WeWork Hits the Nail on the Side with its New Primary School

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I’ve seen this story pop up several times on my twitter feed over the last few days, with a surprising amount of support and enthusiasm from my network. Personally, I find the title of the article and the overall concept behind WeWork’s attempt to “disrupt” primary education to be pretty absurd and off-putting, even if I agree with the Neumanns’ on several fronts.

Why I disagree with the vision of WeGrow Schools: 

Young children should not be focused on monetizing their ideas, and this is an essential part of entrepreneurship - even social entrepreneurship. Yes, we want to raise problem-solvers, but not problem-solvers that have to solve their value proposition at six years old. Kids should be asking and working to find ways to solve problems related to fairness, community, wonders in the world, and personal responsibility - issues that defy easy monetization that are essential for young children to explore.

It is also truly bizarre that seven-year olds would be connected to professionals to hone their skills in mini-apprenticeships. I am all for career days in primary school, “bring your child to work day,” and field trips for novel learning experiences with all types of people in all sorts of places. Yes, apprenticeships are incredible learning opportunities for young people to master technical skills and a gain a foothold in the workplace. We only have to look to countries like Germany and Australia to see how well young people in their late teens or early twenties are doing in apprenticeship programs that offer paid, on-the-job skills training, with dedicated mentors. Of course children should be learning skills - from teachers and outside experts - but let’s not focus on employability at age seven.

And, yet, the Neumanns are making positive changes to primary education by acting as a “speed-boat of change” in a sea of educational ocean liners.

We can learn from WeGrow’s potential successes in the following areas:

  • How to replace a 19th century, industrial model of education with a 21st-century, innovation model of education
  • How to make school environments flexible and fun places to learn (Why do startup offices get foosball tables, puffy cushions for sitting, lots of light and open space for collaboration?)
  • How to create experiential, problem-based learning experiences through field trips and hands-on applications of theoretical concepts
  • How to make play as an essential part of learning
  • How to build more flexible learning environments and experiences
  • How to allow students to specialize in an area of interest from an early age

How can we foster educational innovation in sustainable, inclusive ways that don’t rest on the agendas of the wealthy?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Create more flexible school schedules that allow students more time for genuine exploration outside of the classroom
  • Create more professional learning opportunities for teachers outside of school in startups, business, and nonprofit organizations so that teachers can draw on these experiences to build more authentic learning experiences for students
  • Build a cohort of community partners - individuals, business, organizations - that offer real world problem-solving experiences and learning opportunities
  • Allow students to work based on the 80/20 model used at Google to encourage innovation - meaning students have to be generalists 80% of the time, but can devote 20% of their time to passion projects
  • Break down artificial silos between academic departments so that teams of teachers and students can apply quantitative, scientific, historical or analytic thinking to solve systemic problems
  • Adopt innovative assessment models - from community-based assessment to the emerging Mastery Transcript model. The current model of grades is so inflated as to be meaningless and so fear-inducing that it limits students’ abilities to learn from failure and take academic risks
Meredith Goddard