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:

Down­load Free Copy of Steve Jobs Biog­ra­phy; Plus Inter­view with Author

Steve Jobs Demos the First Mac­in­tosh in 1984

Steve Jobs Nar­rates the First “Think Dif­fer­ent” Ad (Nev­er Aired)

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Comments (5)
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  • TLW says:

    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.

  • 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

  • David Lee says:

    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

  • Rachel says:

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

  • Jo cam says:

    If he is so con­cerned about both par­ents not being involved in their children’s edu­ca­tion, it might have been a goid idea to make his amaz­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary prod­ucts a lit­tle less expen­sive. Par­ents arent involved because it takes two incomes just to sur­vive in this mod­ern world. His inspir­ing words are just that…inspiring. How­ev­er, his actions do not show much com­pas­sion for any­one but his own elit­ist crowd. It took me until I was 40 before I could afford a mac.

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