Amazon Paid For A High School Course. Here’s What They Teach.

In 2019, Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California started offering the “Amazon Logistics and Business Management Pathway,” a first-of-its-kind series of courses intended to help students get a head start in a career in logistics. Amazon donated $50,000 to provide the necessary materials to start the program. And, apparently, to do some redecorating. The classroom for the pathways program is painted in Amazon’s signature yellow, with Amazon’s Leadership Principles—“CUSTOMER OBSESSION”, “BIAS FOR ACTION,” “DELIVER RESULTS”— written on the walls.

The curriculum for the courses—obtained by Motherboard via public records request, which includes lesson plans on managing labor unions, “making ethical decisions,” and “motivating employees”—were written by “a team of educators” from Cajon High, Cal State University San Bernardino, and Chaffey College, a local community college, according to Corina Borsuk, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino Unified School District, with Amazon acting only as an “industry expert” and offering internships to students in the program. 

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Public records from ​San Bernardino Unified School District

“The goal is to help educators better understand how to shape the course curriculum so students graduate ready to be hired in that industry,” Borsuk wrote via email in a response to a list of questions from Motherboard. “But Amazon and other industry experts don’t write or oversee the curriculum.” High school programs designed to prepare students for the workforce are not uncommon, and neither are programs that are sponsored by or otherwise have connections to companies and offer specific internships with those companies. But just because they are common doesn’t necessarily mean they are providing unbiased information. One document obtained by Motherboard about the creation of the education program states that some of the goals for the people developing the curriculum is to make an education plan that will “ignite student interest, create an intentional student, and provide an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the logistics community,” but also to “coach” teachers on “how to establish and develop an effective industry partnership with Amazon.”

Much of the curriculum is “very, very pro-business,” said Eric Nilsson, an economics professor at CSUSB, although he noted that is typical of business courses in high schools and colleges across the country. Questions for an Amazon Pathways class called Business Management and Entrepreneurship asks students, “Why are mergers and acquisitions important to a company’s overall growth?” and “What can Uber do to ensure its competitors are not chipping away at its dominant market share as a result of such bad press?” 

Another unit focuses on “Worker Motivation.” One team activity prompts students to “Brainstorm ways you could motivate your employees other than large bonuses and high salaries.” Another question asks them “What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and how do these needs relate to employee motivation?” (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a concept in psychology that, broadly speaking, says people will do what they have to do to survive before working to improve their physical and mental well-being.) A third question asks students, “What are the basic principles of Frederick Taylor’s concept of scientific management?” (Taylor’s concept of scientific management was a theory developed during the industrial revolution to maximize worker productivity by streamlining processes. Taylor was known for using a stopwatch to time workers to improve their efficiency, a process that has been endlessly debated for its questionable merit in aiding productivity but nevertheless similar to Amazon’s time-off-task policy that has been used to fire workers who don’t meet productivity standards.) 

Students also learn about labor unions during the “Managing Human Resources and Labor Relations” unit, which includes such questions as “What is a labor union and how is it organized, what is collective bargaining, and what are some of the key negotiation issues?” Amazon, of course, is infamous for various union-busting activities both domestically and internationally.

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Public records from ​San Bernardino Unified School District
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Public records from ​San Bernardino Unified School District

As part of this course, students are required to participate in a “work-based” internship at Amazon or another logistics company in the area. 

In another course description for an Amazon pathways course called “Global Logistics and Concepts,” students learn about global supply chains. One unit focuses on Amazon and “its impact on the e-commerce and logistics industries. “Students will be guided through a brief history of the evolution and vision of the company,” the unit description says. “Students will analyze and comprehend the footprint that Amazon has caused, and be motivated to participate in this exciting and growing field of e-commerce and logistics.” 

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Public records from ​San Bernardino Unified School District

According to Borsuk, 96 students are currently enrolled in the pathway, 64 of whom are in 10th grade (the rest are 11th and 12th graders). Students can earn credit at CSUSB or Chaffey College. The school system doesn’t collect data on how many students end up going to work for Amazon or in the logistics industry.


In San Bernardino and its surroundings, a sprawling region east of Los Angeles, Amazon’s presence is everywhere. Amazon-branded trucks and vans clog local streets. Amazon job opportunities are seemingly limitless. Students at Cal State San Bernardino often pick up shifts at Amazon to put themselves through college. Since 2012, Amazon has opened 14 Amazon fulfillment centers and two air hubs in San Bernardino County and its neighboring Riverside County, together known as the Inland Empire, making Amazon the largest employer in the region. Amazon employs more than 40,000 people in the Inland Empire, roughly double what it did two years ago. These pickers, packers, and stowers fulfill the orders for customers across southern California. 

Experts say that nowhere in the country has Amazon’s rapid growth been more visible in recent years than in the Inland Empire, but that expansion has not come without local resistance to the company’s traffic congestion, air pollution, and the low-wage, non-union jobs that have proliferated across counties. In 2019, a group of concerned residents called the San Bernardino Airport Communities formed, raising legal challenges to the construction of an Amazon logistics airhub. They shut down traffic to a warehouse and occupied the air hub’s developers office in San Bernardino, demanding Amazon adhere to a community benefits agreement outlined by local residents that guaranteed certain wages for workers and regulations on air and noise pollution. Amazon did not respond to their requests. In early 2020, a group called Inland Empire Amazonians Unite circulated a petition when a worker tested positive for COVID-19 at a delivery station in Eastvale, California, demanding the facility be shut down for two weeks and free worker testing for the virus. Hundreds of workers signed.

Amazon’s expansion in the Inland Empire has disproportionately impacted communities of color; roughly 80 percent of the region’s residents are Black or Latinx. According to a 2019 report by the Economic Roundtable, an economic research group, 62 percent of Amazon employees in the greater Los Angeles region rely on some sort of government assistance.

Although the curriculum for these Amazon pathway courses at Cajon High are fairly typical for business classes, says Nilsson, what is less typical is having high school students taught them in a setting surrounded by company propaganda.“They’re [the students] surrounded by these messages that are even above the subliminal level. You know, you walk into a classroom and you’re surrounded by Amazon’s leadership principles,” he said, referring to the quotes on the walls. Nilsson said that even though the curriculum itself may be relatively standard, it is “concerning” that students are learning them in a context where, implicitly or not, they are being told that learning was made possible by a corporation with pro-business and anti-labor practices.

“It saddens me that schools are in this situation, that they quite willingly would take this money. And then in the case of this particular classroom, make it into a shrine to Amazon.”

Across the United States, Amazon has aggressively sought to disrupt and hamper unionization efforts led by its employees. In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board threw out the results of a union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama after finding that Amazon’s installation of a USPS mailbox outside its warehouse created the impression that workers were being surveilled as they voted. Over the past twelve months, in New York City and Bessemer, Amazon has brought in anti-union consultants paid thousands of dollars a day to persuade workers against unionization. The company has sent out anti-union text messages and circulated other anti-union messaging throughout its warehouses. The company has repeatedly been found illegally firing warehouse workers who organize to improve their working conditions. 

“The whole point of a business course is to get students to internalize the agenda of businesses,” Nilsson said, “And that’s a large part of what’s going on here.”

The pathway program at Cajon High School isn’t the only example of an Amazon partnership with high schools and other youth organizations designed to prepare its future workforce.  With the program Amazon Future Engineers, Amazon has partnered with high schools and middle schools around the United States to prepare students for careers in STEM. The benefits of this program include free tours of Amazon fulfillment centers, classroom chats with Amazon professionals, and eligibility for a $30,000 a year teaching award. In January, Amazon also announced a partnership with the Girl Scouts of America to bring underrepresented groups into STEM by giving Girl Scout and Brownie troops guided tours of Amazon fulfillment centers in 20 cities. 

Do you have a tip to share with us about Amazon and its partnership with schools? Have you taken a class that was part of an Amazon-sponsored program? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with the reporter Aaron Gordon at aaron.gordon@vice.com or the reporter Lauren Gurley at lauren.gurley@vice.com or securely on Signal 201-897-2109.

Amazon did not respond questions about what role it played in designing the program at Cajon High and whether the company has partnerships or plans for partnerships with other high schools intended to prepare students for work in the logistics industry. 

“The pathway was named after Amazon in thanks for the company’s generous donation and Amazon was brought on as an industry expert, something that all Linked Learning pathways are expected to have,” Borsuk wrote in response to a question about Amazon’s role in the program. She said the school district played the “primary role” in developing the program. The Sun article announcing the start of the program in 2019 features a photo of Cajon principal Teenya Bishop. She is wearing an Amazon-branded polo. 

“It saddens me that schools are in this situation, that they quite willingly would take this money,” Nilsson said. “And then in the case of this particular classroom, make it into a shrine to Amazon.”

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