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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]

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