Elon Musk wants to change the face of education. And he's putting his money where his mind is with Ad Astra.
Elon Musk pulled his children out of an established school after discovering they weren't receiving the quality of education catered to their abilities. So how does an entrepreneurial billionaire effect change? By building his own school. Even hiring one of his kids’ former instructors to help start the small academy of mostly SpaceX employee parents.
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Known as Ad Astra, or Latin for "to the stars", the small school only had 14 students for the 2014-2015 academic year, but enrollment is expected to grow to 20 in the fall. Business Insider reports the father wants to eliminate grades and focus on the important elements of each subject and course. There's no "assembly line" for kids to fall in line.
By integrating the thinking process to include a progressive step-by-step approach at once, children will be challenged and able to understand result through a systemic pattern.
Talking about the school on Beijing Television with Yang Lan, Musk broke down what doesn't work in the American education complex. "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."
Children lose inspiration by eliminating curiosity and putting everything into a chore. "It's important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools." He uses the motor example in a more functional, linear solution.
"How are we going to take it apart? You need a screwdriver." When you show "what the screwdriver is for," he explains "a very important thing happens" because students then witness the relevancy of task, tool, and solution in a long term application. It doesn’t matter if the tool is a screwdriver or red ink pen.
Musk’s approach to delete grade level numbers and focus on aptitude may take the pressure off non-linear students and creates a more balanced assessment of ingenuity. The current United States focus on catching up to other world leader levels of STEM (science, technology, engineer, and math) may be a hindrance for someone who prefers to read or learns through visual mediums instead of texts.
Something he understands as a nerd and a father equally.
Admitting books were "comforting" as a child and to reading everything from science fiction to the encyclopedia and philosophers from “morning to night," it's easy to see why he was so enthusiastic in building Ad Astra. Claiming the children "really love going to school," he also points out that not everyone will be strong in every subject, or be able to retain regurgitated standardized aptitude facts beyond the test.
"It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities." And the line of thinking isn’t entirely new, but is somewhat controversial.
Stating that his five boys "think vacations are too long" implies a school were education still magic and wonder. As children are forced to endure more and more standardized testing to pass limited education goals, parents and educators begin to wonder if the system adds up to success.
PBS’s Frontline provides a parental primer on what to expect within the realm of testing and who says what. Not everything is relevant to the College Board, which produces the SAT—a test many feel has little to do with actual high school education.
The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) charts American student progress through overall trends and statistics. The lack of partisan data means that many scholars and policymakers find the data to be helpful. But the testing does not particularly fit students who think outside the box or who problem solve in a non-linear fashion. In that case, the lack of distraction in Ad Astra would offer a chance to excel through experience.
Some parents debate private school yields higher academic knowledge. Yet a 2006 NAEP study proves the results were not “significantly different” in Grade 4 reading levels and comprehension. The only time the data outlined a possibility of uneven retention was when the data was not adjusted to co-variates. However, in mathematics, the biggest discrepancy occurred when the seemingly higher ranked private education fell below public education.
The general assessment bears out that private school educational rankings do not vary enough to support public opinion. The only major difference is private schools offer a better chance at networking, especially in small, elite schools like Ad Astra where teachers are able to focus on individual students.
Interestingly, private enrollment fell 3 percent between 1985 and 2013. But it is impossible to compare modern educational framework, goals, and accomplishments due to new guidelines enacted in 2009.
While many parents debate if private or public schools are the best place for their children, Elon Musk decided to reinvent not just the education system but the academic stakes as well.
Promoting a deeper look into creative but practical solutions means that SpaceX parents may find their children not just reading about some amazing engine in a decade, but inventing the product and knowing how to instinctively follow patterns because Elon Musk believed in their potential.
"In physics, you're always taught to question yourself. To assume you're not right." Let's hope Musk is wrong since there's more than one way to ride a shuttle to the stars.
Watch Elon Musk talk about his school Ad Astra in the interview below.
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