Apple's early strategy, in the 1980s, was to pursue the education market. They, effectively, created the market for classroom computers. It was considered quixotic to have third graders using computers - until Apple popularized the graphical user interface. Creating computers that even little kids could use - which earned it the ire of nerds everywhere - became a core value of Apple. Steve Jobs called it "human engineering" - that the computers would be "natural extensions of their owners."
By 1985, Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple. He immediately founded NeXT, a computer company focused on the higher education market. He had the original idea while working for Apple and talking to a biology professor who wanted a "workstation" that could display, visually, the results of expensive experiments without having to actually perform the experiments. Steve Jobs was taken with the idea; with his characteristic creativity he made a powerful computer with innovative design and software.
The NeXT was not a commercial success due to its high price, but it had a huge influence. Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web on a NeXT computer. The innovations in software are now standard across the industry. And Apple acquired NeXT in 1996 (its innovations would become a part of almost every future product it made), and reinstalled Steve Jobs as the CEO of the company he founded.
He gave an interview in 1996 about his return, and the reporter asked him about the education market.
"I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I've had to come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem is not one that technology can hope to solve. What's wrong with education cannot be fixed with technology. No amount of technology will make a dent. Its a political problem."
He went on, of course, to turn Apple around from a struggling company to one having the highest market capitalization in the world.
There is an enormous amount of enthusiasm around instructional technology and MOOCs and how these are all going to transform education. But a review of the most influential technology company in history reveals that we may have the question backwards. What we should be asking is: how can education transform technology?
A human universal is the veneration of elders. From a biological standpoint, it is highly unusual that humans live for so long beyond their reproductive window. The old saw about hunter-gatherers dying young is a simple statistical misinterpretation; they lived way beyond menopause as well.
Scientists now believe that we are a "grandparenting" species. What has given us the edge over every other species on the planet is the wisdom that gets passed down from our grandparents. This idea is not difficult to believe: a trope in almost every society is the long-winded grandfather. The sheer joy that all grandparents show around their grandkids (sarcastic comments about the kids going home notwithstanding) is further evidence.
Video game designers, in an effort to create more social experiences, were looking at brain scans of players and people watching the games. They noticed an intriguing pattern: bystanders watching the game were completely indifferent to outcome of the player except when they had coached the player beforehand. When they had provided a bit of instruction, they suffered and rejoiced along with the player. It seems as if this instinct to pass down wisdom is hardwired into our emotions.
The publishing industry, which is suffering financially, is still inundated with manuscripts. The competition is cutthroat and creative - but the rewards are minimal. The same energy and initiative could be poured into almost any other industry for huge payoffs. And yet, people have this insatiable desire to teach.
And it is shocking that we even trust the numerous autobiographies of CEOs. Why would they share their company's strategy? Wouldn't that hurt their competitive advantages? And yet, this instinct to teach is so universal that almost no one suspects CEOs of deliberately misleading people.
The sheer volume of free educational videos that are available online has people, understandably, wondering why expensive forms of education exist. But the repeated failures of automated curricula to make a significant impact reveal an important asymmetry: the inborn human desire to teach outweighs the innate discipline to sit and learn.
Two San Francisco cardiologists, Ray Rosenman and Meyer Friedman, were talking to the man reupholstering the furniture in their waiting room. He remarked that he had never seen the fronts of chairs worn away. Usually, it is the back of the seat that has wear, but in this waiting room, the fronts of the armrests and the seat were frayed.
Friedman quickly realized it was the answer to a mystery that had confounded him for his whole career: why were heart attacks increasing? A good number of his patients were high stress, angry, impatient, competitive types that thrived in the growing postwar economy (and gripped the fronts of their chairs). He named them "Type A" and the term, along with its opposite, "Type B" entered popular culture rapidly.
Most self-help and success literature seems aimed at the Type A market: how to cope with stress, how to fit even more projects in your day, and how to get even more energy. How to maximize this and minimize that. College readiness materials are similar: they often have a "get your reach school or die" vibe to them.
But there are a lot of talented Type B kids that do not buy into the whole college rat race. Often, in the future, they make gifted leaders, as they are able to absorb stress and work with a wide range of people.
A few recommendations to get your Type B students ready for college:
Of course, many such exercises are in "From Rebel to Ruler." Click here for more information.
I'm an entrepreneur and I teach math, history, economics, and fitness. I'm looking for arguments.