All Commentary
Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Virtue, Not Virtue Signaling: Grammy-Winning Pop Singer Unveils Plan to Open Free Private Schools for Underprivileged Kids

More celebrities should back up their rhetoric with this kind of tangible action.

Image Credit: Flickr-Thomas Hawk | CC BY NC 2.0 (

Most of the time celebrities wade into political terrain these days, all they offer is cheap virtue-signaling or preening condescension. So it’s nice to see a Grammy-winning artist putting his money where his mouth is—and actually taking action to help children failed by the public school system.  

Popstar Pharrell Williams, known for hits like “Happy,” just unveiled plans to launch a series of nonprofit private schools in Norfolk, Virginia, specifically designed to provide tuition-free education to children from low-income families.

“If the system is fixed and unfair, then it needs to be broken,” Williams said. “We don’t want lockstep learning where so many kids fall behind; we want bespoke learning designed for each child, where the things that make a child different are the same things that will make a child rise up and take flight.” 

“Bespoke learning” is exactly what students don’t get from our one-size-fits-all government schooling system.

It’s heartwarming to see real action being taken. Here are some details about the school Williams and his collaborators plan to open.

“The first school will open this fall in Ghent… for students in the city in grades three through five,” the Virginian-Pilot reports. “The new school’s curriculum will have a heavy emphasis on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math. Collaboration and hands-on learning will be emphasized. The school will initially enroll between 40 and 50 students. Though admission is open to eligible third, fourth and fifth graders, the school doesn’t plan to have grade-level cohorts. Instead, students will be grouped by skill level.”

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see just how effective Williams’ school will prove to be for students. But by empowering families with more options, this small but meaningful development will undoubtedly improve the odds of participating students who will no longer be trapped in a failing, one-size-fits-all system. 

Here’s hoping that other vocal celebrity proponents of education reform also back up their rhetoric with this kind of tangible action.

Like this story? Click here to sign up for the FEE Daily and get free-market news and analysis like this from Policy Correspondent Brad Polumbo in your inbox every weekday.