Enterprising Learning Initiatives

By Kamran Matlock

The California Federation of Teachers president once informally awarded Steve Jobs the “rotten apple” award, “for the individual who best personifies the need to think differently about public education and teacher unions.” The award, part of a retaliatory response to the Apple CEO’s public disapproval of teacher unions, was never formally accepted by Jobs.

As has been the case for Jobs in life and death, much of his sincerity has drowned in sensationalism about his personality and outspoken nature. Perhaps Jobs wasn’t tactful, but he did consistently champion meritocracy over bureaucracy. He spoke from personal experience with frustrated industries lacking creative, imaginative, empowered individuals. That teacher unions do block reform, monopolize school policy and drive away quality professionals is after the fact.

Jobs favored a competitive, merit-based system holding schools and teachers accountable for quality education. He thought a more entrepreneurial fashioned industry would check and balance learning institutions by letting parents choose where to send their kids (and their money). The bottom line is that Jobs advocated a widespread breaking up of rigid, uniform practices that fetter progressive education movement.

Perhaps Jobs did deserve the “rotten apple award” for personifying the need to think differently about public education. After all, he dropped out of college, made millions of dollars in a garage and created one of the world’s most successful companies. Bill Gates and Michael Dell are also college dropouts.

The “rotten apple” lives on. Maybe Apple hasn’t “thrown the hammer” at teachers unions yet, but they did send a major blow to textbook monopolies with the iBooks Author textbook app for the iPad. And at the January, 2012 Macworld/iWorld Expo, it was clear the company was taking Jobs’ education legacy seriously. Tech talks and presenters pumped up audience members with an array of educational innovations, including the latest from real-time interactive software, free learning networks and tons of customizable education apps.

Apple’s custom education software allows teachers and students to change (dare I say “reform”) how learning happens without being bogged down by bureaucracy, unions or school boards. Will the iPad affect major public education change? Jobs didn’t think technology alone could do it. So even if an iPad does find its way into the hands of every student, without Steve Jobs at the pulpit, it’s hard to imagine a software/hardware company revolutionizing education culture with technology alone.

President Obama said after Jobs’ passing, “[He] was among the greatest of American innovators… Brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.” Maybe he developed his innovation, boldness and talent while traveling through India or in Zen monastery… Or perhaps repeated corporate oustings built up his creative backbone over time. Wherever he picked it up, it certainly wasn’t in school.

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