Elon Musk's secret school: like Hogwarts for coders

Ideas

Elon Musk's secret school: like Hogwarts for coders

The SpaceX visionary's private institution for geniuses has a very unconventional approach to learning

Matthew Field

Elon Musk, the billionaire Tesla founder, invests in cars, rockets and tunnels and even hopes to colonise Mars, but he has one venture that he has kept secret at his SpaceX campus.
He has founded a school called Ad Astra, at his offices in Hawthorne, California, dedicated to child geniuses.
Unlike other schools in the US, its loose curriculum focuses on projects that most fascinate the entrepreneur, from artificial intelligence and machine ethics to robotics and coding. In a move that might horrify some parents, there is no room for foreign languages or sport.Musk founded the experimental school three years ago to “exceed traditional school metrics on all relevant subject matter through unique project-based learning experiences”, according to a regulatory filing document discovered by the tech website Ars Technica.
While he is normally happy to publicise his ventures, Ad Astra has been kept secret as a mostly private venture. It educates children between seven and 14 years old and started with a class of eight, including Musk’s own children. It has since grown to about 40 pupils made up of gifted applicants and the children of SpaceX employees.  
According to the filing, the school is funded entirely by Musk.
The document reveals that the school emphasises “ability over age” for group projects, with study of science, maths, engineering and ethics. It adds that the school will develop “remarkable people imbued with a strong sense of justice”. It can cater for up to 50 pupils.
There is little else to even prove that the school exists. A website for Ad Astra has just a home page and one link, for children’s parents.
In a rare interview last year, Joshua Dahn, the head teacher, revealed a few insights. According to him, the school day is from 8.30am to 3.30pm, although it is intensive with “no down time”. Classes focus on projects rather than disciplines. Pupils learn to code in multiple software languages. No spoken languages are taught, based on Musk’s belief that computers will soon help humans instantly communicate in any language.
Sport is not on the timetable.Children from seven to 14 work together. “We take the most precocious kid we can find who can keep up with kids who are a bit older,” said Dahn, who described one problem-solving exercise, called “The Lake”, which involves pupils discussing a town with a factory that is polluting the local water and killing wildlife. The factory employs everyone in town, and voters keep in power the politicians who favour the factory.
Pupils are asked: Who is most to blame for the pollution – the voters, the politicians or the factory owners? There are no grades awarded; children are simply given critical and honest feedback.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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