When Steve Jobs was a young child, his adoptive father passed along his love of mechanics and cars to him, instilling a sense of design that would follow him for the rest of his life. Jobs gained an appreciation for the slightest details, exemplifying it in his future creations, from the iPhone to the iPad.
School for Jobs, however, was quite different. Forced to accept an authority -- the teacher --Jobs didn't like it one bit. According to Walter Isaacson's biography of Jobs, he explained, "They came close to really beating the curiosity out of me." Jobs and his parents knew the school was at fault for trying to make him memorize pointless information rather than stimulate his mind.
In all, school was rough. It wasn't until he enrolled in the Hewlett-Packard Explorers Club that Jobs' interests were sparked. It was like he was in candy land as an aspiring entrepreneur.
The point is that a culture of play and discovery shaped Jobs' childhood. He never stopped playing, be it during his tenure at Apple or his stint at Pixar. That was one of the key ingredients to his success as an innovator. However, his schooling was not one of them.
Jobs' classroom appears oddly similar to classrooms most American children populate today. There are chalkboards, rows of wooden desks, and a teacher at the front of the room. However what's more detrimental is that in today's American education system, test preparation and standardized testing have hijacked classroom learning. Any attempt at genuine, playful learning has been erased and replaced with worksheets and multiple choice bubble exams.
Childhood should be put on the endangered species list. We've taken children out of their natural, discovery-based habitats and put them into a habitat of "drill kill, bubble fill."
These changes were caused by destructive policies under both the administrations of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. Under Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, infusing standardized testing prep and ruthless accountability measures into schools, creating a monster only Calvin and Hobbes would appreciate. The other train wreck, under Obama, is Race to the Top, or in other words, No Child Left Behind in disguise. Selling their souls, states that best adopted Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's policies -- standardized tests for preschoolers and linking teacher pay to student test scores, to name a few -- were dished out millions in cold hard cash. In sum, both education policies have been utter failures.
Our politicians have missed the big picture. The United States has an 19th century factory-based model of education, grounded in conformity and standardization. No longer do we need to prepare students to toil in factories for their adult lives. The current education system has
failed to produce students that have the dexterity to think creatively and critically, communicate their ideas, collaborate with others, and take risks. We need a 21st century model stressing creativity, imagination individuality, and discovery.
What if Steve Jobs had been the Secretary of Education? How different would our nation's classrooms look?
I'd suspect Jobs' would institute a national curriculum based on lean standards. Then, he'd call for a coalition of students, educators, parents to shape and mold a 21st century curriculum. Perhaps, Jobs might even launch a program to get millions of American kids excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. Play would be re-introduced into the classroom. Project-based learning would replace dull lectures. And creativity would be cherished, not killed.
Standardized testing would be extinct. The supply chain of number two pencils would collapse. And College Board would go bankrupt.
We don't need clones and robots. We've got plenty of them. Instead, we need rule-breakers and people who will disrupt and disturb the status quo. We need people who will think different. It's time for the United States to embrace its inner Steve Jobs and live up to Apple's credo, "Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."
Bring on the learning revolution!