Steve Jobs and Growing Without Schooling

I fell in love with the Macintosh from the start. I own one of the first 128K Macs created; it has the Mac team’s signatures etched inside its case. I remember trying to convince John Holt in 1984 to bring the Mac into the office for creating Growing Without Schooling magazine and our other publications; John was skeptical. I used to lug my 128K Mac from my apartment to the Holt office to show how it could be used, and it wasn’t easy. Though touted as a portable computer, the original Mac needed to be carried in a large, square, padded container and it weighed a lot. I garnered lots of funny looks as I squeezed onto rush-hour trains with this huge bag slung over my shoulders. But I felt the effort was worth it. I worked with rubber cement, typewriters, and razors to create our publications in those days and I immediately grasped the elegance and ease of using a Mac to do the same. Of course, the software for laying it out took time to develop (anyone besides me remember MacPublisher, the first layout program for the Mac?), so it wasn’t a quick solution, but I could at least create advertisements (MacPaint and MacDraw) and articles (MacWrite) for HoltGWS on my Mac, and I did. We eventually became an all-Mac office (see photo) and remained Apple users even during their direst corporate moments in the nineties.

However, in recent years I came to respect Steve Jobs more as a person than as a corporate and technology visionary. That’s because of his openness about his background, revealed most in his commencement speech to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford University.

I quote parts of this speech in some of my talks, and I want to share them with you today in case you haven’t read them. I use Jobs’ words to allay people’s fears that they might be constraining their children’s options and growth in the future by unschooling them now. Like the Mac, iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, these words are worth considering because they can reduce stress and make your life a little easier and a little more fun. Steve Jobs:

I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Stop trying to connect the dots for your children’s future and stay focused on your present time with them. Trust children, and yourselves. Thank you, Steve Jobs.