Elon Musk is, without doubt, an extraordinary person. Born in South Africa, Musk made his fortune with PayPal, eventually selling out to form a veritable galaxy of companies and technologies. These include electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer Tesla, private space company Space-X, the remarkable HyperLoop technology that promises to revolutionize high speed ground transport, and cutting-edge solar power manufacturer SolarCity. He even created a “Boring Company” (yes that’s really its name) designed to dig massive underground tunnels beneath cities like Los Angeles in order to reduce traffic congestion. He’s among the wealthiest people on earth, with an estimated net worth of $15.2 billion. Among his initiatives, however, is a particularly tantalizing effort: he built a school.
Elon Musk is a dad with five sons: a pair of twins born in 2004, and a set of triplets born in 2006. By all accounts Musk is a devoted, involved dad, and when they began attending school in early 2010 Musk was dissatisfied with the education they were receiving. This isn’t about private versus public school but rather the education models used by pretty much all schools in America. Well, Musk didn’t like it and so, as an entrepreneurial tinker, he started his own school, originally for the children of Space-X employees called, appropriately enough, Ad Astra (to the stars).
Ad Astra has one philosophy at its core: student-centered learning. This is an unorthodox approach that, in the case of Ad Astra, employs individualized courses of study that allows students to pursue their interests and passions in addition to required material. According to Musk, the goal is to have education adjust to the unique characteristics of each student, rejecting what Musk calls the “mass production” approach of current schooling that requires young people to adjust to fit the system.
“Some people love English or languages. Some people love math. Some people love music. Different abilities, different times,” Musk says. “It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities.”
The school does not have grades, with all students learning together and helping one another when needed, and whenever possible the goal is to emphasize hands-on learning. According to Musk, the goal is to empower students to follow their passions while encouraging each student to focus on problem-solving.
The latest reports have indicated that Ad Astra is still a very small endeavor, with only around two dozen students enrolled. And is it working? Musk himself insists it does indeed work — almost to a fault. He says his sons now prefer school over holidays, and get fidgety when they’ve been away from school too long.