When controversial technology entrepreneur, Elon Musk, doesn’t like something, he’ll create his own, better version. The billionaire, 44, thinks that everything can, and should, be improved. Musk has set out to improve his children’s education by starting a radical school, with no grade structure, for just 20 pupils.
The school is named Ad Astra, which is Latin for “to the stars,” and it is in a mansion that be bought several years ago in southern California. “It has all these funny nooks and crannies and cute cupboards,” Musk said in a recent interview with Vogue. “It also feels quite like a little schoolhouse on the prairie – except in Bel-Air on a golf course.”
The school is shrouded in secrecy. Ad Astra has no known social media accounts, websites or an application process.
In an April interview with Beijing TV, Musk explained that his school has done away with the traditional grade structure of American primary education. “They weren’t doing the things I thought should be done,” Musk said during the interview. “I thought, well, let’s see what we can do. Maybe creating a school would be better.”
Musk has five boys with his former wife Justine; a set of twins, Griffin and Xavier who are nine, a set of triplets, Damian, Saxon, and Kai aged seven, conceived using IVF.
He seems to take inspiration from the Waldorfian style of education. Waldorf education is based on the educational philosophy of Rudolph Steiner and emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of pupils. It places a strong emphasis on hands-on activities and creative play. He told Vogue that he is about about to take his children camping for the weekend, despite not enjoying the activity himself. “I do it because I think they should have occasional arduous things,” he said. “They have to cook and clean up: camping things.”
With Ad Astra, which has three teachers, his goal is to cater to the particular set of skills that each student possesses, rather than force them to follow an arbitary schedule. “It’s important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools,” Musk said. “Let’s say you’re trying to teach people about how engines work. A more traditional approach would be saying, ‘We’re going to teach all about screwdrivers and wrenches.’ This is a very difficult way to do it. A much better way would be, like, ‘Here’s the engine. Now let’s take it apart. How are we gonna take it apart? Oh you need a screwdriver.”
Since Musk opened the school, 15 other pupils have joined his five boys, and the school may grow larger in the future. Most of the other pupils are believed to be children of selected Space X employees, which is hoping to establish a human colony on Mars someday.
Musk took his children out of Los Angeles’ Mirman School, along with one of its teachers. On its website, it describes itself as “one of the few schools in the nation, and the only school in Los Angeles, that serves highly gifted children.” The Mirman School even requires that children pass an IQ test prior to admission.
Musk wisely stated, “Some people love English or languages. Some people love math. Some people love music. Different abilities, different times. It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities.”
Musk was also bullied severely as a child while attending school in South Africa. In one incident, his classmates pushed him down a concrete stairwell. Musk recounts the experience, “They got my best f******* friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that f******* hurt. For some reason they decided that I was it, and they were going to go after me nonstop. That’s what made growing up difficult. For a number of years there was no respite. You get chased around by gangs at school who tried to beat the [expletive] out of me, and then I’d come home, and it would just be awful there as well.”
Fortunately, as far as his own children’s experience at school, so far, Ad Astra “seems to be going pretty well,” according to Musk. “The kids really love going to school.”