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Is this a genius idea or utterly absurd?
Silicon Valley has a rich history of embracing youthful entrepreneurship. Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel, among others, all dropped out of college to build their burgeoning business ideas and become titans of the tech world. However, some think that college-age is too late when it comes to starting your own company. Why not target elementary schoolers instead?
WeWork, the $20 billion coworking and office space startup, is doing just that. The company plans to launch a private elementary school for “conscious entrepreneurship” next fall, Bloomberg reports. The New York City-based program currently exists as a pilot of seven students ages 5 to 8, with students spending one day a week at a 60-acre farm, and the rest of the week inside a Manhattan WeWork space. In addition to traditional studies such as math and reading, students will get business lessons from WeWork employees and customers. Their traditional lessons will also be business-centric, with math concepts centered around running the farm stand, for example.
“In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,” Rebekah Neumann told Bloomberg. Er, we can think of a couple. However, Neumann believes that children should act on their passions early, rather than waiting until they’re older to start disrupting the status quo.
The school will be called WeGrow, and next year Neumann hopes to have 65 students enrolled, with the youngest at ages 3 and 4. Eventually, she hopes to open WeGrow schools in WeWork spaces across the globe. How those schools will be funded is still a work in progress.
For the most part, WeWork’s idea sounds absolutely bonkers.
— alyssa bereznak (@alyssabereznak) November 6, 2017
I’m not sure how many children Neumann has encountered, but kids come up with crazy ideas all the time. Their little minds are factories for creativity. Those half-developed brains also have the attention span of a half-developed adult. An artistic crafting passion one week is a forgotten pile of trash in the corner the next week. Children tend to obsess over one topic for days, months, or even a couple of years, and then move on to something else. Trying to push these fleeting creative impulses into full-fledged business ideas (or full-fledged companies) sounds mildly disastrous.
Right now, Neumann’s school also sounds like it could end up being elitist. If WeWork is serious about fostering entrepreneurial talent, they should perhaps visit area public schools, make its application process well-known, and scout students from all walks of life to attend WeGrow—i.e., if you’re fostering the next generation of tech CEOs, let’s make sure they’re a diverse bunch, and not just a crop of wealthy white Manhattanites.
On the other hand, teaching students more about business and the practical applications of academic lessons, as well as embracing students’ ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit does sound like a great idea. It’s definitely something that is quashed in our public school system, at least.
When I was in elementary school, I once got in trouble for selling hand-designed and drawn bookmarks to my classmates. (Apparently, most schools prohibit students from selling items on campus in order to make sure kids don’t profit off stolen goods… or sell drugs.) At the time, I had no idea that what I was doing was entrepreneurial, or what that meant. Perhaps, had that interest been fostered, rather than squelched, my future may have ended up a lot differently. And that’s where WeGrow could spark some success.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.