Kanye West started an unaccredited private Christian preparatory school for K-8 students, named Donda Academy after his mother.
Needless to say, the musician/fashion designer/professional eccentric has absolutely no educational background. He famously dropped out of college – his first album was titled The College Dropout – and says he doesn’t even read. On the Alo Mind Full podcast, he remarked, “I haven’t actually read anything any Book. For me, reading is like eating Brussels sprouts.”
Big. So much for fostering a lifelong love of reading – and learning from books – in our nation’s young minds. Instead, according to its website, Donda Academy focuses on “encouraging ideation, prototyping, and real-world implementation.” The website also notes that the school will teach parkour, a type of sport that involves jumping over obstacles.
Tuition is $15,000 a year, and according to Rolling Stone, the school’s principal has “no apparent formal teaching experience.” (Kanye has said he would like his four children to attend, but so far ex-wife Kim has apparently not agreed.)
This is not the first time a wealthy person has decided that “wealth” qualifies them to teach our nation’s youth. Rebekah Neumann, the wife of former WeWork billionaire Adam Neumann, founded her own school called WeGrow in 2018. Rebekah, who also has no educational background (but is a certified Jivamukti yoga teacher), did so with little success. Rather than focusing on the basics like the 3 Rs, WeGrow taught kids yoga and how to harvest crops on a farm, which they then sold to WeWork employees. For real.
Farm work was considered training in “entrepreneurship” (rather than child labor, as poor children are known as harvesting vegetables on farms). That school cost $42,000 a year and closed in 2019, the same year her husband fell out of favor and was ousted from his company.
These vanity projects might just seem silly if we didn’t live in an age when education is vital and America’s students are lagging behind. In 2019, it was reported that US teenagers were outperforming their European and East Asian counterparts in reading, math and science. Now, post-pandemic, it’s even worse. National test results released this month showed that US 9-year-olds’ performance in math and reading has fallen to levels of two decades ago – largely due to widespread school closures.
According to global youth organization DoSomething.org, two-thirds of students who can’t read well by the end of fourth grade end up in prison or on welfare. One in four children in the United States grows up without learning to read. This isn’t a good time to tell them that one of their heroes doesn’t read either.
Now, 94% of public school teachers are paying for school supplies out of their own pockets—a record high. All the money Kanye West puts into his (probably short-lived) school could be used to provide real, qualified teachers who are actually struggling with the necessary materials.
Some billionaires understand that. Earlier this year, philanthropist MacKenzie Scott pledged $133.5 million to nonprofit Communities In Schools, which works to help at-risk children stay in school.
It’s also worth noting that after her divorce from Jeff Bezos, Scott married a high school science teacher. This proves that at least some rich people have both and Sense.
Jennifer Wright is the author of five books with a sixth coming out next year. Twitter: @JenAshleyWright