Most of the stuff they study in school is completely useless. But some incredibly valuable things you don’t learn until you’re older – yet you could learn them when you’re younger. And you start to think, What would I do if I set a curriculum for a school?
God, how exciting that could be! But you can’t do it today. You’d be crazy to work in a school today. You don’t get to do what you want. You don’t get to pick your books, your curriculum. You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?
Steve Jobs discussing bureaucracy in US schools
Josh Catoneon 10 Jun 10
Certainly there is plenty wrong with our education system, but not letting kids set the curriculum isn’t it. Scaffolding is important and so is giving children a practical and broad foundation.
It’s easy in hindsight to say, “Man, I wish I had been able spend more time learning X instead of Y. I hated Y!” But when you’re 15 you don’t have that perspective. You need to learn all that “useless” stuff to figure out what the useful bits are (to you—it’s different for everyone and most people change their minds more than once over the course of their schooling).
Now, teachers, on the other hand, should have more latitude in what they teach and how they teach it—and unfortunately standards and data-based approaches to ed reform currently in favor are moving away from giving teachers creative freedom.
Ross Hudgenson 10 Jun 10
Many problems with a lot of this is the people saying school is unnecessary – it’s the people that didn’t go to school. The people who say VC isn’t necessary – it’s the people who didn’t use it.
I am more apt to validate a response if it’s offered by someone who went to school and said it wasn’t necessary afterwards – or got VC and said it was a waste – rather than those that choose to validate their own experience.
Richon 10 Jun 10
We homeschool our kids for this reason.
When I see quotes like this, it causes me to re-examine what we’re teaching. We (our family) have the incredible freedom to do pretty much whatever we want, and we don’t really take advantage of it as much as we could, I think.
Adamon 10 Jun 10
Hence the benefits of homeschooling.
Jim Jefferson 10 Jun 10
@josh – he’s not talking about letting the students set the curriculum. What he’s talking about are the teachers. Many of my friends are school teachers and they have very little wiggle room to teach their subjects as they see fit.
Charltonon 10 Jun 10
I’ll say it: I went to school. Four years of an undergraduate degree; three years of graduate school. From a personal enrichment standard it was a great time; from a professional point of view it was completely useless, and I would have done better with a two-year apprenticeship and five years more saving for retirement.
Dan Bolandon 10 Jun 10
From a personal enrichment standard it was a great time; from a professional point of view it was completely useless, and I would have done better with a two-year apprenticeship and five years more saving for retirement.
Daniel Smithon 10 Jun 10
Me. Because the alternative, a world filled with the illiterate and uneducated, is almost too dire for words. Also because the students keep me young and honest. And because I love to see that lightbulb come on when a student realizes they understand a new concept. These things make it all worthwhile. (Of course, getting the summer and holidays off is a nice bonus too although we have to save up our own money for them.)
Yes, it’s a pain to work within the beaurocracy. Yes, schools are an institution. No, we don’t get to choose what we teach (the curriculum). We do however get to choose how we teach it (our daily lessons) and that is usually enough room for us to express our creativity and get in our design fixes.
Good quote though.
Lee Grahamon 10 Jun 10
Homeschooling worked well for me!
I was able to accomplish more, hold down a part-time job so I could afford my first car, and more importantly learn what I really wanted. HTML/CSS!! Thank God for Geocities back in the day for my free hosting =)
College was a waste of my time, but at least I got that piece of paper.
Daniel Smithon 10 Jun 10
The benefits of homeschooling are overrated. There are far too many parents who choose that path who don’t realize just how much learning has to take place in their child’s life by the end of high school and end up botching the whole thing. Generally speaking, most parents are not well versed in US History AND Calculus AND World Literature AND Physics AND Mandarin Chinese at the same time yet they are expected to be at least familiar with ALL those topics for a homeschooling paradigm to work.
Homeschooling is a good option for some families, but certainly not all. The same goes for the traditional K-12 school track. It’s not the best option for everyone. That’s why more and more school systems are diversifying and trying out new ideas in their efforts to more effectively reach and teach their students. My own very small school system has only 8 elementary schools, 2 junior highs (yes, junior highs not middle schools), and 1 high school yet we also boast an Early College alternative high school, an Alternative Education Center also for high school, and one of our elementary schools is on a year-round schedule with a recent board-approved plan to extend into 7th and 8th grades.
I recommend interested parties visit http://www.themetschool.org/ for a truly stunning example of a functioning school that incorporates many of the best ideas of the last century. They have turned the notion of school as institution on its head.
Chris Frankon 10 Jun 10
At my (small) business, we connect kids with mentors through Skype who help them with math (parents will pay for that), but also help the kids explore their own interests. When the kids get better math grades, they gain confidence, but they really come to life when they learn about something they want to learn about.
Some good extra reading would be John Taylor Gatto’s Against School.
Adamon 10 Jun 10
If a parent takes on the entire responsibility single-handedly, then yes homeschooling will most likely fail. But I have yet to see that to be the case – not that I’m denying that it happens. In my own experiences with others, parents who choose to homeschool make use of a variety of resources – community programs, homeschooling groups, and even public schools – most especially as the student reaches the highschool years.
David Andersenon 10 Jun 10
Most of the current complaints about the US primary and secondary education system could start to be resolved by simply ending the public sector monopoly. Not ending public funding, just ending where that money can flow (let it flow with the student). It’s beyond absurd to limit funding to public schools and to constrain parents to the school in their local geography.
David Andersenon 10 Jun 10
As for Steve’s comment about who’d ever want to teach one narrow specialization – sheesh – lots of people. There’s a lot of value and pleasure in being an expert and conveying that expertise to people who want it.
Timon 10 Jun 10
I didn’t go to school to get a job. I went to school to become educated. If your kids are going to school to get a job, why not revise child labor laws and get them out there now? A large number of jobs out there could be done by an 8 year old.
I can’t believe Jobs would say something this ignorant. Especially as someone whose company is known for drawing from geometry, art and the humanities more than probably any other technology company.
Apeon 10 Jun 10
The biggest thing I value in my life is my way of thinking of things, not what I “know”. It is the processes i’ve developed that I value the most, not “which president did this at what year”.
The value in history is to learn FROM the past, not learn OF the past… unless you want to be an historian.
It is the thought patterns that developed which most impact my life. My life did not change because of some arbitrary equation I was expected to know or some mundane fact in some mediocre subject.
This is where schooling failed me.
GeeIWonderon 10 Jun 10
Elites exist. It’s unfortunate that they no longer choose to act like it.
The US, and every other functioning liberal democracy functions as such not because but despite the masses dictating the policy du jour. California is an example of this.
Jobs is appealing, here, to the lowest common denominator. What can A do for me? And if not much, why am i there?
He’s also plainly wrong. I’ve never had a job where I don’t decide the curriculum. The lack of imagination here is stagerring. You don’t have to go further than last week’s episode of 60 minutes for an example that is devastating to this viewpoint.
Some people beileve in service. It used to be, in fact, required by professions like law or medicine. It’s no coincidence these people built every major institution. When the robber barons died or retired, their legacy remained. When Warren Buffett retires or passes on, Berkshire will not. This is not by coincidence but entirely by design. Can anyone say the same at this point about Apple?
Now our ‘leaders’ are so insecure they feel a persistant need to post every miserable thought in their tweets and bash on Microsoft. It reeks of Nixon and persecution complexes. Mr President, there is no ‘they’.
We’re months away from bowel movement tweets?
TWon 10 Jun 10
@ Tim: Read the full article. Jobs’ is not advocating getting technical training and going to work, he’s saying that the delivery of education by the unionized public sector is failing (e.g. 5th graders, who can’t read a paragraph properly).
Read this book, and you’ll see how much more effective private schools are vs. their public sector peers: http://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Tree-Personal-Educating-Themselves/dp/1933995920
This problem is not contained to the US, it’s a gigantic misallocation of resources by governments in all countries to unionized teachers.
However, I would say Jobs underestimated the potential of technology in disintermediating teachers & schools.
The internet has already done this. Just look at khanacademy.org, MegaStudy in Korea, etc. If you are a kid growing up today, you can learn anything you want online – there are no limits, just your imagination and thirst for knowledge.
I went to a parochial elementary school. I learned nothing there aside from being forced to listen to our 8th grade teacher rant and rave about social issues, who killed JFK, etc.
Fortunately, my parents confiscated our TVs (avoiding a time dump) and gave us a Mac with a 14.4k modem and SimCity2000. I had everything I needed to learn on my own.
Sure, if kids are on drugs, lack motivation, watch TV all day, etc. then there’s really nothing that schools as institutions can do. These kids are &*(#ed from the start.
That problem is for our society’s parents, and their inability to prioritize between getting a bigger SUV, cable or satellite and their child’s future.
Bradon 10 Jun 10
School is only a waste of time if you let it be.
School is not about what they teach you there, its a transition period to learn to exist in the world as an adult and for most its a great and necessary thing. But, as Sivers said, there is no speed limit. Take 2 years, take 6, or take 20 but do whats right for you. Use the resources, make connections, experiment, embrace the protection of a safety net (you’ll never get it again), learn do deal with bureaucracies, meet different people, learn to learn, make mistakes, etc…
Then once you’ve decided you’re ready, go start getting shit done. Most people aren’t ready as early as they think they are.
Also don’t forget that school isn’t the only place to learn
Davidon 10 Jun 10
There are schools that let kids design their own curriculum (and take responsibility in running the school) and they work quite well. They are called Sudbury or Democratic Schools. See Sudbury Valley School or Seattle’s version, The Clearwater School.
Brian Dunbaron 11 Jun 10
You get to teach one narrow specialization. Who would ever want to do that?
Become a Learning Disabled specialist. You get to teach everything to some very interesting kids.
LD (please note) is different from MR. LD kids are simply the ones who don’t fit well into the factory system our schools have been turned into. They need a teacher who can take the time to help them learn how to learn.
My wife was an LD teacher for nearly ten years, public and private, high school and middle school, and she loved her job. She’d go from math to science to literature in the space of an hour with a small mixture of kids. And she could take the time to do her job right.
Lisaon 11 Jun 10
“Most” of what kids learn in school is useless? What a ridiculous statement.
Reading, writing, math, science, history, civics, geography, music, art. Then there are the social, self-regulatory, and safety skills that teachers have to pick up since parents aren’t doing it.
Which should we get rid of? What defines “useless?” Anything that doesn’t directly pertain to one’s job? Are we to be a nation of efficient, soulless drones?
Simple Life Toolon 11 Jun 10
I agree for the most part. School doesn’t teach you about the real world at all.
Jordan L. Skoleon 11 Jun 10
A hybrid is emerging. Some of us here at my unnamed institution are being granted certain freedoms as students. That being said I understand the other side of it being one of those students AND the son of one of the top prof’s on campus.
It took me a long time to get where I’m at, and it took a regeneration of the logistics of information for where I am to become possible.
If anyone tried to hand me the reigns when I arrived, (or tried to arrive getting turned down) when I was admitted (and getting recessed, (because of all those ideas) then they would have been laughed out of town.
It took ME as a student, THE student that steve is talking about, close to eight years to learn all the skills the 22 comments are talking about…
All I’m saying is that its true—as we grow older society destroys our creativity. Luckily there really does exist an institutional hybridity where creativity/naivety of youth coexists with the experience of the ivory tower.
Edwin Seahon 11 Jun 10
Schools are not the only place to study and learn. Schools were started many centuries ago because that was the only way people could learn new things, by gathering in one place and learning from each other or from a teacher. People didn’t go to schools in those days to get a piece of paper, they went there to teach, study and learn.
With our advance technology and communication methods today, you can learn through books in a library, a bookstore or on your iPad/Kindle (Books couldn’t be mass produced back in those ancient days), you can learn from your peers on the internet or you can travel to any place on earth to learn from anyone.
The school system is old, it is not able to catch up with our time. Everything you learn in school is outdated, many new things are invented and discovered everyday but do not get implemented in schools until several months or even years later. You only get to learn about these new knowledge when you finish school and discover other ways to study and learn. But imagine if you could learn about these new knowledge when you were younger, maybe your life could have been very different?
Nateon 11 Jun 10
I love this from Jobs:
“These are the solutions to our problems in education. Unfortunately, technology isn’t it. You’re not going to solve the problems by putting all knowledge onto CD-ROMs. We can put a Web site in every school – none of this is bad. It’s bad only if it lulls us into thinking we’re doing something to solve the problem with education.
Lincoln did not have a Web site at the log cabin where his parents home-schooled him, and he turned out pretty interesting. Historical precedent shows that we can turn out amazing human beings without technology. Precedent also shows that we can turn out very uninteresting human beings with technology.
It’s not as simple as you think when you’re in your 20s – that technology’s going to change the world. In some ways it will, in some ways it won’t.”
I found myself agreeing with this article: http://www.plough.com/articles/education/darkages.html
billon 11 Jun 10
This is why we home-school. We get to set our own curriculum, pick our textbooks, and the kids get to learn at their own pace. My oldest two boys raced through Math, their favorite subject, and we had the freedom to take and do some things not taught in the public schools. All states in the US allow you to home-school your children. Also there are many people homeschooling around the US so they won’t be isolated as many people argue. Everywhere we have lived there have been support groups and get togethers for the kids.
As to those who don’t think home-school kids can compete at regular school my oldest son was home-schooled trough 6th grade, entered public school for 7th and 8th grades and was the top of his class. He did this despite being a year younger than all his peers. He was also very socially accepted. He found most of his classes easy and the kids not driven to succeed and this is in a school district in the richest county in the country. My younger kids who entered school during this time learned nothing during that period. My current 4th grader has made no progress in Math over that same 2 year period because the school has no mechanism for properly dealing with kids that excel in one area over another. We are now returning to home-schooling for next year and all the kids are looking forward to it.
Jameson 11 Jun 10
I was home-schooled for several years when I was younger, and it was dreadful. My mom is not a bad teacher, she has a degree in education. I don’t care if your kids are “socially well accepted” or “get better grades than everyone else”. These are not the important parts. Those are gold medals for you, not them.
The issue is that you need to stop sheltering your kids. You need to stop teaching them what you think they need to learn and let them get out and discover the world themselves. Kids are not dumb. They’ll figure out what’s important for them. Encourage and direct them. Don’t force them. They’re missing out on lots of social connections by staying at home all day. These are crucial, especially at a young age.
Kim Sieveron 11 Jun 10
Just because you stayed at home all day while you were homeschooled, doesn’t mean everyone does. We live in the area with the highest concentration of homeschoolers in the country, and the vast majority of homeschooled children are not home all day every day. Our own children take (or have taken) out-of-home classes in piano, violin, guitar, Kung Fu, swimming, ballet, soccer, gymnastics, raquetball, sewing, and home economics. They volunteer at the library helping other children read, belong to a local homeschooling math club, and go on regular field trips.
Justinon 11 Jun 10
You’re proposing a false dichotomy. There’s no reason a homeschooled child cannot have fulfilling social interactions. There’s also no reason a school cannot provide a fulfilling educational experience. But, there are many barriers in place that have the combined effect of making the latter less likely to occur. And those barriers are what homeschooling remove, as the majority of homeschooling parents do such for that very reason.
I also find this statement interesting: “You need to stop teaching them what you think they need to learn and let them get out and discover the world themselves.” But yet, isn’t that exactly what public-institution, fixed-curriculum, single-grade-level schooling prevents? It stunts their growth in the areas in which the students are interested, in order to keep all students in a single class and on the same curriculum, covering things the students might have no interest in learning.
Justinon 11 Jun 10
Just to be clear, when I say, “But there are many barriers in place that have the combined effect of making the latter less likely to occur.”, I am specifically meaning in the sense of the American public-education institution. There are several private schools which take different approaches to teaching and which specifically work to remove such barriers as I later mention.
Jona Fenocchion 11 Jun 10
There seems to be a lot of discussion on the details. How public education could be improved, revised, revamped, completely redone, etc. is (clearly) open for debate with room for an incredibly wide range of views; and, that said, it’s very refreshing to see so many ideas and opinions on how education can be changed to improve the future (or current alternatives).
But, looking at the big picture (which is probably all that Steve Jobs ever looks at), the fact of the matter is that education, in its current state, is dangerous for our future and our childrens’ futures because it is both ineffective and, as a result of its ineffectiveness, represents a waste of time. Education is a problem, and Jobs is acknowledging that. Everyone has their own ideals and opinions on the details. ;-)
GeeIWonderon 11 Jun 10
Everyone has their own ideals and opinions on the details. ;-)
See Jobs comments about the problem with television (which he seems to have given up on). It’s unfortunate he doesn’t see the irony here. It’s equally unfortunate so many others do apparently not either.
When education is not a business, it need not be only about giving people what they want. Especially if it can also be protected from politics to any degree.
And thank god for that.
Whether that will continue to remain possible in the future is very much up for debate, and if not the results are predictable and we will all be far, far worse off.
Richon 11 Jun 10
“Generally speaking, most parents are not well versed in US History AND Calculus AND World Literature AND Physics AND Mandarin Chinese at the same time yet they are expected to be at least familiar with ALL those topics for a homeschooling paradigm to work.” -Daniel Smith
The teachers are not necessarily well-versed either. The majority of the teaching credential material focuses on group dynamics, not subject matter expertise. It’s kind of a crapshoot whether you get a good one or not.
Nathania Johnsonon 12 Jun 10
Steve Jobs is right.
The idea that school is the key to education is limiting. Schools don’t generally teach math, science, English, etc. They teach rote memorization and test-taking. Learning is something else entirely.
Plus, if schools are required to learn, then people would stop learning after graduation. Or they wouldn’t learn anything during the summer.
Kids are forced to think and perform a certain way according to their age. If a kid happens to be a late bloomer, s/he is screwed and usually given some diagnosis of a developmental disorder. That we continue to force kids into the same box is the true inequality in education.
We homeschool our kids and I’m sorry for the few like James who apparently had a bad experience. But I can personally attest that you can have dreadful experiences in private and public school as well. Our kids have done both public school and homeschool now – and their confidence is way up. They also learn a ton despite the fact that we subscribe to an unschooling philosophy. They love physics and astronomy and are constantly surprising me with what they’ve learned on their own.
When they were forced to learn, nothing stuck. When they were given freedom to learn, their self-education became meaningful. We had to go through a deschooling phase at first – which is really hard b/c it looks like they’re not doing anything meaningful. But it does pass. And when it does, it’s beautiful. It’s a shame most people will never see or experience it!
Jonathanon 12 Jun 10
You wouldn’t want to turn schools into technical institutes.
For example: Learn how to be an accountant, or a dentist, or how to mend a tractor.
Nope. That completely misses the main point of teaching young minds. The finest teaching pathway is to open up the mind to possibilities, and grow the ‘understanding’ and ‘comprehension’ structures first.
Only then can the precise, technical, niche-market skills be truly taken on board … unless of course you are a child prodigy.
David Andersenon 12 Jun 10
“When education is not a business, it need not be only about giving people what they want. Especially if it can also be protected from politics to any degree.”
I’m baffled at what appears to be a gross oversimplification – the idea that anything being a business = only giving people what they want.
As for your second statement, when is this? Politics dominates education in the US.
GeeIWonmeon 12 Jun 10
I’m baffled at what appears to be a gross oversimplification – the idea that anything being a business = only giving people what they want.
Really? Law, the press, televeision (as Jobs says himself in that link)... Medicine… Vouchers… Kansas…
And for the second. Again, Kansas.
Rob O.on 13 Jun 10
I’m all for making changes to allow teachers more latitude to deviate from the specified curriculum, but my concern with computer industry guys who want to overhaul the education system is that they always seem fixated on making technology an integral part of the classroom.
I’m not at all opposed to giving kids opportunities to acquire computer skills, but it seems we far too easily – and often – gloss over the need to ensure that children are equipped to thrive in the REAL world first. They need be adept at interpersonal (face to face) communications, thinking creatively, and problem-solving. With that core set of analog skills, we’ll be enabling kids to more readily handle anything that comes their way, digital or otherwise.
David Andersenon 14 Jun 10
Yeah, really. I understand your point at a meta level, but lots of innovation and change happens because of the vision of driven individuals who are not responding to polls and surveys. Even in television. And when these same institutions and industries deliver crap, it says far more about the producers than the consumers.
Sorry, I have no idea what you mean about Kansas.
Markon 14 Jun 10
@Josh (first comment) hit the nail on the head. You can’t be a great free-thinker and break rules in cool, innovative ways if you don’t even know what the rules are or don’t know the standard school of thought. What, exactly, would you be pushing against or moving away from? Only what others’ have told you is ‘baaaaad’ for you?
Children don’t know what they don’t know. I also think it’s fun to hear so many who have dropped out of Ivy League schools make sure the world knows they have dropped out of Ivy League schools…this doesn’t seem to de-legitimatize the process; ironically, it does just the opposite: it imparts further credibility.
I get where Steve Jobs is coming from, but good, a good solid foundation is not always fun. Most will not be pro athletes or Silicon Valley superstars (or Windy City wonders…37s ! ...) , so starting out with the basics is more than just boring education; it’s a reality.
I recall a great article about college students complaining that they couldn’t construct their own, fun majors and curricula: “J Crew U” I believe was the title. Worth checking out.
GeeIWonderon 14 Jun 10
it says far more about the producers than the consumers.
Actually, and more to the point, it says ‘far more’ about the dynamics and inherent characteristics of the rule of ‘the people’. This can be exerted by votes or by bucks, but when done as a mass plebiscite the effects are well documented and have been for thousands of years.
The ‘gross oversimplification’ is only present in your paraphrasing of words into a point I never actually made.
Cormacon 14 Jun 10
“You’d be crazy to work in a school today. You don’t get to do what you want.”
Almost nobody gets to do what they want at work
Rogeron 15 Jun 10
Umm, didn’t Steve Wozniak? Seems to me that he gave up the engineering job for a shot at the small-time; namely, teaching grade school kids about computing. The woz has even been quoted as saying “I was born to teach.” source: http://www.woz.org/pages/wozscape/Articles/WizardofWoz/WizardofWoz.html
This discussion is closed.