Steve Jobs Wanted to Break Up the Education Monopoly by Joe Kent

Steve Jobs said in a 1995 interview, “The unions are the worst thing that ever happened in education.”

Jobs spoke with Computerworld’s Daniel Morrow in a 1995 interview, which covered a wide range of topics, but frequently delved into Jobs’s views on the American education system. As he said, “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 $100,000 a year.”

“Schools are not a meritocracy. They’re a bureaucracy.”

But Jobs blamed teachers unions for getting in the way of good teachers getting better pay. “It’s not a meritocracy,” said Jobs. “It turns into a bureaucracy, which is exactly what’s happened. And teachers can’t teach, and administrators run the place, and nobody can be fired. It’s terrible.”He noted that one solution is school choice: “I’ve been a very strong believer that what we need to do in education is go to the full voucher system.” Jobs explained that education in America had been taken over by a government monopoly, which was providing a poor quality education for children.

He referenced the government-created phone monopoly, broken up in 1982: “I remember seeing a bumper sticker with the Bell logo on it and it said, ‘We don’t care, we don’t have to.’ That’s certainly what the public school system is. They don’t have to care.”

Jobs said that one way to open up a free market in education would be to offer a voucher to families. He gave an example of the California public school system, which in 1995 spent $4,400 per pupil: “I believe strongly that if the country gave each parent a voucher – a check for $4,400 that they could only spend at any accredited school – that several things would happen.”

First, “Schools would start marketing themselves like crazy to parents, to get students.”

Second, many new schools would begin popping up. “You could have 25-year-old kids out of college – very idealistic, full of energy – instead of starting a Silicon Valley company, they would start a school, and I believe they would do far better than many of our public school teachers do.”

“A lot of competition forces providers to get better and better.”

Finally, the quality of education would rise in a competitive market: “A lot of schools would go broke, there’s no question about it. It would be rather painful for the first several years, but I think far less painful than the kids going through the system as it is right now.”Jobs said that the main complaint against school choice is that schools would cater only to rich kids, and the poor kids would be “left to wallow together.”

However, he said, “that’s like saying, well, all the car manufacturers are going to make BMWs and Mercedes and nobody’s going to make a $10,000 car. Well, I think the most hotly competitive market right now is the $10,000 car.”

In other words, Jobs said, all students would benefit from more school choice, as the monopoly in education was broken up.

“The market competition model seems to indicate that where there is a need, there is a lot of providers willing to tailor their products to fit that need, and a lot of competition which keeps forcing them to get better and better.”

Joe Kent

Joe Kent

Joe Kent is the Vice President of Research at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, a free market think tank. Joe previously worked as a public school teacher for eight years, both in Hawaii and in Minnesota.

1 reply
  1. Denis Ian
    Denis Ian says:

    Jobs gets it right … he just doesn’t get deep enough into the union weeds.

    I’ve outgrown most of life’s usual embarrassments. I laugh at myself pretty easily. 

But I’m not good at being mocked. Or shamed Or ridiculed … just because I’m a teacher. It’s what I did. It’s who I am. That’s me.

It’s not the teaching part that has me so uneasy. It’s the union part.

    I’m reluctant to bash my union because it served me so well. And it was a very fair organization for a long, long while.

    It protected my job when it needed protecting. It bargained for advantages that still make my life more comfortable. And it saw to my security even after I left the classroom behind.

    In truth, the union struck a very fair bargain between me and the folks who paid my salary and loaned me their kids.

    They charged me to educate their kids … and I charged them fair compensation in return. And like many professionals, I fell in love with the whole scene.

    I lived with kids who kept me young … and on my toes. I let my creativity off the leash. I watched girls become ladies and boys become men. I saw guessers mature into thinkers, scribblers butterfly into writers, and worriers turn confident. And they learned lots of important stuff … about subjects … and themselves. And life.

    They told me things they told no one else. Mined me for advice. And we ironed out issues … big and small … together. And our lives got knotted together.

    I saw them come into my life …. and then leave me behind. And that ouched me.

    But that, too, was part of the bargain. And now I have a melancholy smile … and those memories still dress my life in importance. Because that ’s who I was … and who I still am.

    But then there’s that other stuff. That union stuff.

    That’s changed. A lot.

    “AFT to Sponsor Second Round of ‘Sanctuary Campus’ Protests” …

    “Teacher Unions Smarting After Many Members Vote for Trump” …

    “American Federation of Teachers Union Spends $37 Million on Politics” …

    “AFT, Other Groups Call on Trump to Denounce Hate” …


    Those are real-deal headlines.

    That’s where my shame comes from …The AFT … the American Federation of Teachers … is one of my unions, but those aren’t my politics. That’s their politics. And that’s pretty much what they seem most interested in nowadays.

    They don’t pay much attention to the folks in the classrooms … the ladies and gents who teach … and who pay their dues. That’s money the union biggies use to play politics … and to champion causes lots of teachers don’t much like.

    Yes, there are some teachers who color their professional lives with activism … and who bring it into their classrooms. I never did that. I never thought that was right. Or ethical. Or healthy for kids. I left lots of me on the steps of the school every morning … and I focused on my commitment to kids. Nothing else. And I wasn’t alone.

    Most teachers are like me … except now they’re getting churned over by lousy reforms, lousier politicians, and by their own lousy union leadership that’s done little to stop the recent madness.

    Dues money flows to the union brass … that seems to love the spotlight more than the classroom. And they set headline-grabbing policies and make noisy pronouncements and choose political sides.

    And the classroom pros just do their thing. They’ve got their heads down … doing their job … weathering these dreadful reforms and the awful politics of the moment … just looking out for the kids in their lives … and trying like hell to hold on to the security that holds their lives and families together. I get that. I hope you get that.

    And I hope you understand that lots and lots of very magnificent teachers are not on board with some of this social justice junk the union pimps out. And millions of top-shelf teachers pay no mind to that crap. They just show up … Every. Single. Day. … and do what’s best for kids. Because they’re pros. Real master-teachers … who honor their profession. And who adore your kids.

    They didn’t make this mess. They didn’t ask for the rock and the hard place. I don’t think anyone should order them to be martyrs. They should speak up as best they can … and lend support in ways that are possible. But don’t ask them to climb up on a cross.

    I could say lots more, but I’ll leave it here … with classroom teachers in the spotlight. That’s where they belong. They’re more important than any camera-mugging, politician-snuggling union bigwig.

    Please don’t make teachers handy scapegoats for the mess made by others. Their lives are just as cadenced as yours. Just as routined. They just happen to spend their days just down the road … in the schools you finance.

    Denis Ian


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