Elon Musk didn’t like his kids’ school, so he started his own, the inventor and entrepreneur said in an interview on Beijing Television.
The school is called Ad Astra — which means “To the stars” — and is small and relatively secretive. It doesn’t have its own website or a social media presence.
Christina Simon, who writes about private elementary schools in Los Angeles, has done some digging around Ad Astra.
She says she’s been in contact with a mother whose child attends Musk’s school. The mother told Simon that the relatively new Ad Astra School is “very small and experimental,” and caters to a small group of children whose parents are primarily SpaceX employees.
Musk says in the interview that Ad Astra, which is a year old, currently has 14 kids, and will increase to 20 in September. His grand vision for the school involves removing grade levels, so there’s no distinction between students in 1st grade and 3rd. Musk is “making all the children go through the same grade at the same time, like an assembly line,” he says in the interview.
“Some people love English or languages. Some people love maths. Some people love music. Different abilities, different times,” he says. “It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities.”
Musk pulled his kids out of their school and even hired one of their teachers away to start Ad Astra. “I didn’t see the regular schools doing the things I thought should be done,” he says.
Musk sees a fundamental flaw in how schools teach problem solving. “It’s important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools,” Musk says. “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.”
Instead, Musk says it makes more sense to give students an engine and then work to disassemble it. “How are we going to take it apart? You need a screwdriver. That’s what the screwdriver is for,” Musk explains. “And then a very important thing happens: the relevance of the tools becomes apparent.”
So far, Ad Astra “seems to be going pretty well,” according to Musk. “The kids really love going to school.”
“I hated going to school when I was a kid,” Musk told his interviewer. “It was torture.”
When Musk was a child living in Pretoria, South Africa, he was viciously bullied as a student. His classmates pushed him down a concrete stairwell. In one instance, he was beaten so badly that he needed to go to the hospital.
“They got my best [expletive] friend to lure me out of hiding so they could beat me up. And that [expletive] 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.”
His difficult experiences both at home — where he had a strained relationship with his father — and school would eventually lead Musk to leave South Africa for the United States.
You can watch Musk’s full video interview below.