Cheezburger's Ben Huh at the Hacking EDU event in Seattle. Photos via Dan Thornton

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh may be in the business of cracking people up. But the Seattle Internet entrepreneur also has some strong opinions about filling people’s brains with more than just viral videos and silly Internet memes.

We heard some of those ideas at an event last week hosted by the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media as the kickoff of a month-long series of events about the future of education.

The Q&A, which I led, included a number of Huh’s personal thoughts on where the educational system is breaking down, as well as his views on whether entrepreneurs are well-suited for formal education.

But Huh’s most passionate plea came in minute 18 (of the video below) in response from an audience question from GeekWire columnist Frank Catalano who asked about the role of funding K-12 education. Huh’s frustration with the lack of public support for education left the outspoken entrepreneur nearly speechless. See below for those comments as well as extended excerpts from the talk.

On why he’d probably drop out of college if he were doing it over again:

“OK, I am going to rewind the clock back to 1995 when I went into college. And I’d probably make the same decision to go. I might have opted to go to Stanford versus Northwestern because it is a hell of a lot warmer…. And I probably would have dropped out.  I think I regret not dropping out to be honest.  I regret not dropping out of Northwestern because the most exciting stuff that was happening in the world at the time was not happening in education. Going to college was not the most exciting thing that I could have learned. It was very valuable, but I think trying my hand at building the early part of the Internet would have been amazing in my life. And maybe I would have had the discipline to go back and finish my degree if it didn’t work. But I think it was a chance that was worth taking.”

On the ‘competitive threat’ in education:

GeekWire's John and Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh

“The reason you and I are even on stage today to talk about this is the fact that higher education, for the first time, is actually facing a competitive threat from a non higher educational source. Right? And that is like the eye-opening thing that you hear about educators talking today. No one used to argue the relevance of formal education until very, very recently. And it is because people actually have the opportunity to actually gain practical experience.”

On whether you can learn to be an entrepreneur in college: “We talk about entrepreneurs like they are a social class or like a cast of people. We are not. At different times in your life, you will have more of calling to be an entrepreneur and sometimes you won’t. I don’t know that you can ever learn how to be an entrepreneur in class. I think what schools do is they are great at connecting you with other people of the same caliber or like-mindedness or have the same outlook, and giving you the social glue…. It engenders trust and connectivity, and that has a ton of value.”

On why Seattle needs to invest in education to become a world-class city: “What’s lovely is that this place is drawing talent from the entire Northwest, so that is a competitive advantage that Seattle has and that the UW has, which is that you are drawing talent from this region: From Idaho, Oregon and other places. But that’s not good enough. If you want to be a world-class city, and I would argue that Seattle is on the fringes of becoming a real world-class city, where there are tons of multi-cultural things … you need a university. You actually need more than one university that is world-class. And I think UW definitely, if they are not already there, can be there. The amount of research dollars that go into UW, the amount of research people who show up from all over the world; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is going to draw a tremendous amount of multi-cultural talent into this city, and we have to take advantage of that if we really want the word Seattle to be spoken in the same sentence as San Francisco. And it is not today. It is going to take decades, but that requires a foresight from the people who run this city and the people who run this state to say that we are not going to listen to the 1,000 different voices that want us to be driven in 1,000 different directions. We are really going to put a stake in the sand and say: ‘We are going to be a world-class city. And that means starting with education.’ Because you have to start there.”

On the importance of funding K-12 education: “Is there a soapbox here? Because I am going to stand on it for a little bit. I think it is absolutely terrible that this state is one of the most regressive tax states in the country. We are shooting ourselves in the foot for the next 50 years by not funding K-12. Where do you think college kids come from, right? It’s frustrating. It is really frustrating…. We need to fund our schools. Not private schools. Public schools, with all of our money. I don’t have kids, but I am more than happy to make sure that we have a better education system because if I plan on being here and I plan on my family being here for a long time, if we don’t fund our K-12, we are not going to have great college kids, and we are going to have to rely on importing people to go to our schools and taking up our state slots. That’s not right.”

The interview with Huh starts in minute five of the video below, with the entrepreneur sharing his experiences about studying journalism at Northwestern University.


[Editor's note: GeekWire co-founder John Cook is on the advisory board of the MCDM]

Latest News

Comments

  • Guest

    Congratulations to Ben! I’m so glad that he’s joined Bill Gates in using his fortune to advocate for better education. I hope he can bring his motivational vigour to his new reality show this fall on Bravo.

  • http://www.nomadlabs.com/ Enrico Mills

    I dont agree with Ben on a lot of things, but this is bang on. Look at California over the past 30-40 years to see the effects of cutting support for K-12 education.

    Great stuff Ben and John.

    • Stagester

      California has the highest paid teachers and is in the top % of states in per student spending yet ranks 49th in test scores. The problem is not $$$ its how its spent and that unionized teachers have no incentive to actually turnout good students. Adding to the tax burden of those that do produce is no panecea to make our educaiton system better.

      What needs to happen is if a school, teacher, administrator don’t produce they should be fired. No one that runs or participates in the business world would stand for such results.

      • http://www.nomadlabs.com/ Enrico Mills

        “in the top % of states in per student spending”

        California is ranked about 45th in per pupil funding…

        “unionized teachers have no incentive to actually turnout good students”

        A loaded statement, because what is a “good student”? No Child Left Behind made standardized tests the benchmark against which all teachers are measured, but that just incentivizes teaching to the test.

        “Adding to the tax burden of those that do produce is no panecea to make our educaiton system better”

        Raising taxes is not a panacea for anything but low taxes. But taxes are very low in the US.

        I will agree with you, that ineffective teachers should not be protected, but I suspect we assign a different priority to that particular problem.

        • Alvin

          Cali only ranks that low because of the standard of living which is factored into the percentage you site.

          We only have standardized test scores and how we rank with other countries, states, etc… unless you have some other way to judge whether a teacher or system produces what it is supposed to.

          What taxes are you counting the highest corporate tax in the world? or the middle of the road highest bracket for personal income taxe? or property taxes? (most countries have local authorities of this) or state income taxes of which Cali has the highest in the country.

          The problem are the public unions which have bankrupted local, state and soon to be the federal governments. We have over $100T in unfunded liabilities for pensions, insurance etc… on top of the trillions we add to the budget each year.

          Here is a great infographic showing what we get for putting out the most money per student of any country.

          http://mat.usc.edu/u-s-education-versus-the-world-infographic/

      • http://www.nomadlabs.com/ Enrico Mills

        I’d also like to say that support means more than just throwing money at the problem

  • http://www.facebook.com/rwoan Ronald S Woan

    Right on!

  • Sean P Con23

    I am sure the comments on k-12 are well intentioned. Unfortunately Ben is similar to many other citizens – completely uninformed on k-12 funding. No matter how one measures K-12 spending in Washington or any other US state the facts are plain and obvious. Washington and other states per spending per student adjusted for inflation has more than doubled the last 20 years and results have not improved at all – in fact on many measures student achievement has declined. The US spends dramatically more per student than any country and results continue to get worse relative to other developed countries. Funding is the excuse used for years for poor results, yet funding has increased dramatically with no return. WAshington spends over $10k per student per year. Classes average just under 20 students. Thus spending is almost $200k per classroom – teachers are paid about $90k ( salary, benefits and retirement contribution). The remainder of the money goes into a highly ineffective and bloated bureaucracy. Combine the bureaucracy with rigid and rabid unionization and you get the results we get now – abysmal.

  • Seanpcon 23

    I am sure the comments on k-12 are well intentioned. Unfortunately Ben is similar to many other citizens – completely uninformed on k-12 funding. No matter how one measures K-12 spending in Washington or any other US state the facts are plain and obvious. Washington and other states per spending per student adjusted for inflation has more than doubled the last 20 years and results have not improved at all – in fact on many measures student achievement has declined. The US spends dramatically more per student than any country and results continue to get worse relative to other developed countries. Funding is the excuse used for years for poor results, yet funding has increased dramatically with no return. WAshington spends over $10k per student per year. Classes average just under 20 students. Thus spending is almost $200k per classroom – teachers are paid about $90k ( salary, benefits and retirement contribution). The remainder of the money goes into a highly ineffective and bloated bureaucracy. Combine the bureaucracy with rigid and rabid unionization and you get the results we get now – abysmal.

    Ben ought to spend some time to be informed or stick to putting stupid dancing cat videos online

  • Atjohnson9

    sorry, but the numbers don’t support what Ben is saying. http://www.ofm.wa.gov/trends/revenue/fig509.asp

    According to this, 13 BILLION was spent on k-12 in 2009-2011. There are about 1 million kids in k-12 per year, so according to my math that is 6500 per year, per kid. Now, if there are 30 kids in a class room, then each class room would be “worth” 195k. Even if the teacher was 75% of that (salary+HealthCare+pension+etc), there are quite a few dollars missing.

    Honestly there needs to be some accountability for where the heck this money goes. Last year, i spent nearly 50 dollars in school supplies, have to pay for field trips, and still get hit up with fund raising. 

    • Atjohnson9

      One more, this one spells out the amount on education per Budget Cycle. http://www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/WM/Documents/Publications/BudgetGuides/2011/FINALK-12Guide2011.pdf

Job Listings on GeekWork