Steve Wozniak to appear at Mondavi Center

Steve Wozniak, legendary Apple co-founder and personal computer guru, virtually single-handedly designed the hardware system for the world’s first user-friendly home computer, the Apple I, and later the Apple II. Wozniak is coming to speak at the Mondavi Center at UC Davis at 8 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2012.

Wozniak has been invited to come as part of the UC Davis College of Engineering’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.

“Wozniak’s record – past achievement and future anticipation, innovation and entrepreneurism, application of theory and practice – meshes very well with the College of Engineering’s mission and character,” said Enrique Lavernia, the dean of the UC Davis College of Engineering.

After the initial intensive period of developing Apple, first as a start-up venture and then as a burgeoning corporation, Wozniak shifted his attention to volunteering in schools in his local community of Los Gatos, Calif. in Silicon Valley. He has become critical of many aspects of today’s formal K-12 education system.

“We define intelligence almost as being non-creative in many ways,” said Wozniak, referring to educational theory. “Basically, intelligence is very much defined as having a lot of right answers on a test, and the right answers tend to be the same answers as everyone else. We try to teach everybody there’s a right answer, same answer as everyone else, but it’s not your answer.”

Lee Felsenstein, who was involved in the Homebrew Computer Club with Wozniak from the very inception of the group in 1975, agrees. Felsenstein was the moderator of the group, which met biweekly.

“I assisted Wozniak in his informal education,” he explained. “A great deal of what is learned is learned in an informal environment. This just happens as part of the human condition.”

Members of the Homebrew Club were independent people who worked on their own electronics projects in their free time. Wozniak stresses how focusing on such projects outside of school helped him to become the person that he is.

“Try to come up with personal projects for yourself,” Wozniak recommends. “It might be just to learn a certain thing. It might be just to get good at a certain game.”

Wozniak criticizes the way memorization is stressed in today’s formal education systems.

“The person who has the most handle on the memorized information [in today’s schools] is the most intelligent rather than the one that sticks his hand up and says: ‘Why isn’t it something else?’ or ‘What about this?’”

Wozniak laments the way such children are called “disruptive” or are even sometimes misclassified as being learning-disabled.

After examining model programs throughout the world, Wozniak has come to praise schools that use “mixed curricula,” which allow kids to go in “different directions on different subjects at different paces.”

Felsenstein praises Wozniak as being part of a trend of engineers who have taken up educating kids about electronics and engineering as a “second career.” He stresses that ages 12 and 13 are critical years in a child’s development.

“A kid develops some interests and pursues those interests and very often that will be their focus in life,” Felsenstein said. “I consider Steve Wozniak to be perhaps the greatest all-around ‘athlete’ of computer technology. He’s like a pentathlete. He can cover a wide range of things and demonstrated that in his masterworks.”

This article is Part 1 in a multi-part series focusing on Steve Wozniak’s career and ideas. Next in the series: democracy and the state of society, and Wozniak’s take on how society could or should be transformed.

BRIAN RILEY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.