An Open Letter to Steve Jobs

Dear Steve,

Our schools are terribly in need of a new operating system.

We are working with the equivalent of a DOS command line interface and we need the equivalent of Mac OS. We need a school operating system that will open the power of school to the individual in the same way the personal computer and graphical user interface opened the power of the computer to the individual.

Bill Gates, who has become very active in educational reform, is pushing an approach essentially built around getting students to be more efficient users of DOS. When you led the development of the Mac you took a radically different approach that overturned the existing computer paradigm and opened up vast new realms of creativity and productivity. We could use your support doing something similar with schools. We need help to fund a major research effort to design and build a new school OS.

We need to rethink everything about schools with a research and development team like that which developed the graphical user interface at Xerox PARC. This team would include the best and brightest educators and computer engineers out there. The team at Xerox PARC was charged with completely rethinking the computer given new and projected developments in technology. This team would be charged with completely rethinking school in light of all the new opportunities make possible by the developments in information technology that were birthed at PARC and brought to market at Apple.

This team should be given free reign to experiment and push the envelope as far and fast as possible. Everything they produce should be open source and freely available to all.

You approved and funded the powerful and controversial 1984 ad in the early days of the Mac. The high stakes testing and centralized control being advocated by Bill Gates, and others sharing his philosophy, threaten to turn our public schools into environments like that portrayed in the ad. There are many educators fighting for a more humane, democratic and personal approach to education but we lack the tremendous financial resources that Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons, the Koch brothers and other billionaires are using to push their DOS based approach.

Steve, you are unique in having repeatedly opened up the power of computers by leading the development of revolutionary new approaches to how people interact with information technology. There is no one in the world better positioned to help lead the development of revolutionary new approaches to school that will empower students.

I hope you will consider taking up this challenge.


Fred Bartels





5 responses
Fred - really interesting letter. A few years back , I was the MS Head at a SF Bay Area ind. school where Steve Jobs sent his son. Though he was quite a nice guy, and he was around quite a bit, he wasn't interested in improving the school through technology or innovation. He was quite hands off and ironically, students were more apt to work on one of the school's PCs. He obviously cared about education - he sent his boy to one of the best schools in the Bay Area. Perhaps, he sees America's education issues as more complex and in need of less intrusion from billionaires and more leadership from talented educators.


Jim, Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Great to hear that Steve Jobs let you guys do your job, and respected your expertise. I suspect most of the billionaires send their kids to good independent schools and also pretty much keeps their hands off. It is ironic that they seem to have no such compunction when it comes to public schools, where they don't send their kids, and which they don't seem to even understand very well.


Wow... Great minds think alike. I just posted a piece entitled "Will National Standards become the Operating System for our Schools?" with a similar theme.
Anthony, The vision that Gates, Broad, etc. are pushing is incredibly depressing and flies in the face of what Pink, Ken Robinson, John Seely Brown, Alfie Kohn, Seymour Papert, Mel Levine, Diane Ravitch and many others have advocated. I guess if you've got billions of dollars you can create your own reality. Steve Jobs has always been willing to buck the conventional wisdom. It would be great if he would come though one more time and push back against Gates, et al. Fred
I enjoyed reading your open letter to Jobs. My experience as a teacher of 30+ years (with a PhD degree in semiotics from Columbia, having studied with Umberto Eco), at every grade level from 4th to grad school, and for the last 20 years in independent schools, is that most billionaires do not have the steadfast purpose and patience to develop an operating system for anything as cost-inefficient, complex, and cumbersome as a school. Read Foucault’s Discipline and Punish; all institutions are alike – places of entrapment. Setting ideas free should be a worthy goal. But the cost-benefit-analysts and risk experts do not agree. Ask any economist or billionaire (and they are typically quants) why teachers are so poorly paid, and they will speak about the low quantitative risk in teaching. Failing to measure and value the qualitative aspects of learning and teaching the minds, spirits, souls of the next generation is a failure of imagination. Theirs.