Science

“The student will be the client”: in the USA, a school according to Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk

Kindergarten room at Bezos Academy Des Moines, Washington. Founded in 2020, the school was the first of the Bezos Academy to open.

McCarver Kindergarten in Tacoma, a suburb of Seattle, is not your average. First, it is a Montessori school. At the beginning of the school year, in the week of September 5, students aged 3 to 5 found in her light wooden classrooms the material developed by the famous Italian teacher to develop independence: alone or in small groups, on the table. or a carpet on the ground, they will draw in the sandbox, count with pebbles and cards decorated with numbers …

Another originality, the institution does not welcome the usual wealthy families of Montessori schools: free and located in a disadvantaged area, it targets the 50% of Americans who are deprived of kindergarten because they are too rich to have access to free public classes, and too poor to pay $13,000 (€13,000) a year for a private school.

Finally, an even more distinctive sign is written in white letters on the blue panel at the entrance: Bezos Academy. Indeed, McCarver is one of five Montessori preschools opened since 2019 by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ charitable foundation. The structure indicates that it wants to create “17 others between 2023 and 2025 in Washington, Florida, and Texas” for “1,300 students.”

“Prototype it, improve it, and deploy it widely”

The development of these new types of schools is “modest” so far, says Mira Debs, director of the Yale University Department of Educational Sciences (Connecticut). But the Bezos Academy and its president, Michael George, have a “clear approach inspired by companies like Amazon,” says the author of a book on Montessori schools, who was visited during an autograph session in 2019 by the veteran e-commerce company, where he spent sixteen years. “Their approach is to build a prototype, then refine it, and then deploy it widely,” she says.

“We will use the same principles as Amazon, in particular a real obsession with the customer. The student will be the customer,” suggested Mr. Bezos, announcing the project. What does Ms. Debs think of the Bezos Academy? She was “pleasantly surprised” that the organization had made contact with the Montessori community, as well as forged partnerships with municipalities, donors or nursing homes that provided the premises. But, the scholar laments, Mr. Bezos could have “even more influence” by also supporting existing Montessori organizations that already work with disadvantaged populations.

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