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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. The problem with the educational system is not unions who protect burned out teachers. The problem is a stifling, overly-bureaucratic administrative system that only rewards training students to take standardized tests. Instead of complaining about a union that fights to protect what small interests teachers have, let’s work on the systemic problems that lead to burn out in the first place.

  6. “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”

    The structure of the retirement system has, in large part, been decided by the teacher’s union. They are the ones who keep forcing defined benefit retirement plans (at least in the public schools) and fight defined contribution plans such as 401(k)s or 403(b)s, which would allow teachers to get out and take their retirement savings with them at any time. This just reinforces Steve’s point about the damage the Unions are doing to the system.

    Let’s not forget that the Unions work for the teachers, not for the students.

  7. I started grade school in the early 50’s. Even then, grades K-6 were basically a baby-sitting experience.
    Because I was smart, I skipped a grade—twice—but that made no difference. The same old nothing was
    being “taught” in every classroom. Grades 7-12 would have been more of the same but my parents and
    I had all had enough of public school. Private school was much better. The teachers probably earned
    2-3 times what the public teachers made, but they probably had to actually teach competently
    to keep their jobs as well!

    As one contributor pointed out, it’s not about the teachers or the schools or the unions, or even Steve Jobs—
    it’s about the kids and how totally short-changed they are under our present educational system.

  8. Apple Helped How?
    … and how did Steve Jobs represent Apple as a solution to the issues confronting education?
    On Apple’s time Steve Jobs should propose methods and procedures Apple is capable of bringing to the challenges faced by members of EDUCAUSE.
    What ever his personal philosophies may be that influence how he prefers to spend his own money I wish he’d check them at the door.
    Steve was invited to showcase Apple’s vision for the education market. He was not invited to quarrel with or slander attendees.
    On this day he was part of the problem, not part of Apple’s solution. He needs to keep these Bad days to a minimum.

  9. I recently moved to the USA (Manhattan, Kansas) for 6 months. We were extremely impressed with the quality and enthusiasm of the teachers and school admin staff. They all treated the children with the utmost respect and received the same respect in return. The teachers made a tremendous effort to challenge and interest students of all ability levels. The schools had many children from low income families and military families disrupted by deployments, which added to the challenges faced by the teachers. Despite any difficulties, the teachers and staff poured heart and soul into their occupations (our children).

    I guess they had an ineffectual union.

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