In 2014, Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, pulled his five children out of a prestigious school for gifted children and started his own secretive new school.
Details about the school are extremely limited. It’s called Ad Astra, Latin for “to the stars,” and it’s in southern California. But with no known website or application process, the school is a mystery to parents who’d love to enroll their children.
“I heard about it through a friend of a friend, actually from several friends of mine, who would love for her kids to go to the school,” Christina Simon, the author of a book and a blog about the Los Angeles private school scene, told Quartz. “And then another friend said she wanted her kids to go there; I got probably 20 or so reader e-mails, they want their kids to go – ‘How can I get an application?’ – and I don’t have the answers.”
Here’s what we managed to find out about the secretive school created by Musk and his approach to education.
Elon Musk’s secretive new school and how he is educating his children
In 2015 Musk gave an interview to Beijing Television, speaking publicly about the school for the first time. The interview was published on YouTube but has since been removed. He hasn’t spoken publicly about the school since then.
In the interview, Musk reportedly explained that “there aren’t any grades.” Instead of treating school like an assembly line “it makes much more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities.”
Musk, a father of five, said that he started the school for his own children, and they have since been joined by a small group of other students. According to Quartz, enrolment was at 14 pupils in 2015.
According to Business Insider, Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, toured the school and was approving of its ethos.
“One element that is persistent in that small school of 31 kids is the conversation about ethics and morals, a conversation manifested by debating real-world scenarios that our kids may one day face.”
“Here’s an example of the sort of gameplay/roleplay that I heard about at Ad Astra, that might be implemented in a module on morals and ethics. Imagine a small town on a lake, in which the majority of the town is employed by a single factory. But that factory has been polluting the lake and killing all the life. What do you do? It’s posed that shutting down the factory would mean that everyone loses their jobs. On the other hand, keeping the factory open means the lake is destroyed and the lake dies. This kind of regular and routine conversation/gameplay allows the children to see the world in a critically important fashion.”
Elon Musk’s education philosophy and what he thinks is wrong with the US education system
Musk has been quite public about what he sees as wrong with the education system in the US, which provides important context to some of the ideals behind the formation of Ad Astra.
“There are definitely some good schools out there,” Musk said during his keynote presentation at last year’s annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference. However, he says, “teachers do not explain why kids are being taught a subject.”
“The why of things is extremely important because our brain has evolved to discard information that it thinks has no relevance.”
According to Musk, there are two main issues. These are that students are being asked to memorize information or learn formulas without explaining why that’s important.
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For example, consider math. “Why are you learning math? What’s the point of this,” Musk says. “I don’t know why am I being asked to do these strange problems.”
In the interview for Chinese television, Musk described a school without the traditional grade structure of American primary education. It has the goal of introducing problem-solving methods to teach critical thinking.
He reportedly explained that if you want to teach students how engines work, you wouldn’t want to first teach them about wrenches and screwdrivers. Instead, you would want to show them an engine and ask them to take it apart. “Then a very important thing happens, which is that the relevance of the tools becomes apparent,” he says in the interview.