Rethinking the Goal of Childhood Education
If you’re looking at private schools, and landing on the “right” one to send your kid to overwhelms you, here’s some welcome news: A new player in the education landscape—WeGrow, a spin-off of the successful co-working community WeWork—is setting out to take the fear out of the whole process. They also want to shift the end goal of education from ensuring kids eventually get a good job, to ensuring that they live a good life.
GP sat down with WeGrow founder and CEO, Rebekah Neumann (herself a mom), in NYC, where the first WeGrow is currently accepting applications for the fall, for kids ages three to nine. Following up on that conversation, Neumann shares more below about the vision behind WeGrow, the way the company hopes to nurture kids’ minds and spirits, the role entrepreneurship can play in early education—and why it all matters.
A Q&A with Rebekah Neumann
Where did the idea for WeGrow come from? What’s your vision for it?
My husband and I were touring many, many elementary schools on both the East and West coasts for our eldest daughter. We had a clear vision of the type of school we wanted her to attend—a place that would not only nurture growth in her mind but also her spirit, a place that had a real culture of kindness, where she would have a real connection to nature, and where her individual gifts, talents, and passions would be recognized and supported. Ultimately, we could not find such a place, so we decided to start WeGrow.
“Discovering your life’s work doesn’t have to happen at a later stage in life.”
Our vision is to not only expand WeGrow all the way through high school, but also to open locations all around the world. I believe that we are students of life for life, and as long as we’re alive, we should always be in a personal state of growth and discovery. I also believe that the whole world can be used as the most magnificent classroom with local curriculums built around natural elements such as farms, forests, and oceans.
Who is the ideal kid/family for WeGrow?
We are really looking for families that are in an open state of being, ready to approach education in a new way. We’ve noticed that a lot of the energy around education is rooted in fear. Parents are scared. They want to get their kid into a particular school because it will secure their spot in another school, lead them to a top university, and help them find a successful job. The flaw I see in this approach is that the goal is a good job, not a good life. So we’re looking for families who are approaching education from a place of love, not fear, and who want their children to not only be successful academically, but also passionate, happy, and confident in who they are as human beings.
“Parents are scared. They want to get their kid into a particular school because it will secure their spot in another school, lead them to a top university, and help them find a successful job.”
What is the biggest challenge in the education system right now? How is your approach different?
Most schools are not approaching education from a conscious perspective, meaning that they are not focused on cultivating the whole human. Our education system is focused almost entirely on educating the brain, and not as much on the heart and soul. At WeGrow, we are dedicated to the idea that you go to school to evolve as a human just as much as you do to grow your intellect.
What role should entrepreneurship play in education?
This is another big challenge in our education system: Our schools and our pedagogy today are still based on the same approach that was developed during the Industrial Revolution—to create workers that could power factories and take orders on assembly lines. Given that this isn’t the goal anymore, it’s time for our schools to focus on entrepreneurship. And to be very clear, when we talk about entrepreneurship in education, it has nothing to do with making money. It has to do with fostering that creative, curious, and entrepreneurial spirit that is innate within all of us, through hands-on curriculum and real-life projects that allow children to discover their talents and learn how to use them in today’s world.
“Children come into this world in an enlightened, kind place, and that type of ideal version of ourselves is still accessible within each one of us.”
For example, in our pilot class this year, the children ran a farm stand. Being on a farm, they not only learned how to plant seeds and harvest their produce, but they also brought their crops to WeWork—where they operated a mini farmers’ market. With their earnings, they were able to think about how they wanted to contribute to the greater good and decided to help support an animal shelter. So from the seeds that they planted in the earth they learned how they were able to grow something, offer people healthy produce, make a profit, and bring it all back to helping animals. That’s what I mean by entrepreneurship.
What can we learn from our youngest generation?
Children come into this world in an enlightened, kind place, and that type of ideal version of ourselves is still accessible within each one of us. We’ve just strayed from that path.
How can interested parents apply for WeGrow, and what else should they know?
For the fall, we are currently accepting applications for children ages three to nine on WeGrow.com. We will continue to expand and add grades every year. We are opening first in New York and have plans to expand to other locations soon afterward.
WeGrow is a truly holistic approach to education. Just as much as we are rethinking our approach to educating the whole child, we are also rethinking the entire school experience and what that looks like in terms of our physical spaces. We’ve worked with Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) to create an inspiring and collective space where children can feel like they are part of a meaningful community.
Many people are passionate about their kids being raised as free thinkers who are able to advocate for themselves. But in order to do that, we need to change from the traditional classroom model of a teacher standing in the front of the room speaking at our children to an engaging environment that establishes self-confidence and mutual respect. For that reason we worked with BIG to create a school universe at the level of the child. The space will include modular classrooms for smaller group instruction, as well as climbing walls and acoustic clouds where children can explore their curiosity and energy. Kids need to be able to move their bodies regularly throughout the day, so we are creating opportunities for this, as well as moments to connect with nature even while indoors.
Rebekah Neumann is the founder and CEO of WeGrow and a founding partner of WeWork. As Chief Brand Officer, she directed WeWork’s mission, values, and culture from inception. As an artist, entrepreneur, and yogi, Neumann has also gained certification as a Jivamukti yoga teacher and acted in and produced a number of film projects. Neumann majored in Business and studied Buddhism at Cornell University. Mother to five young children, Rebekah is committed to creating a conscious, educational community.