Palo Alto's architectural review board approved plans for a new three-building daycare center on San Antonio Road, just off Highway 101. The new facilities will hold 250 kids, along with another 80-kid daycare center planned for East Bayshore Road on the other side of the freeway. A report in the Palo Alto Daily News says, "A continuous driveway running from East Bayshore to San Antonio would link the planned complex to the one already approved." What I want to know: Where would that driveway cross the freeway? (Photo by AP/Paul Sakuma)
Google CEO Eric Schmidt and cofounder Larry Page sat down with reporters for over an hour during an impromptu press conference while playing Bilderbergers at Allen & Co.'s exclusive Sun Valley getaway yesterday. There was talk of Google's Android cell-phone operating system; of China; of the search-ads deal with Yahoo. But it was fitness enthusiast Sergey Brin, rushing in late after a reported flat bicycle tire, who stole the show with feel-good blather:
John Sterlicchi, writing for the U.K.'s Guardian, just emailed me asking for my thoughts on "this Google daycare fiasco." (The short version: Google closed an outsourced daycare facility in favor of one run in-house, and hiked prices 70 percent, far above market rates; Googlers with kids in the facility, and those on the waitlist, are furious.) He asked: "If someone outside the environs of Google and Silicon valley was looking at this, what should they think? Is Google moving away from 'do no evil'?" Good questions. Here's what I just wrote him:
Some folks are just lucky. Susan Wojcicki, for example, rented her garage to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and thereby got a job working at Google before its IPO, where she went on to take undeserved credit for one of Google's key products. And then there are Wojcicki's four children, fortunate in their own right. Not only did they get lavish Reggio Emilia childcare designed by their mom, on her employer's dime — now it turns out they're getting a trust fund, too.
Now that it seems likely a large number of Google employee/parents will have to pull their kids out of the company's daycare program, it's a good time to revisit this video set to a tune by children's songwriter Laurie Berkner. Mock this clip if you must - I know I did - but Google is a very big deal to youngsters. Try to grasp the traumatic experience pending for preschoolers about to be cut off from their daily dose of Googlyoogly goodness because Mom and Dad are $12,000 a year short. It's just not right.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin has explained his company's childcare fiasco thusly: It's an experiment in economics. And yet there's very little that's scientific about Google's approach to childcare, which has been to hand Susan Wojcicki, Brin's sister-in-law, a blank check, and then accuse parents of feeling entitled when the result comes in with sky-high costs. Raising the price well above market rates was the only way, Brin argued in meeting with parents, to reduce a long waitlist. Gosh, how can a large software company fairly handle childcare benefits? If Google weren't so determined to do things differently — wild ono and adzuki beans for lunch! Stanford grads with 3.5 GPAs as instructors! — it might look to Microsoft's example. The software giant offers employees 20 percent discounts on childcare from a number of providers — and its executives are smart enough to realize that they know how to write code, not take care of infants.
The Reggio Emilia approach to preschool education is one of the major drivers behind Google's pending 70 percent hike in the company's daycare prices for its employees. What's Reggio Emilia? Wikipedia for once has a darned good writeup: "Teachers in Reggio Emilia assert the importance of being confused as a contributor to learning; thus a major teaching strategy is purposely to allow mistakes to happen, or to begin a project with no clear sense of where it might end. Another characteristic that is counter to the beliefs of many Western educators is the importance of the child's ability to negotiate in the peer group." I know, it sounds like a commie plot to keep the kids from doing any math. But Reggio Emilia methods are proudly used at Christ the King Early Childhood Learning Center, a Catholic operation in Missouri. It's always fun to watch Valley elites sputter their defenses when accused of having anything in common with red-state Christians. But they do: Daycare costs real money in the Show Me state, too.
Joe Nocera of the New York Times has taken note of Google's childcare crisis. A brief recap: After taking its childcare programs in-house, at the behest of Google executive Susan Wojcicki, the sister-in-law of founder Sergey Brin, Google hiked its rates 70 percent. Parents were infuriated not just at the price hike but, accustomed to Google's culture of analysis-driven consensus, at the imperious way the decision was handed down. Nocera's reporting reveals more numbers showing just how incompetent Google is at daycare — and how comfortable Brin's PR handlers are at lying on his behalf. How, in other words, Google has become just like any other company in corporate America.