This is a guest post from YesMyKidsAreSocialized. Her name is Elizabeth and she is a parent to three girls that are being unschooled. They reside in the Los Angeles, CA area. This is a picture of her daughter.
My husband works at SpaceX, so I have known about this school for a while, but all my husband would tell me was that there was a school called Ad Astra that was going to be for the children of SpaceX employees. My interest and curiosity had been piqued.
I wondered “What is this school he created for his kids? Is he homeschooling them? Where is it located?” Since my husband was a dead end, I, in typical INTJ form (read: obsessive), became a detective searching for clues to solve a mystery. I found out all the gossipy details through several reliable SpaceX sources and, through my interactions within the private school community in Los Angeles got more information about why the school was formed in the first place.
It is very tough to get into an elite private school here in Los Angeles. I’m sure it is even more difficult to get accepted to a private school in NYC, but it is still hard enough here that not everyone gets into their school of choice, regardless of how much money one is willing to throw at the school.
With only a set amount of slots available for each grade every year, unless you are a celebrity like Beyoncé who can get her kid into an exclusive preschool midyear, most parents of school-aged children find themselves on a waiting list. Then they must find a backup school for their child to attend while they wait to get a spot in their first choice school.
So why did this billionaire make a different choice for his children?
Elon had his boys enrolled at Mirman School which is a private school in Los Angeles. Not only is it difficult to get a spot in this particular school, but a prospective student must also have an IQ of 145+ as documented via psychological testing to even apply there. After wading through its rigorous admissions process and giving school a chance, he came to the same conclusion that many of us who are unschooling did. School is no longer appropriate.
It is a strange feeling for a parent to realize that they have a divergent child on their hands, and they can’t really grasp it until after sending their “special snowflake” off to school with the masses, blindly following social convention without any further thought or examination as to why this is. Once you discover that the burden of someone else’s schedule and agenda makes other areas of life difficult to work around, how standards-based education conflicts with your own view of what learning is, or your children start to despise school, then it can be a hard reality shock when you realize that something needs to change.
I’m sure it didn’t take long for Elon and his children’s mother, Justine Musk whom I love to follow on Twitter, to collectively make the decision to pull their kids from this highly regarded private school and try something else. So he withdrew his kids and kept them with him at work while he tried to find an alternative for them.
Having his kids with him for the majority of the day and observing that they could learn in a self-directed manner allowed him to determine that with the way schools are currently designed, no school could accommodate his children.
So how does a billionaire, eccentric, formerly bullied, and possibly-on-the-spectrum parent unschool?
First, by bringing his kids to work and letting them engage in self-directed learning in a SpaceX conference room, then recruiting a teacher away from his kids’ former school, purchasing a facility steps away from his mansion, and throwing buckets of money at the teacher.
Next, by selectively inviting some children of SpaceX employees and a few of his kids’ friends who are in an age range close to his own kids who can contribute to the small classroom/homeschool feel, and letting loose with all sorts of hands-on projects and experiments.
Finally by naming it Ad Astra, meaning “To the Stars”. No grade levels exist at this school, and everyone learns based on their aptitude and ability versus a one-size-fits-all assembly line model, like one would find in traditional schools.
As much as I respect the older progressive models of education like Waldorf, with proponents such as Alfie Kohn and many Google Executives loving to sing Waldorf’s praises, I hope to see more parents either begin unschooling or taking Elon’s approach through some sort of collaborative unschool-lite effort.
A Waldorf philosophy has its limitations. While vastly better than a traditional education, the benefits of restricting media and technology seem tenuous in the Digital Age. To use Elon’s example, if his kids want to learn about engines, an engine is acquired and brought to their school and they start to deconstruct it while learning how to use the appropriate tools along the way. It is hands-on, visual, tactile learning that one can use in their unschooling home.
I’m sure most of us do not have millions of dollars to throw at people to engage our children, but we can still find a way to give our kids the same or similar experiences. Unschooling offers the advantages of the older progressive style of education and, when infused with technology and a healthy self-directed approach, can create an optimal learning environment.
Unschooling is not just for the wealthy. Anyone who has a child with an innate and intrinsic motivation to learn, is an autodidact, is self-directed, or has the desire to explore, discover, and develop their passions can unschool.
You don’t need to steal teachers with PhDs from exclusive schools, give them a blank check, and then say “Here you go!”. Most areas have many places to explore, discover, and learn from such as museums, theaters, amusement parks, athletic events, the beach, the mountains, farms, and zoos. Even the good old-fashioned library can be your friend.
Do you have a child that desires to take apart an engine? Go down to your local pick-and-pull and get an engine, put it the garage or other covered area and let them figure it out. Does your child have a question that you cannot help with? Have them go to YouTube and search for videos on engines, or find a local resource who can spend some time with them while engaging them in the process. Discovery and curiosity can lead to mastery. Engage your child on their level and give them opportunities to succeed as well as to fail.
Which scenario sounds optimal? Sitting in a classroom learning about facts in a passive, recipient manner day after day to later be tested and graded on, or freely developing one’s curiosity and experiencing learning in a way that is both meaningful and relevant to the individual? Which is more significant for living in the Digital Age?
Schools cannot change quickly enough to accommodate the learning needs of each and every child. At best, schools will teach reading, spelling, and math, but the writing is on the wall for its future. Robots and automation are slowly taking over everything, including most jobs, and one must be relentless in the pursuit of knowledge and learning to stay even remotely relevant in the Digital Age.