Kanye West has started an unaccredited private Christian prep school for students K-8 called the Donda Academy after his mother.
Needless to say, the musician/fashion designer/professional eccentric has absolutely zero background in education. He famously dropped out of college — his first album was titled “The College Dropout” — and by his own admission he does not even read. On the “Alo Mind Full” podcast he remarked, “I actually haven’t read any book. Reading is like eating Brussels sprouts for me.”
Great. So much for fostering a lifelong love of reading — and learning from books — in our nation’s young minds. According to its website, the Donda Academy is focusing instead to “promote ideation, prototyping, and real-world implementation.” The site also notes the school will teach parkour, a kind of athletic discipline that involves leaping over obstacles.
Tuition costs $15,000 a year and, according to Rolling Stone, the principal at the school has “no apparent formal teaching experience.” (Kanye has said he wants his four kids to attend, but so far, ex-wife Kim has apparently not agreed.)
This isn’t the first time a rich person decided that “being wealthy” qualifies them to teach our nation’s youth. Rebekah Neumann, the wife of former billionaire Adam Neumann of WeWork, started her own school called WeGrow in 2018. Rebekah, who also has no educational background (but is a certified Jivamukti yoga instructor), did so with little success. Instead of focusing on the basics like the 3 Rs, WeGrow taught children yoga and how to harvest plants on a farm, which they then sold to WeWork employees. Really.
The farm work was considered training in “entrepreneurship” (rather than child labor, which is what it is called when poor children harvest vegetables on farms). That school cost $42,000 a year and shuttered in 2019, the same year her husband was disgraced and ousted from his company.
These vanity projects might seem simply silly if we weren’t living in a time when education is vital and America’s students are lagging behind. In 2019, it was reported that US teens were outperformed by their European and East Asian counterparts in reading, math and science. Now, after the pandemic, it’s even worse. National test results out this month showed that the performance of US 9-year-olds at math and reading has dropped to levels from two decades ago — primarily because of widespread school closures.
According to global youth nonprofit DoSomething.org, two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. One in four US children are growing up without learning how to read. This isn’t a great time to tell them that one of their heroes doesn’t read either.
Meanwhile, 94% of public school teachers are paying for school supplies out of their own pockets — a record high. All that money Kanye West is sinking into his (likely short-lived) school could go toward providing necessary supplies to real, qualified teachers who are actually struggling.
Some billionaires understand that. Earlier this year, the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott pledged $133.5 million to the nonprofit Communities In Schools, which is dedicated to helping at-risk kids stay in school.
It’s also worth noting that, after her divorce from Jeff Bezos, Scott married a high school science teacher. Proving that at least some rich people have both money and sense.
Jennifer Wright is the author of five books with a sixth out next year. Twitter: @JenAshleyWright