar-winning actor

• W.T.Grant: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of the "W.T. Grant Company" department store chain

• H.L. Hunt: Self-made billionaire American oil industrialist (elementary school dropout)

• John Huston: Oscar-winning American film director-actor (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon, The African Queen, etc.)

• Elton John: Oscar-winning songwriter-singer; Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee; knighted by the United Kingdom

• Andrew Jackson: 7th President of the United States (no formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• John Paul Jones: Scottish-born American Revolutionary War U.S. navy commander; famous quote: "I have not yet begun to fight." (little formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• Henry J. Kaiser: Self-made multimillionaire American businessman; founder of "Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation," "Kaiser Steel," etc.

• Kirk Kerkorian: Self-made billionaire American businessman

• Ray Kroc: Self-made billionaire American businessman; founder of the "McDonald's" fast-food restaurant chain

• Jerry Lewis: Actor-comedian-singer-entertainer-humanitarian; knighted (France: Chevalier [or Chev.] Jerry Lewis)

• John Major: British Prime Minister 1990-1997

• William Shakespeare: British playwright; best-selling British author

• George Bernard Shaw: Nobel Prize-winning Irish-born British playwright; best-selling author

• Frank Sinatra: Oscar-winning actor-singer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

• John Philip Sousa: American composer-conductor (elementary school dropout)

• Zachary Taylor: 12th President of the United States (little formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• George Washington: 1st President of the United States; former general; Chairman of the Constitutional Convention; U.S. nickname: "The Father of Our Country"; face is pictured on the U.S. one dollar bill and twenty-five cent coin (quarter) (no formal education; home schooling/life experience; went to sea in his youth)

• William Faulkner: Nobel Prize-winning and Pulitzer Prize-winning American author; screenwriter (dropped out of high school in second year; later attended University of Mississippi but did not graduate)

• Herman Melville: Best-selling American author and writer of Moby Dick, arguably the greatest novel of all time.

• Liza Minnelli: Oscar-winning actress-singer

• Robert Mitchum: Oscar-nominated actor

• Claude Monet: French painter (elementary school dropout)

• David H. Murdock: Self-made billionaire American businessman

• Florence Nightingale: History's most notable nurse; best-selling Italian-born British nursing book author (no formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• Thomas Paine: American Revolutionary War era political theorist; best-selling British-born American author; famous quote: "These are the times that try men's souls." (little formal education; home schooling/life experience)

• Millard Fillmore: 13th President of the United States (little formal education - six months; home schooling/life experience; studied law while serving as a legal clerk with a judge and law firm; later became a lawyer)

• Will Rogers: American author-humorist-lecturer-actor-entertainer; famous quote: "I never met a man I didn't like."

• Frederick Henry Royce: Self-made multimillionaire British businessman; co-founder-designer of the "Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Company"; knighted (United Kingdom: Sir Frederick Henry Royce) (elementary school dropout)

• Edmond Safra: Lebanese-born billionaire banker-philanthropist

• David Sarnoff: Russian-born American radio and television pioneer; given the title "Father of American Television" by the Television Broadcasters Association

• William Saroyan: Oscar-winning screenwriter; Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright

• Vidal Sassoon: Self-made multimillionaire British businessman; founder of "Vidal Sassoon" hairstyling salons, academies, and hair-care products

• Walt Whitman: Best-selling American poet (elementary school dropout)

• Orville & Wilbur Wright: Aviation pioneers; Congressional Gold Medal recipients

• Grover Cleveland: 22nd and 24th President of the United States; face is pictured on the one-thousand dollar bill, which is no longer printed; (dropped out of school to help family earn income; studied law while serving as a clerk at a law firm, later became a lawyer)

• Irving Berlin: Oscar-winning American songwriter-composer; film story writer; Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient; Congressional Gold Medal recipient

Ultimately, what distinguishes the aforementioned individuals from the rest of us is their passion for learning that transcends the structured environment of the classroom.  Instead of limiting their education to formal schooling, they were curious about the world around them.  With their fearless spirit of exploration and their desire to experiment, these individuals discovered their true passions and strengths, which they built upon to achieve success later in life.

Imagine what a loss for the world it would have been had Thomas Edison decided to conform to the system, and invest his time in doing homework, rather than pursuing his love for invention.  What if Walt Disney had confined his learning to the requirements of his school's curriculum, and followed only the guidance of his teachers, rather than his own internal motivation.  His extraordinary animated features may have never been created.

Ultimately, formal education - by placing the control of learning in the hands of teachers and administrators, and imposing rules and requirements on students - stifles the natural love for learning. We must learn from these exceptional individuals who had the courage to defy the coercive force of formal education and carve their niche in our history.


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