Eddy Zhong: How School Makes Kids Less Intelligent at TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet (Transcript)

Full transcript of entrepreneur Eddy Zhong’s TEDx Talk: How School Makes Kids Less Intelligent at TEDxYouth@BeaconStreet conference.

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Eddy Zhong – Entrepreneur

I want to share with you a big secret today. And it’s not one that a lot of you are going to want to hear. But at the same, time it’s so important that I have to tell you.

That secret is this: What if I told you that every singe day kids go to school, they become less intelligent?

Now, how could that be possible? When kids go to school they learn things, right? And they accumulate more knowledge. So if anything, they should be getting smarter.

How could they possibly be getting less intelligent? What am I talking about? Well, I do hope to illustrate that to you today.

Before I turned 14, I was a kid that did not know what he wanted in life. So usually, when you go up to a 5 or 6 year old and you ask him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, he’ll say, “An astronaut,” or “A businessman”.

I wanted to be a professional Call of Duty player. And since I had no idea about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I just listened to my parents almost 100% of the time. I trusted that they knew what was best for me. My parents wanted out of me what any typical parent would want out of his child: go to school, keep up your grades, get out and exercise, once every few years.

And I was trying to do everything they asked of me, except the problem was I wasn’t even that good at school. I was terrible at science, could not write a 5-paragraph essay if my life had depended on it. And to this day I still think I’m the only Asian kid in the world who does not understand math. I really do.

But when I turned 14 that all changed. I was no longer this hot air balloon and floating around in space, I was now like a supersonic jet flying toward my destination at 50,000 miles an hour or however fast those things go.

And this change all started when I received an envelope with the mail. It was an invitation — not to a birthday party, I did not get any of those — not to a playground, but to a business plan competition down in Boston. And I was curious, I was just so curious that I had to go. And the program director explained to us that over five months, we would form a team, develop a business idea, and present this idea to a panel of judges, who would be judging us how good our suits are, and how good our business ideas were.

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And a long story short, over that five months I formed a team, developed an idea, and we actually ended up winning that competition and taking home a check. And that one event sparked my interest for going to more and more of these competitions.

And over the next two years of my life, I actually went to dozens and dozens of these competitions, and I was winning almost all of them. And I realized that I liked going to them so much not just because I liked winning them but also because I had an unrealized passion. That was a passion for creating things.

Because the one thing that my team would do differently from our other competitors, every single time, was that while everyone would go up and present their idea and their PowerPoint, we would go to a Home Depot, buy supplies, and actually build the idea we were talking about. And the judges were just so blown away by the fact that a bunch of teenagers could go and create things, can make prototypes, and minimum viable products. We won almost every single competition just because the judges loved that we had gone and executed it.

At one of these competitions I met a short-tempered, middle-aged Polish guy named Frank. If he is here today I’d better run after this. And he came up to us, and he took a look at our prototype, and he said: “I can help you guys turn this into a real company.” Think about that. Isn’t that cool?

We are 16 years olds, we are going out into the world and creating a real hardware technology startup. At first we were all like, “Time to be Steve Jobs, let’s go build Apple, dropping out of school now.”

But we quickly realized it’s not that easy. So, don’t drop out unless you’re really sure you have a good idea. But… we realized that the first part to building a great company is to assemble a great team. And as students, we couldn’t go to bars to network, we couldn’t go to networking events for adults, so we went to our school and set up this little presentation in our auditorium, in which we would present our idea and hopefully kids would join our team. And we sent out an invitation to our entire school.

And the first thing we noticed is that almost no one showed up. There was almost no interest. And those who did show up spread the rumor around the school and throughout that week, we were actually marked, we were made fun of for our ideas and for being wannabe Mark Zuckerbergs.

And what’s funny is, the next week after, we took the exact same presentation, and did it at our elementary school so to kids who were 5 or 6 years younger. And the response was phenomenal. These kids were throwing their lunch money at us asking if they could buy a prototype. They were asking for our pre-money valuation, which I know you guys know from watching Shark Tank, but it was amazing that these kids even knew terms like that existed when they were too young to even probably pronounce some of these words. And that just inspired me so much.

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And I think this is what our education system has done. Over just these 5 to 6 years in the education system, these creative children have turned into these teenagers that are unwilling to think outside of the box.

So let’s go back to that secret I was talking about. How is it possible that school is making kids less intelligent? The fact is, there is so much more than just one type of intelligence. And while school can make you more academically intelligent, it can teach you physics, algebra, calculus, it is diminishing the children’s creative intelligence. It is teaching them to think in a certain way, to go down a certain path in life, it’s telling them: go to high school, get a diploma, go to a good college, find a stable job, and if you don’t do that, you won’t be successful. And if that was true, how am I even standing here today?

How did I, a straight C student, start a technology company at the age of 16? And how is my company, which was featured on a Wall Street Journal last week, doing better than some of the companies started by Harvard and Stanford graduates? It must be something that can’t be measured by academic intelligence alone.

So, here is what I believe. Parents, teachers, educators, you have the power to influence and inspire youth. The fact is, there are way too many people out there right now who are obsessed with telling kids to go to college, to find a good job, and to be “successful”. There are not enough who are telling kids to explore more possibilities, to become entrepreneurs.

And if there’s one message that I want parents, kids, and all of you to take away from what I’ve said here today is that you can open your own doors, that you can stray away from this conventional, limited, and narrow path that education sets us upon. You can diverge and create your own future. You can start your own companies and start your own non-profits. You can create, you can innovate.

And if there’s one message I want you to take away from everything I’ve said, it is this: No one has ever changed the world by doing what the world has told them to do.

Thank you.