Hello, and welcome to this Wednesday’s edition of the Insider Tech newsletter, where we break down the biggest news in tech.
This week: The Jeff Bezos School is in session, and American history is brought to you by Larry Ellison
What if our kids’ schools were run the same way Amazon’s business is run?
That might sound like the set-up for a snarky joke or a sound bite from a libertarian campaign rally, but this is 2020 — so it’s reality.
Welcome to the Bezos Academy, which will officially open its doors on October 19. The Bezos Academy is a pre-school for 3-to-5-year-olds, “inspired” by the Montessori method, it says. The tuition-free schools are designed to serve low-income communities (the first school will be in a town 40 minutes south of Seattle), and are part of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ multi-billion dollar philanthropic efforts.
It’s hard to fault someone for opening a free school (even when we’re talking about the world’s richest person). And, of course, some people might argue that pre-school education should not have to depend on corporate charity.
What’s fascinating to me about the Bezos Academy, however, is its stated intention to bring Amazon’s business principles to the classroom. The school is part of Bezos’ Day One fund, which is named after his management philosophy (in a nutshell: avoid corporate complacency by treating every day as if it were the first day of business). Bezos even says the school will be based on Amazon’s famous “intense customer obsession.” In this case, the customer is the child.
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But what does it mean to take the ideology of a company whose workers have frequently complained of “brutal” and dangerous work conditions and apply it to pre-schoolers? And what kind of separation is there or should there be between the non-profit Bezos Academy and the myriad for-profit products that Amazon sells? (Consider that the head of Day One Academies is a former Amazon exec whose experience includes overseeing the Alexa and Echo line of products.)
Lately, it seems like everyone in tech wants to influence the younger generations.
Oracle’s Larry Ellison (whose company opened a high school on its corporate campus in 2018) is also plunking down big bucks to shape young minds — in this case, the curriculum is Donald Trump’s “real history” of America and there’s no attempt to hide the purely transactional motive.
- The $5 billion education fund that Oracle and Walmart will contribute to was apparently a critical aspect to getting Trump’s blessing of a deal that gives the two tech companies a 20% stake in TikTok. The deal still hasn’t closed, but according to The Wall Street Journal, both Ellison and Walmart CEO Doug McMillon personally phoned Trump to communicate their interest in his pedagogical project.
And Microsoft, which lost out on the TikTok deal, is taking an alternate route to reach youngsters: it’s spending $7.5 billion to acquire the video game company behind “The Elder Scrolls,” “Fallout,” “DOOM,” and other hit titles.
- That might not sound like education in the classroom-sense of the word, but remember that Microsoft acquired Minecraft for $2.5 billion six years ago. That video game is increasingly being used in classrooms, especially during the screen-based home-learning that’s become the norm for so many kids during the pandemic.
I don’t know if teachers will be using “Fallout” in their lessons anytime soon, but it’s pretty clear that tech companies are looking to start relationships with consumers much earlier in their life cycle. What will that mean? Set a reminder for 2032, when the Bezos Academy’s first class of kids graduates from high school and you’ll be able to judge the final product for yourself.
“Trump is jeopardizing the United States’ position as the best place in the world to do business, and should think twice about the long-term ramifications of extorting growth businesses, Chinese or otherwise.”
Leaving the city to work remotely in a bucolic setting is great if you’ve got access to a country house. For those who don’t, iOhouse thinks its trailer-transported “smart home” is a nice alternative. The 645-square foot, solar-powered house can be plopped down, by crane, in a setting of your choice and set up in 90 minutes.
Water and sewage capabilities last two weeks — so don’t plant your stakes too far away. And the cost, at roughly $413,000, might be slightly higher than your company’s work-from-home stipend.
Not necessarily in tech:
That’ll do it for now, tune in next week for more fun and excitement. Thanks for reading, and if you like this newsletter, tell your friends and colleagues they can sign up here to receive it.