Elon Musk is quietly running a small school inside SpaceX
Not known to many, Elon Musk runs a small school in the corner of his SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Called Ad Astra, the school was developed in 2014, when Musk pulled out his five sons out of LA's prestigious private schools, Ars Technica reports. He founded Ad Astra to "exceed traditional school metrics on all relevant subject matter through unique project-based learning experiences."
Ad Astra does not hand out formal grades to students
The school lays a "heavy emphasis" on math, science, engineering, and ethics and does not teach sports, music or languages. The school encourages discussions on AI, corporations, and geopolitics. Kids tackle projects on environmental policy, space exploration, robots, and nuclear politics, among other things. At Ad Astra, students can opt out of the subjects they don't enjoy.
A glimpse of the kind of education Ad Astra provides
In a module called Geneva, teams debate on various ethical and geopolitical problems. Another module, called A-Frame, requires students to fabricate stuff like weather balloons and battling robots. In the Ted Talk-style Symposium module, students present and defend a project before an audience of adults.
Ad Astra students trade using their own currency
Students use a unit of currency called the Astra. Principal Joshua Dahn said, "With the skills they're learning, we give them the ability to make money or to impress a friend. One of the kids makes their own gourmet cookies [that] you can order online. Another kid creates websites for his classmates. Kids are trading Astras all the time."
Each student is given a MacBook. The school also provides children with food trucks for lunch breaks and after-class sessions. Musk not only pays for all of this but also for everything else including tuition. He reportedly gave Ad Astra $475,000 in 2014 and 2015.
The school has children aged between 7 and 14
Today, the non-profit school has 31 students, including Musk's kids, the children of some SpaceX employees and a few other LA kids. In 2017, 400 families tried to secure a spot for their children in the school, but Ad Astra will probably never take more than 50 students. However, Dahn promised that the school's curriculum will be open-sourced for everyone who applied for admission.
Is the school merely a high-tech crèche for already-privileged children?
With the kind of curriculum that is enforced, Musk aims at developing only type-A tech personalities like him. It's important to learn arts along with science. Further, as Musk's sons near graduation, will he lose interest in the project? As Diane Ravitch from NYU said, if Musk doesn't use his ideas around education to improve public schools, Ad Astra is just "rich man's toy."