Steve Jobs Muses on What’s Wrong with American Education, 1995

In late October, Computerworld unearthed a lengthy interview with Steve Jobs originally recorded back in 1995, when Jobs was at NeXT Computer, and still two years away from his triumphant return to Apple. Filmed as part of an oral history project, the wide-ranging interview begins with Jobs’ childhood and his early school days, and it all sets the stage for Jobs to muse on the state of public education in America. He began:

I’d like the people teaching my kids to be good enough that they could get a job at the company I work for, making a hundred thousand dollars a year. Why should they work at a school for thirty-five to forty thousand dollars if they could get a job here at a hundred thousand dollars a year? Is that an intelligence test? The problem there of course is the unions. The unions are the worst thing that ever happened to education because it’s not a meritocracy. It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what has happened. The teachers can’t teach and administrators run the place and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.

Asked what changes he would make, Jobs continued:

I’ve been a very strong believer in that what we need to do in education is to go to the full voucher system. I know this isn’t what the interview was supposed to be about but it is what I care about a great deal…. The problem that we have in this country is that [parents] went away. [They] stopped paying attention to their schools, for the most part. What happened was that mothers started working and they didn’t have time to spend at PTA meetings and watching their kids’ school. Schools became much more institutionalized and parents spent less and less and less time involved in their kids’ education. What happens when a customer goes away and a monopoly gets control … is that the service level almost always goes down.

And so the answer. Vouchers, entrepreneurship and market competition:

I’ve suggested as an example, if you go to Stanford Business School, they have a public policy track; they could start a school administrator track. You could get a bunch of people coming out of college tying up with someone out of the business school, they could be starting their own school. You could have twenty-five year old students out of college, very idealistic, full of energy instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they’d start a school. I believe that they would do far better than any of our public schools would. The third thing you’d see is I believe, is the quality of schools again, just in a competitive marketplace, start to rise. Some of the schools would go broke. A lot of the public schools would go broke. There’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years…. The biggest complaint of course is that schools would pick off all the good kids and all the bad kids would be left to wallow together in either a private school or remnants of a public school system. To me that’s like saying “Well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a ten thousand dollar car.” I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the ten thousand dollar car area. You’ve got all the Japanese playing in it. You’ve got General Motors who spent five million dollars subsidizing Saturn to compete in that market. You’ve got Ford which has just introduced two new cars in that market. You’ve got Chrysler with the Neon….

The full transcript appears here. Or, if you want to watch the interview on video, you can jump to Computerworld, where, rather lamely, you will need to register before watching the actual talk. Bad job by Computerworld.

Related Content:

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  1. TLW says . . . | November 10, 2011 / 5:36 pm

    Yeah….A voucher system. In 1995, that might’ve been a great idea, but now, no thank you.

    RIP Steve Jobs. I might make my next laptop a mac. Maybe I’ll stick with a Windows OS.

  2. Brandt Hardin says . . . | November 10, 2011 / 10:56 pm

    Visionaries like Steve Jobs reveal the true secret to the Universe in that nothing is impossible with time, perseverance, and positive visualization. Such a passion for furthering human communication inspires. His legacy will survive generations with names like Edison, Tesla as the greatest inventors and visionaries of all time. As an artist, I draw from these inspirations and advancements in my work and you may enjoy my recent portrait of Mr. Jobs, now In Memoriam at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/08/end-of-era-steve-jobs.html

  3. David Lee says . . . | November 12, 2011 / 2:53 pm

    People with ego and drive who get lucky always think that they earned everything they got and always suggest that education was of no use to them. Cliched individualism…for someone with so much money and time to think he sure was a bit of a nonentity intellectually

  4. Rachel says . . . | August 11, 2013 / 1:30 am

    What David Lee said. And oh yeah, what an asshole. He slammed parents, women, teachers, unions all in one interview. Nice. RIP.

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