A clearer picture of Steve Jobs’ thoughts on public education and teacher unions

“Steve Job’s reported ‘lambast’ of teacher unions last week during an ‘education reform conference’ does not reflect a new stance for Jobs,” Donna Bogatin blogs for ZDNet.

“Seventeen years prior, Jobs put forth a similar educational philosophy for an Oral History Interview at the Smithsonian Institution,” Bogatin reports. “Although Jobs’ remarks last week were summarized and headlined by the Associated Press as ‘Apple CEO lambasts teachers unions,’ the totality of his thoughts on the U.S. education system encompassed much more.

Bogatin presents some excerpts from Jobs’ Oral History Interview at the Smithsonian Institution. A sample of Steve Jobs’ comments circa 1995:

…the vast majority of the public are pretty mindless most of the time. I think the school situation has a parallel here when it comes to technology. It is so much more hopeful to think that technology can solve the problems that are more human and more organizational and more political in nature, and it ain’t so. We need to attack these things at the root, which is people and how much freedom we give people, the competition that will attract the best people. Unfortunately, there are side effects, like pushing out a lot of 46 year old teachers who lost their spirit fifteen years ago and shouldn’t be teaching anymore. I feel very strongly about this. I wish it was as simple as giving it over to the computer.

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.

Bogatin writes, “Mr. Jobs, I lend you my support, in what I am calling your ‘entrepreneurial education’ philosophy. I do not write as a disinterested observer, I have served as adjunct faculty in institutions of higher learning and, subsequently, have been required to be a member of a teachers union.”

More of Jobs’ comments in the full article here.

Related articles:
Steve Jobs & Rush Limbaugh agree: U.S. public schools are ‘unionized in the worst possible way’ – February 20, 2007
Apple CEO Steve Jobs blasts teacher unions, says US schools are ‘unionized in the worst possible way’ – February 16, 2007


  1. I taught English in the public school system for 25 years (western state) and was even a teacher of the year finalist in 1988. Everything Steve has said now and over the years is spot on. And more’s the pity for the children of this great country.

  2. Unfortunately, there are side effects, like pushing out a lot of 46 year old teachers who lost their spirit fifteen years ago and shouldn’t be teaching anymore.

    I have a two big problems with this statement.

    First off, lots of folks including el Rushbo quoted several posts ago lament the inability to attract talented teachers due to factors like low pay. Now how do you expect to get people excited about going into the field if you announce they’ll be fired for the younger sexier model as soon as they hit middle age? And what do they do then? If they’ve trained as a teacher, gotten certification, etc. etc., how do they turn around and become a Wall Street banker or whatever at 47?

    Second, why does this “lost their spirit” deal apply only to teachers? I know lots of engineers who were enthusiastic about their particular technical discipline but are ground down by boneheaded corporate management (think Dilbert). People turn into “Wally” with greater frequency than we’d like to admit. Should these people also be given the shove? Or should we address the real problem common to both professions, the lousy management/administration that crushes individual spirit and rewards bootlicking?

    1. “Second, why does this “lost their spirit” deal apply only to teachers? I know lots of engineers who were enthusiastic about their particular technical discipline but are ground down by boneheaded corporate management (think Dilbert). People turn into “Wally” with greater frequency than we’d like to admit. Should these people also be given the shove?

      Short answer: YES. The point is that in a meritocracy, they are given the “shove” because there is a more capable person that will take your place. That is true with any company in a competitive industry (if they intend to stay competitive). Not true in an entrenched bureaucracy (particularly if it is unionized).

  3. Teachers Unions Are ‘Much More Dangerous’ Than Al Qaeda

    Last night on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, right-wing radio host Neal Boortz claimed that teachers unions are “destroying a generation” and are “much more dangerous than al Qaeda.” He stated, “Look, Al Qaeda, they could bring in a nuke into this country and kill 100,000 people with a well-placed nuke somewhere. Ok. We would recover from that. It would be a terrible tragedy, but the teachers unions in this country can destroy a generation.” Sean Hannity agreed, noting, “They are ruining our school system.” Watch it:


    I think: unions have a legitimate place in society. Too much power in one place, any place, is bad.

  4. One doesn’t push out a teacher merely because he/she is 46 years old. One pushes out a 46 year old teacher who lost his/her spirit [for teaching] 15 years ago. The 46 year old teacher who retains his/her teaching spirit retains his/her teaching position.

    MW – effects: Imagine the effects of capable teachers on a new generation.

  5. Rheinhard,

    You misunderstand. The announcement is not “they’ll be fired for the younger sexier model as soon as they hit middle age”. It’s “they’ll be fired if they’re not effective teachers at any age, no matter how long they’ve been teaching.

  6. I was an earth science teacher for a few years and I completely agree with Steve Jobs. The entire system is faulty, corrupt, and run by corporate interest (among other things).

    It’s sad really…

  7. Rheinhard,

    You miss the point. Jobs is not arguing that teachers in their 40s get pushed out because of their age, but because teaching is a passion and many loose it. When they loose it the quality of their work suffers. It isn’t just teachers either, this can happen with any type of work like you are suggesting; however, Jobs’ comments are not limited to the teaching profession, that just happens to be the subject of his speach. You assume he is only talking about teachers when in fact, he is not. In fact, he brings this up when talking about how CEOs can get rid of underperforming workers. The point of that remark is that this principle applies everywhere.

    This is very consistent with the kind of excellence Steve Jobs is known for. He demands this from those who work for him and he leads by example. The quality of Apple’s products is a testament to the sort of passion and perfectionism Jobs is talking about. Using Apple computers as a metaphor, schools should be instatutions where children are challanged and mentored in excellence in an environment condusive to success the same way an Apple computer enspires you to do better work or more creative work. It serves as an inspirational tool you want to use whereas a PC serves as nothing more than a tool that you are forced to use. School should be a place children want to go not something they have to do. Teachers, good teachers are an important key to this.

    There is nothing worse than being stuck in a class with a teacher who projects bordem and sees their work as work. Compare that with a teacher who is passionate and annimated, who gets the whole class interested and participating, someone who inspires and challanges you to do better. This is what Jobs is saying needs to be reflective of our education system. But this will never happen until principles have the ability to get rid of the bad and hire the good.

    Apple is succesful because Jobs was able to come in and get rid of all the underperforming people, the suits, the dead weight, and hire all brilliant and talented people needed to create these computers and the software that runs on them.

  8. My sister was hired a couple years ago to teach high school Latin in a very wealthy school system in New York state. She was fired in nine months. Why? She came out of grad school thinking that students should actually be required to do strange things like *read*, and *think*, and prepare stuff called *homework*. She quickly became known as a tough but good teacher. She never said anything controversial. She just made her students work a bit.

    She made two mistakes: she gave ‘F’s to two students on a midterm exam, because, you know, they failed. And she annoyed the other two Latin teachers in the district, who were mid 50s and didn’t want to work hard, because she actually pushed her students, and the comparisons between the classes started coming out.

    So the parents of the flunked students raised a royal stink. And the teachers didn’t back her up, because they were threatened by her. So the principal fired her half way through the Spring.

    The current system, even where there are resources . . . SUCKS.

  9. A problem for a teacher who has taught for 15 years and has lost the passion for teaching is how the retirement system is set up for teachers. In the retirement system I’m familar with, the retirement benefits increase dramatically once you have been in the system for 20 or 25 years. Its hard to give that up when you’ve already invested a large portion of your lifetime into that retirement system.

  10. Mr. Jobs!!!! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for having the moral compass to stand up for what is right!!! In this day and age of political correctness, being afraid of saying what is right, and just a lack of common sense, it gives me a great feeling that someone out there is willing to call people out. Every other country in the world that is excelling at education runs their schools just like a business. ALL YOU POOR, BURNED OUT, AND LAZY TEACHERS OUT THERE…. IF YOU DON’T DO YOUR JOB WELL IN THE REAL WORLD…. YOU GET FIRED!!! But in “imaginary teacher world” after a couple of years of doing an “okay” job they can basically keep their job forever! No wonder that 30-40 years ago we ranked in the top 10 for education in the world and now ( by most surveys out there ) we are lucky to be ranked higher than 40th! I know there are a lot of great teachers out there. My own mother is one. I have to listen to her tell me about the teachers that hand out a lesson at the beginning of class and then they sit there for the majority of the hour either reading the newspaper, or browsing the internet. I can’t do this during my job, I would get fired. Why should you? No wonder the kids in this country are getting dumber and dumber. To those bad teachers out there…. you better start doing your job better. My hope is that with Mr. Jobs standing up for what is right there will finally be a national outcry to fix this pathetic system.
    As far as unions. I know that in some organizations they are necessary. Although, THEY HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM. Those in charge the teachers unions know I am right. I dare you to give me an example of how they benefit the stundents in the country. Yes, I said it. THE STUDENTS ARE WHY TEACHERS ARE TEACHING. If you are just looking for a job, I hear McDonalds is hiring.
    Finanlly, thanks to you Mr. Jobs. Due to your bravery for standing up for this issue I hope others in power find the guts to stand up for what is right.

  11. I have one more thing to add…
    As far as teacher pay being too low. It has been proven that when compared to other jobs of similar duties teachers are actually very well paid. AND…… they work 9-10 months out of the year ( John Stossel did this survey just a few months ago ) . If you are a teacher and you dispute this, then by all means, GET A DIFFERENT JOB! ANYTHING BUT TEACHING THE FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY. I DON’T WANT SOMEONE STANDING IN FRONT OF MY KIDS “TEACHING” AND COMPLAINING ABOUT HOW MUCH THEY MAKE. You are progressing this feeling of entitlement that is now running rampant with today’s youth!

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