Tuesday, February 19

Fuck Steve Jobs

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way. This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.

Steve Jobs

Just imagine. The whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass.

Herman Mankiewicz

"Hey, man, where you goin'?"

"I'm goin' to class."

"Man, you
always goin' to class."

from Overheard in the Hallways, Vol. II

OF course some of us think--and have said so on several occasions--that the only thing wrong with our system of public education is that overpaid, over-praised, egomaniacal gizmo marketers (Jobs), software pirates (Gates), or old-school brigands (Welch) think a coterie of ass-kissers proves their personal bungholes taste like apple danish.

Th' fuck? When was the last time Steve Jobs was in a public school, or talked to a teacher or a student (or, more to the point, a principal)? Where would he go at Apple to find someone with a GED? I have no idea what makes anyone imagine the CEO of a technology firm has the standing to critique secondary education, but I now know what the counter-argument is.
What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?" Not really great ones because if you're really smart you go, "I can't win."

Steve Jobs

"Really smart", of course, as embodied by...Steve Jobs.

And this is a(nother) guy who famously dropped out of college in his freshman year, who became a multi-millionaire genius by capturing 8% of the exploding personal computer market with someone else's invention, and who would be back home tinkering with the next NEXT if the Apple board hadn't re-elected him Prom King and the iPod hadn't proved the preferred miniature premature-hearing-loss provider of the early 21st century. In the interim Jobs bought himself a company that produces brightly-colored computer-animated baby sitters and product-licensing machines; today he's overseen the vast network of corporate agreements which allows you to watch Jackass: The Movie on your telephone, provided you aren't presently screaming into while walking down the cereal aisle. Some of us might suggest that this, rather than the inability of high-school seniors to perform any better than the general public in a Find Afghanistan On The Map exercise, is the real demonstration of the failure of public education.  Maybe education is not exactly in your best interests, Steve.  

I mean, I know a guy who became an electrician's apprentice right out of high school who may now have more money than Jobs. It's probably close. He might also have a collection of half-remembered, third-hand anecdotes about Our Failing Schools, but if so he doesn't promote them in public. (Then again, the number of full-time speech-writing toadies he employs is surprisingly small.)

Okay, enough of the ad hominems (they're justified because that's the full extent of Jobs' argument); let's deal with this warmed-over Gospel According to John Stossel once more:

• Bad teachers can't be fired. Unlike Jobs I don't have a Wi-Fi lossless psychic connection to every union contract in the cosmos, but I know one pretty well, and in Indianapolis Public Schools a new teacher can pretty much be fired at will for the first two years, although, sadly, not simply at the whim of a godlike Principal,  but through an evaluation process. After that it gets a little tougher (and why shouldn't it?), mostly in that teacher evaluations are less frequent, plus (and one hesitates to explain the obvious to our 21st century seers) the teacher now has a track record. How many good evaluations should a bad evaluation negate? Four? Fourteen?

(This puts me in mind of the decade my Poor Wife spent outside the gigantic Union Featherbed that is public education, working for a couple of studios. The first was in transition from the leadership of the guy who founded it to that of his two daughters, who managed to combine various untreated psychopathies with the absolute assurance that their good sense in inheriting a business was sufficient proof of their Mensa-level business judgment. My wife became the shop steward, in part through her quiet expertise, but also through actually putting up with these nitwits, something she'd later regret.

(And so she was given the occasional glimpse into the inner sanctum, and what passed for thought in the rarefied air. One of them confided to her that "they knew a business owner" whose invariable practice was to fire every one of his employees after two years, without exception, because by that time they had learned to cut corners and developed bad attitudes (gee, there's a shock, huh?).  This seemed to them a Very Good Idea.  

(Of course it was my wife, not they, who knew how difficult it was to find people with the requisite artistic ability and low income expectation, and just how long it took to get them to master the technical requirements of the job. And she knew how totally nuts those two were, so it didn't really surprise her when she later learned that the paragon of smart business practice in question operated a dry cleaners.)

The main thing seniority grants a teacher at IPS is first call on job openings, all other things being equal (and why shouldn't it?).

We might mention in passing that the no-union solution has been in operation for years now, in the form of charter schools, whose predicted miracle results have, as with the Iraq war, tended to repeated devaluation as the actual vote tallies rolled in.

• Let principals be CEOs. One is tempted to ask, rather more pointedly this time, when the last time Jobs met a public school principal was. I know it may be difficult to believe from the moral aerie that is Silicon Valley, but there occasionally exist petty, venial, self-aggrandizing educators with administrative licenses who occasionally promote personal whim, small-time grudges, or outright cronyism over the needs of the system. Shocking, I know. But I could name names. And places and dates.

• Our failing schools. Look, one, I don't believe it's possible to be a success even in such a marginally intellectual activity as mass marketing and think like this.   How many failures has Apple chalked up?  Where would it be without that tiny musical device?

Steve, you're welcome to drop by my castle and interview my neighbors. They think our suburban school district is one of the best in the state. A ten-minute drive'll take us to Hamilton county, where they spend like sailors on a spree and like to imagine they get a hell of a lot in return. It's like that all over the country--except in impoverished inner-city districts--people think their own schools are just fine; it's Those Others that collect demagogy and spray paint. 

And we know, we've known for over forty years, or since we first bothered to look, that the major predictor of academic success is socio-economic status. Fighting poverty, providing sound nutrition and adequate health care, and giving people below the poverty line a fair shake and the hope of decent employment would do a hell of a lot more for public education than those cadres of virtual software engineers who just can't wait to teach junior-high math, but are prevented from doing so by greedy union bosses.

Funny how that sort of thing never enters into Buck Rogers' Geek Utopia.


D. Sidhe said...

Maybe education is not exactly in your best interests, Steve.

Sounds about right. I second the "fuck off" sentiment, and would like to follow up with "Any person who uses 'go' as a replacement for 'said' should not be allowed to opine with any impact on the state of education in this country".

heydave said...

Jobs is most definitely one over inflated monkey boy. If he ever had to do a real job, he'd shit and go blind. Same with Stossel, although I must add that I feel dirty just typing his name.

On another note: ...when the last time Jobs met a public school principal was. reminds me of a joke, instructing one not end a statement with a preposition. It should read ...when the last time Jobs met a public school principal was, bitch.

Davis X. Machina said...

It's the 'public' in public schools that they don't like.

The possible existence of anything beyond their personal orbit, which could possibly make legitimate demands upon them, drives them mad.

I think it is ultimately a form of mortality-freak out, insofar as these entities and institutions -- society, the environment, any commons -- are sublimely indifferent to their existence and bid fair to soldier on in their ineluctable absence.

coldH2O said...

Great post. You're paragraph on failure is right on. The only Lisa I know of is Lisa Simpson.

D. Sidhe said...

Really, Davis? I assumed it was a straight money issue. "My tax dollars!!! WHINE!!!" Since he's relatively famous but no one kids will ever learn about, you could be right, but the sulking over tax dollars is pretty standard in these bitches.

God knows I hear it enough here. "My kids go to private school, why should I pay for public schools?" being a prime example.

Which just baffles the fuck out of me. My partner and I will never send a child through a minute of schooling in this country, but we vote up on bonds and levies. Which part of your brain has to be not working for you to believe that uneducated and futureless children roaming the streets on weekdays is a good idea as long as they're not *your* kids?

Christ, it'd cost more to hire babysitters for these kids than most people are willing to pay for teachers and schools. Even if they weren't getting set up for the future as the doctors and scientists I'll need in a couple decades, it'd be worth it to me as a taxpayer just to have a time when I can go to the aquarium and not be assaulted by dozens of screaming voices.

I wonder if Jobs would be happier if schools were just teaching them how to build and operate iPods.

Anonymous said...

The state of education in this country is appalling, and has no single cause. From what I've seen, here are some factors:

Parents who don't fucking read. If the first time a kid sees a book is when s/he enters Kindergarten, s/he's already pretty well screwed.

Administrators who'd rather funnel money into new offices for themselves (to impress the textbook hawkers) than into proper school equipment.

A general disdain in the culture towards people who actually, you know, want to learn something.

Finally, yes, in my high school there were a couple of awful teachers who, for some reason or another, still had jobs.

Anonymous said...

The Beatles should have had his legs broken for stealing their business name.

D. Sidhe said...

Finally, yes, in my high school there were a couple of awful teachers who, for some reason or another, still had jobs.

Ditto mine. But far fewer, as a percentage, than in any corporate office my partner's ever worked in.

joel hanes said...

It's not about the tax dollars, I think. Like so many successful men, Steve subscribes to the Second Myth of Management:

Success equals skill.

Steve has been first successful, then failed nobly, then wildly successful again. According to the 2nd MM, that means that he has mad skillz, and that every human endeavor would be better conducted if it were conducted in the manner that Steve would conduct it.

My kid went to an elementary school just a few miles from the Apple campus in Cupertino. The kids at that school came in speaking fourteen different home languages. By the time they graduated the sixth grade, almost every one of them was reading at what California calls grade-level.

Somehow the teachers' union failed to prevent this success.

Anonymous said...

Ditto mine. But far fewer, as a percentage, than in any corporate office my partner's ever worked in

Good point. I work at a small business and every single person who has arrived there from the corporate world has been terrible. They don't seem to actually be able to.. well.. work.

unclemike said...

"What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn't get rid of people that they thought weren't any good?"

Oh, you mean like every effing September when teachers greet their new students, both "good" and "bad," and are expected to bring them, not only up to last year's group's level, but about 10% higher than that (thanks, NCLB)?

Yeah, what kind of person would ever agree to do that kind of Sisyphian job? Oh yeah: me, for about the last effing 20 years.

Steve: love your computers, but keep your turtlenecked nose outta my business.

D. Sidhe said...

*snort* Another excellent point, UncleMike. The CEO principal wouldn't be able to fire underperforming students (well, maybe in Jobs' world he would) and a business model is therefore not very appropriate at all.

I always wonder why they think a business model, which is designed to benefit certain groups of people and strand as many of the costs onto others as possible and to simply ignore entire groups of people as not profitable enough to bother with, is the appropriate tool for a government, which realistically has to deal with all its citizens in a reasonably equitable fashion.

Good prisons for rich people could afford psychiatric care and rehabilitation programs, bad prisons for poorer people would be basically warehouses where people came out even less socialized than when they went in, and this is all in keeping with a profit model. But someone has to take the incorrigible prisoners and the severely and expensively ill ones, you can't just pretend they're not part of your market because they won't make you enough money. Even at a loss, they still have to be dealt with somewhere. And sooner or later, they return to society, and that's works better if they've all been given a chance to rehabilitate themselves.

Likewise, it's wonderfully profitable to take garbage to landfills for upscale neighborhoods that can pay for daily service. It's less profitable to collect and recycle newspaper in rural neighborhoods of just a few houses spread across miles. But society suffers if we ignore the unprofitable one.

Schools are the same way: each kid needs the best education they can get, and that means it is not a business proposition. There's no money in it. You can't fire the PE teachers because that's not covered on the national tests so who cares if the kids ever do a single jumping jack. You can't get rid of the library and replace it with a bookstore. You can't fire all the experienced teachers to replace them with cheaper ones just getting into the business. And you can't just get rid of all the kids with disabilities or problems that mean they need more experienced teachers, specific types of teachers, or more teacher attention just to keep up.

The day that businessmen realize that there is a difference between citizens and consumers is the day I might think about letting them have some control over how we run our government. In the meantime, they get just as much say in it as the rest of us citizens--they get a vote. If they want more than just one vote, that's what their boardroom's for, isn't it.

wufnik said...

Good post. Every time I hear some dickhead like Jobs (or even relatively smart people like Mark Kleimann and Matt Yglesias) start shooting their mouths off about the state of public education, my response is "Well, shut up and run for the school board." Funny, they never do. If they did, the first thing they would learn is that it's not principals who do the hiring and firing. Jerks.

KathyR said...

Just sticking my head in here to report that charter schools where I live made no appreciable dent in the power of the teachers union. The alleged fiscal independence (including control over hiring and firing) of charter schools in LAUSD is a mirage, at least in the charter group that my kid attended for four years before we gave up and pulled him out.

Yes, we fled from public school. I am part of the problem. But the charter school "solution" sure as hell wasn't working, even in my fancy pants neighborhood.

You know, I'm a lefty from way back. I don't cross picket lines. But I think the teachers union here in Los Angeles, in its deathmatch with the godawful district and clueless board, bears at least some of the responsibility for the shithole that is L.A. Unified. I could go on. At length. But since I decided to save my kid rather than run for the pointless school board, I guess I don't get to pop off about it.

Of course, most of the responsibility belongs to the people in California who voted for Prop 13 back in 1978 and no lottery or sin tax or gas tax will ever right that ship.

Anonymous said...

Those stupid teachers - they are the kind that wouldn't know what type of PC to use - like ... Macs.

And those moron students - look at what they buy - those idiotic iPods.

I guess the big boom is over for education "investing" in computers - it must not have delivered the promises Steve made 15 years ago.

Once Steve figures out how to oursource teachers to China and students can call them from their iPhones for lectures - then the crisis in education will be solved.