Inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk explained in a recent interview that he built an alternative school for his children and went on to describe the process of “unschooling” that his children are involved with. Musk is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors and chairman of SolarCity. He is also the founder of SpaceX and a co-founder of PayPal.
Musk has revealed in the past that his own experience in public school was horrible, riddled with both bullying and lessons that were neither valuable nor interesting. Instead of forcing his children to endure a similar experience Musk has built them a school without grades and that takes a radically different “unschooling” type approach to learning.
“I didn’t see the regular schools doing the things I thought should be done,” Musk said.
Unschooling is an educational method and philosophy that advocates learner-chosen activities as a primary means for learning. Unschooling students learn through their natural life experiences including play, household responsibilities, personal interests and curiosity, internships and work experience, travel, books, elective classes, family, mentors, and social interaction. Unschooling encourages exploration of activities initiated by the children themselves, believing that the most personal learning is, the more meaningful, well-understood and, therefore, useful it is to the child. While courses may occasionally be taken, unschooling questions the usefulness of standard curricula, conventional grading methods, and other features of traditional schooling in the education of each unique child.
The term “unschooling” was coined in the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, widely regarded as the “father” of unschooling. While often considered a subset of homeschooling, unschoolers may be as philosophically separate from other homeschoolers as they are from advocates of conventional schooling. While homeschooling has been subject to widespread public debate, little media attention has been given to unschooling in particular. Critics of unschooling see it as an extreme educational philosophy, with concerns that unschooled children will lack the social skills, structure, and motivation of their schooled peers, while proponents of unschooling say exactly the opposite is true: self-directed education in a natural environment better equips a child to handle the “real world.”
In the interview, Musk’s description of his school seemed to match up perfect with this philosophy.
“Some people love English or languages. Some people love math. Some people love music. Different abilities, different times. It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities,” he said.
He went on to explain how hands-on experience is more important than making children memorize and regurgitate answers to questions.
“It’s important to teach problem-solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools. 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,” he said.
Musk then explained that it is better to actually let them take apart an engine, in real life, and figure it out for themselves.
“How are we going to take it apart? You need a screwdriver. That’s what the screwdriver is for. And then a very important thing happens: The relevance of the tools becomes apparent,” he said.
If one of the most brilliant inventors and entrepreneurs in the world doesn’t trust his children’s brains in the hands of the government, maybe you should reconsider you choices if you currently have children in public school.
John Vibes writes for True Activist and is an author, researcher and investigative journalist who takes a special interest in the counter culture and the drug war.
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