SAN JOSE – Steve Wozniak, one of the original co-founders of Apple, turned a “fireside chat” at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) here Tuesday (May 3) into a spontaneous – and sometimes contradictory – critique of education, particularly math, science and engineering education, even suggesting that the American public schools have outgrown their usefulness.
Wozniak, now chief scientist at Fusion-io, described American education as stagnant, obsessed with testing and destructive of creativity. He said children in American schools, crowded into large classes, where they are pressured to complete each inflexible unit in a prescribed time and measured by statewide and national standardized tests. “They’re not allowed different ways to think” and kids grow swiftly discouraged.
Wozniak, who confessed that he spent some eight years in mid-career “secretly” teaching at the middle and high schools levels, said, “By third grade, teachers can pretty much spot the kids who’ve given up on education, for life.”
Although Wozniak noted that his children had attended public schools, he said, “I actually think home-schooling is very, very good as an alternative.” He encouraged middle-class parents – an accurate characterization of his standing-room audience at ESC – to send their children to private schools because “every year, it seems like it’s getting worse.”
Ironically, Wozniak later heaped praise on a popular engineering competition for high school students – public and private – called FIRST Robotics, in which students compete for an eventual national championship in robot design. Wozniak has served as a judge for FIRST Robotics competition.
“Building something for yourself -- that’s the way the mind develops among engineers,” said Wozniak. “If they have it inside of them, that’s the one [idea] that’s going to last.”
In essence, Wozniak’s educational views tend to reflect his own experience as a lifelong autodidact, who couldn’t really wait to be taught according to any format designed by schools, teachers or even his father, who was a Lockheed engineer.
His father, said Wozniak, pitched in and helped when Wozniak threw himself into building, for example, a crystal radio, or winning a science fair. But it was young Wozniak who launched every project on his own, only turning to others for help when his “dream” exceeded his knowledge level.
“You’ve got to be motivated, and the best reasons are internal,” said Wozniak, adding a tongue-in-cheek thumbnail of himself. “It’s better if you’re not into partying and you don’t have much chance of having a girlfriend or a wife.”
A self-described “nerd” treated as an “outsider” in school, Wozniak told EE Times’ interviewer Brian Fuller that he embraced the independence that his oddball status conferred on him. “That independence made me think I can have very strange dreams, and start to believe that I could achieve some of them.”
Indeed, he did just that, serving in the creation of Apple as the nerdy partner to a more outgoing and marketing-oriented Steve Jobs. “I wanted to do engineering, nothing else,” said Wozniak, while Jobs wanted to become “the world’s most important person someday.”
“I did my best work late at night, alone,” added Wozniak.
This streak of iconoclasm clearly colors Wozniak’s view of education and embraces his view of management in technology companies. Too often, he said, “creativity gets tamped down” by production deadlines and quarterly earnings goals. He distinguished, in his discussion at ESC, between engineers who essentially follow orders and repeat patterns and the “inventors” who sneak off on their own to do projects that strike their fancy.
Ideally, said Wozniak, “A large company can have little outposts of people” working independently or in small teams, whose imaginations are allowed to run free. “They’ve got to be isolated from the rest of the company… Let them work on a project of their own. That’s a lot more motivating.”
Wozniak cited the example of Hewlett-Packard, where – before joining Jobs to start Apple -- he helped engineer that company’s hugely successful family of calculators. There, he said, HP’s respect for engineers’ individuality made the job “the best of my life.”
“Everyone who works for a company should be valued,” he said. He pointed out that, when HP fell on hard times, the prevailing corporate ethic dictated that the company keep its workforce intact. Hence, rather than layoffs, HP asked its workers – and got their permission – to accept a temporary across-the-board ten-percent wage reduction and a four-day workweek.
“Call it socialism,” said Wozniak. “But I just wish every company could be that way… We all did a little less work and kept everybody in.”
It’s just as accurate to call Wozniak a socialist or an iconoclast. But the overarching philosophy that shone through Steve Wozniak’s ESC fireside chat can be applied equally, and loosely, to public education and private management. Show a little more respect for individual creativity, says “Woz,” and apply a lot less emphasis to standardized measurements.
The world will be a much better place when people stop making up belief systems to accommodate observations they don't understand.
As you said, creationism is a belief, and you are entitled to it under the First Amendment. But it also does not belong in schools as it is ultimately based in some sort of theology.
Just because one can not grasp how evolution works, or the scale of time and space on which it operates, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because one doesn't understand, or chooses not to accept, the evidence that is present, doesn't mean it isn't true. Just because one doesn't understand, doesn't legitimize substituting in some other falicy, belief, or fiction for the sake of comfort.
How about you just say, "I don't understand how the eye formed," and just leave it at that. At least that's honest, and avoids encroaching on the beliefs of others, or science for that matter.
I find it hard to believe in any THEORY that does not have any facts backing it up. There is no evidence in support of evolution and as such it is still a theory not fact. Creationism is a belief not a scientific theory and as such is a personal matter and not for science. Consider the "evolution" of the eye. How could hundreds of mutations happened all at once? The eye, the optic nerve, the connection to the brain, the eyelid, tear ducts, etc.. Without all these occurring at the same time there is no reason for success of that mutation. An eye forming without the rest would not have given the body any advantage. So no, I can not accept the theory of evolution it does not make any scientific sense.
MLED, I didn't read your note as a question as to whether or not I myself believe in evolution, sorry. Ah, yes and no. I certainly believe in natural selection: most of the species that have ever lived on earth disappeared millions of years ago when the coal and oil deposits were laid down. Others disappear when their niche disappears, if they don't adapt fast enough As to evolution, you'll have to be more specific as to what you mean by that. For me, the design of complex living organisms through random mutation, guided by natural selection doesn't work. There hasn't been enough time for a good crustacean to appear, let alone a man. How does it go, a million monkeys typing away for a million years don't produce Hamlet? Some other mechanism is at work. Does God directly tinker with His designs every day? No, I don't think so. I think the design pattern for this universe was laid down at the time of the Big Bang. Now look, we are far off this thread, and I'd love to chat with you (as you seem sensible) about the notion that the only cause of the BB must necessarily be "super" natural, but this isn't the place. By the way, my Hollywood herring was blue, don't you think? ;-)
MLED, the thread is so disconnected that I just put a response to "Your question on" down here. I agree with you; dumbing down of all sorts of things seems to be going on. That conservatives or the religious are the cause of it, I'm not so sure of. Some of it comes from the entertainment industry, who have discovered that catering to the lazy can pay pretty well: I don't think I'll label Hollywood as conservative or religious, would you?
Antennahead, Chesterton was an odd duck in many ways. But he's a great read. His comment on teaching methods that seek to explain the reason for the subject in detail to students goes along these lines: "explain to your 5th grader how important a mastery of math is, and see if you don't unlock his hidden desire to do long division." He's a hoot, and counted as friends both sides of the political spectrum.
Very interesting quote. I, for one, prefer to continue to make mistakes. It is through making mistakes and recognizing as such, that I learn. Learning is a good thing, I think.
Preventing the correction of mistakes sounds like a definition of Evil.... or perhaps I'm just taking all this too far out of context.
A very interesting thread on our schools. Personally, I believe all of California's school problems start and end in Sacramento. Everything else downstream is merely following the laws put in place by Sacramento politicians and schools doing what they can do to avoid being sued. If a student happens to learn something in the middle of this, consider it a success.
MLED, this is a reply to your comment starting "Bob.... With". Hard to follow these threads sometime. Is conservatism or religion really an issue here? I had not meant to venture there, because as soon as someone who labels themselves a "vole" agrees with someone who labels themselves a "squirrel" that the educational system is a problem for both, then they can set aside the question of their respective diets and address educational issues. Burke and Kirk are two of a long line of worth thinkers; I cannot claim to agree with them in depth; I cannot say that I am more than familiar with them in bits and pieces. In any event, I prefer to define both my religion and my politics myself, using the labels "conservative" and "Christian" as close enough for these threads. But it simply isn't true that the majority of conservatives or religious men are intent on a dumbing-down of the educational system. What could the motive for such a thing be?. (I suspect that this response is hopelessly out of order in the discussion; it seems to be followed by a comment by MLED that was there before I wrote this... oh well...
"Political jabber" is inescapable, because so much of human activity falls into the realm of politics, as opposed, say, into the realm of network theory. Our solutions to problems are often predicated upon our political leanings. This is especially clear in a discussion such as this one. The notion here is that public schools are lacking in some areas. Also, people here seem to want effective and efficient schools. But solutions, when they are propounded, may not be agreeable to all, since all may not agree on the concrete goals to be attained. For an interesting and amusing take on how and why conservatives and liberals can seem to want the same thing, but disagree on the means, read G. K. Chesterton's "What's Wrong with the World". Free at Gutenberg. Be warned, Chesterton had no preconceived notions. A quote: "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."
It's fair to speculate that education 50-100 years from now will differ greatly from our current model.
In the US we tend to view this prospect as something that will spring from this country. But it is becoming clear even now, that the US will be just one of dozens of countries who will shape the tools and future of education. It may or may not turn out to be a major contributor.
However we should prepare to anticipate what changes may take place and adapt when they do. Perhaps one day we will even find a way to reverse our current tendency to substitute political jabber for genuine constructive activity in fields of this kind.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.