If you’re going to charge more, you have to offer more. Apple wants to promote a vision of engaged, creative education in American schools. Our schools just aren’t ready for it.
Apple doesn’t want to compete with Google’s Chromebooks on price. Its $299 iPads are really at least $450 when you include a keyboard case and stylus. To reverse Google’s takeover of the education market, Apple will have to sell America’s struggling, underfunded schools on its vision of a more creative education.
We saw that vision on stage at Lane Technical High School in Chicago yesterday and at demos afterwards, where we shot videos to create poems about math and put together GarageBand soundtracks about history. Chromebooks are very good at filling out forms, searching the web, and running quizzes. Apple’s iPads are much better for media creation.
A Self-Serving Vision, But a Good One
Apple’s vision for education is pretty self-serving. The company wants to sell iPads and its proprietary classroom management and education software, and lock schools into a single-vendor lifestyle where they’re so married to Apple products that they can’t entertain alternatives.
That said, Apple’s hands-on, mobile, creative plans could also work pretty well with a suite of Windows tablets, if Microsoft had the same turnkey curriculum ideas.
Apple’s kind of creative learning keeps kids compelled, and teaches a much broader range of thinking than writing reports and filling out web forms. Because it isn’t always teaching to a test, it doesn’t always result in higher scores on the specific, bubble-form standardized tests we use to measure progress. Rather, it encourages problem-solving, adaptation, and flexible learning skills.
These skills will be critically important in the 21st century job market, where people may have several careers over a lifetime and be asked to pick things up continuously—or be shunted down into an eternal mire of low-wage, low-skilled service work with little hope of advancement. At the elite college I went to, a dean once said, “we haven’t taught you do to anything in particular, but we taught you to do it very, very well.” He meant that he taught us to learn and to enjoy learning. Kids need that, and that’s what Apple is selling.
This doesn’t just require iPads. It requires well-educated, well-resourced teachers who aren’t just handed a curriculum, but who are given the time and practice to develop it. The teachers need to learn the iPads first, after all. These teachers will need to be able to focus on exciting new lessons, not on questions like whether their classroom has enough markers, whether all the kids have had breakfast, and their next assessment.
iPads Are More Than What We Deserve
Unfortunately, the American school system is about delivering the best possible standardized test scores for the lowest possible budget. Yes, there are creative and bravely entrepreneurial schools out there, mostly expensive private schools or schools in well-off suburbs. In those places, teachers have freedom and schools have budgets. Many of them probably already have iPads.
But that’s not the case for many of America’s cash-strapped, struggling schools. Kansas school budgets have been cut so badly that the state supreme court has declared the low level of funding illegal. In Oklahoma, budgets were trimmed so far that they can’t even offer a five-day school week. Baltimore’s schools are physically crumbling. Here in New York, I watched as my daughter’s supposedly progressive charter school fell back more and more on drilling English and math basics over a five-year period to pump up their all-important state test scores.
Blame whoever you want. Throw down into the culture war which will inevitably erupt here, with right-wingers blaming supposedly lazy, corrupt teachers and left-wingers blaming a culture and government that doesn’t support public education. The cause isn’t the issue here: the reality is.
Chromebooks are cheap and rugged and manageable. Sure, most of them can’t film videos, make soundtracks, or augment reality. Neither can our schools. Chromebooks enable collaboration on basic tasks, letting teachers monitor progress and opening a decent range of options for kids—basically, anything on the web, including web-based coding tutorials.
Chromebooks are a great example of the “good enough” philosophy that sells Amazon tablets, prepaid Android phones, and most basic Windows laptops. They’re good enough for what we need. Maybe they aren’t good enough for what we aspire to; maybe that requires an iPad with all the trimmings. But maybe that’s not who we are—not yet, at least.