WeWork gets into the education game and learned a hard lesson that I’ve known for years

When I initially conceived of this post, I had every intention of roasting the fuck out of WeWork.

If you’re not familiar with WeWork, they are the hip and happening (yuppy and hipster) shared space company, conceived of for entrepreneurs, startups, and anyone else in need of office space, to go and have a place to work, have access to technology, etc.  Members basically pay a monthly rental fee to use the space.  Pretty simply stuff.

So what did WeWork do that got into my craw?

Well, I noticed that after a year of being in the education game, WeWork decided to close their WeGrow schools in New York.  The schools were the pet project of WeGrow founder Adam Neumann and his wife Rebekah Neumann.

I looked to see what background in education Mrs. Neumann has, and I couldn’t find anything.  She went to college for business and Buddhism. Which is totally ok.  My stance on this has changed over the years.  I’m a firm believer that education is much more art than science.  To truly be a good teacher, and effective in the classroom, I think you have to have a few simple attributes:

  1. You have to truly care about the well-being of the youth you’re working with.
  2. You have to be able to make the topic you are talking about fun.
  3. You have to be passionate about what you’re teaching.
  4. You have to be knowledgeable about what you’re teaching.
  5. The greater your ability to be in tune with the youth you work with, the more effeective you’ll be.
  6. You have to be willing to work hard.

I didn’t say anything about understanding data, differentiation, etc.  If you can cover those 6 bases, you can rock in a classroom.

Now, fortunately, Mrs. Neumann brought together what appears to be a team of seasoned education professionals, which is great.  Additionally, the mission and approach of the school seemed to be quite impressive.  The school offered everything from the classic arts to yoga and mindfulness classes.  One parent, interviewed for an article on the closing announcement, mentioned that one of the more valuable experiences at the school were the weekly trips to the Neumann farm, where kids could learn to grow things, and I suppose, which attributed to the focus on entrepreneurship at the school.

However, WeGrow figured out this year something I’ve known for a very long time.

Education ain’t a business.  Furthermore, it doesn’t work on a classic business model.

Do you hear that CPS!!!!  Education isn’t a business.  You can’t treat it like one, or expect it to work like one.

Education is a money pit.  Actually, have you seen the movie The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long???  If not, go watch it.  It’s a perfect allegory for education.

Education, much like it’s inhabitants are money sponges.  Think about a child.  You plunk tons of money into them.  The average cost of a first year of a baby is $13,000, minus childbirth costs, and any parent will tell you, it’s only downhill from there.  They take and consume, and don’t really give anything back.  Once child labor was deemed illegal, the game was really fucked.

So why plunk so much money into them?  Love?  Thanks for playing…I need a greater return on my investment.

And that’s what children are…an investment.  We’re investing in them; time, energy, resources, so that they grow up to be good people, and perhaps, they’ll do something for you in return on the back end. By investing in children, you get Michelle Obama’s, you get mayors, senators, entrepreneurs, scientists, and yes, teachers.   Does every child go on to do great things?  Well no, but that’s the nature of investments right?  You might end up bust on your ass tomorrow.

That’s what schools are.  They’re huge investments into all of these young lives, with hopes that they all grow up to be great people and do great things.  The greater the investment, the more likely you’ll get positive results on the back end.

Now, when you nickle and dime those schools, and thus those kids, not giving them the support services they need, cramming them in 40 or 45 kids to a room, underpaying and under-appreciating the teachers, turning the schools into pseudo-prisons and then dragging kids off to actual prison…what kind of results are you bound to get?

Additionally, education is a long term investment.  You gotta be in for the long haul.  In today’s world, a high school diploma isn’t cutting it, so you need post secondary training, whether it be technical or college bound.

Now, to WeWork’s credit, they took the financial burdens of their school seriously, and tuition ranged from $22K – $42K depending on the age of the child. And as a company that made $1.8 billion in revenue, and lost $1.9 billion during the same period, they’ve come to find the financial burden of the school to be too much.

I feel like, in that last paragraph, there’s a lot we could unpack about education and funding needs, but I ain’t got time for that.   

This failure on WeWork’s part has been attributed to a failed IPO, which threw the companies aggressive growth strategy (which included WeGrow and plans for residential living entitled WeLive) into a tailspin.

Note:  Why can’t companies be happy with the billions they’re making?  Why do you always have to aggressively expand?

And so, in their second year of the education game, WeWork calls it quits. A couple of thoughts come to mind.

  1. Dear billion dollar companies.  You can’t do it better than the public school system.  You wanna enlighten lives, partner with one of the many public schools that would love to see you sashay through their doors, and start an after school yoga program, or fund yoga programming as part of the school day.  You can bring all of your great ideas to any principal worth their weight in salt, who would be happy to have you as a long term partner.
  2. Kids whose family’s can pay $42K to attend your school don’t need enlightenment.  They probably can afford private yoga instructors, and while I’m not opposed to a bunch of rich kids being your pet project, it’s not a good look, and as an educator, I will sneer at you.
  3. Due to the failure of your experiment, you have interrupted the education of these students.  Continuity is a real thing, and a real important thing in education.  Building relationships, building bonds, being in a familiar situation where one feels safe, welcome, and where you fit in is real.  Those kids will attend different schools, where they have to reinitiate that process, which is fine if the parents have to move, or many of the different issues that arise in life…it’s way less cool when the dumbasses who ran your last school decided you weren’t financially viable.
  4. You can’t do it better than the public school system, because more than likely, you don’t have the heart.

Can you tell I have a bias for the public school system?  Yes, we do it better, when given the resources.  We do it right, and we do it for everyone, not just the privileged, which I’m sure have their needs, but man, how many advantages do you need lying before you before you have enough?

Sorry, that’s the lower middle class black kid speaking.  As an interesting side note…I finally got my yoga…in my 30’s!

What are your thoughts on private or charter schools?  Did you ever attend one?  Let me know what that experience was like down below in the comments.

Also, I’m now a podcast host.  The show is Off The Beaten Podcast. You can find this week’s show on Apple Podcast, on Stitcher, or on our website. Also, follow me on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter to see the sights of the city and what’s going down.

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