Ad Astra: Why Elon Musk built a school for his kids: You also won’t find rocket engineers or adults in a corner of SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California. For several years, Elon Musk ran a school out of his rocket factory to educate five of his children—not including boy number six, Baby X.
He was enrolled in a private school for gifted children in Los Angeles, but Musk was not satisfied with his education as he once told a Chinese television network: “Regular school buses weren’t doing the things I thought That should be done.“
Musk has been critical of the American education system – stating that teachers do not explain why children are taught a subject. They are taught a mathematical formula without explaining why that formula is important.
As an analogy, they say that listing the tools needed to take an engine apart is not the same as trying to take an engine apart and by doing so, learn the relevance of the equipment as you go.
When he’s not happy with the way he does things, the entrepreneur tends to do something about it—whether it’s building rockets, cars, computer chips, or his own school. He named it Ad Astra which in Latin means: for the stars.
He actually hired a teacher from the school he was in who also agreed with him that there was a better way to do it. That teacher is Josh Dahn.
Ad Astra was far from a normal school with no classes in language, music, sports, or even grade level. The students were grouped on the basis of their ability where they participated in complex team sports to test their critical thinking skills.
In one simulation, teams compete in various art auctions to try to assemble the best collections to display in exhibitions around the world, as these students are doing.
Ad Astra has a lot to offer to adults between the ages of eight and 14 when left alone. Musk re-imagined how a school could be taught based on first principles logic. A fancy way of saying: How can you think about how to make something better?
A strategy was applied to the manufacture of Tesla’s batteries. Making batteries for electric cars used to be very expensive. You can say that is the only way and there is no way to reduce the price.
First-principles thinking would say that it is possible to make a cheap battery by breaking the basics: figuring out what a battery is made of and how those materials can be cleverly combined to make a battery cell.
In education, First Principles is meant to explore how students can have the best learning experience possible to bring the best future for them and for the world.
Ad Astra grew from nine kids in the first week of 2014 to 50 six years later — a mix of the field’s high achievers alongside the children of SpaceX employees. Sometimes they would go off-campus. A converted garage in Gene Wilder’s former home once served as a chemistry laboratory.
This unconventional approach to education doesn’t come cheap. Tuition was around $30,000 a year with some receiving financial aid. When Ad Astra closed in June 2020, Musk donated money to kickstart an online school called Astra-Nova, headed by Josh Dann.
Though the SpaceX CEO isn’t personally involved, the whole new school has his fingerprints. A former SpaceX engineer teaches rocketry there. And even the application is related to one of Musk’s passions.
Interested students must submit feedback on this environmental problem. What will be your answer? There is a big lake near a small town. A corporation dumps harmful chemicals into the water. Scientists studying the lake say it will die in 10 years if pollution continues.
One man, the Puppet Master, is concerned that the new rules will affect profits, so they decide to pay a small group of scientists to publish bogus research that claims the lake has never been healthy.
The media reports on the new study. Politicians have the power to stop the pollution, but decide not to do so because there appears to be disagreement over the health of the lake. Also, the company employs so many people in the city that its closure will destroy the economy.
Voters listening to the media, politicians, and scientists are confused about what the truth is. They re-elect politicians. The corporation is continuously throwing harmful chemicals into the lake and after 10 years the lake dies. So, who’s to blame?
There is no right or wrong answer, but the school is interested in how children reason through moral dilemmas. It is not about preparing 100 or more admitted students for an Ivy League education.
In fact, Musk went on record to say that degrees don’t matter when Tesla’s artificial intelligence team wants to hire — put it this way: Don’t care if you even graduated high school. Not to mention, many smart people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college.
Musk has said he only wants proof of extraordinary ability, which he hopes can be fostered at a young age. The concepts are available online to kids around the world through a separate venture called Synthesis.
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