The bell curve is populated at every point. It is just that the populations get pretty scarce at certain extremes. Those are where the exceptional performers reside. David Karp is one of them. At age 26, Karp already founded and then sold the blogging site, Tumblr, to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. That was quite a tidy accomplishment for one so young.
But Karp was one of those exceptions. After completing his freshman year at the Bronx High School of Science, his mother gave him the opportunity to be homeschooled. Karp’s intellectual endeavors and career aspirations developed in some interesting ways from there (Beth J. Harpaz, “Wunderkind Dropouts: Too Smart for School?” The Kansas City Star, May 28, 2013, pp. D1–D2):
“Karp took Japanese classes and had a math tutor while continuing with an internship at an animation production company, but by age 16, he was working for a website and was on his way to becoming a tech entrepreneur. He never did get his diploma. Karp’s mother told the AP that she let him leave school because she realized ‘he needed the time in the day in order to create.’” (p. D2)
Again, Karp is one of the rare exceptions. I have seen many students at the high school level and the college level who were extremely smart. I have seen many students in public schools, private schools, and home schools who were extremely smart. But in no case have I ever seen one of them fare better by quitting the academic route prematurely. Is it possible one or two of them could have done so and excelled? Perhaps. It just has not been among my observations.
As we prepare young adults for higher education and for the workforce, we must walk a tightrope between erring in favor of giving them abundant formal academics and constantly remaining watchful for the rare exceptions. In so doing, we must remain deeply cognizant that rare exceptions are exactly that—rare exceptions. That means they do not apply to just anyone. Even Karp was smart enough to recognize the specialness of his situation:
“‘This is not a path that I would haphazardly recommend to kids out there. . . . I was in a very unique position of knowing exactly what I wanted to do at a time when computer science education certainly wasn’t that good in high school in New York City.’” (p. D1)
Karp speaks good words. I agree with him. For 99.9999% of the budding student body out there, maintaining the course in a formal academic program will bring immense personal and professional success.