Elon Musk admits to “Unschooling” his Children

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“Unschooling” is an educational method advocating learning in a natural environment via self-direction of the student. Around since the 1970s and used by educator John Holt, it is still considered to be a controversial method of schooling for children. While homeschooling has attracted wide-spread debate, what is normally considered a sub-set, unschooling is a more extreme philosophy focusing on equipping the child with real world situations.

Inventor and entrepreneur of SpaceX, PayPal, and Tesla Motors, Elon Musk has set up his own alternative school for his children, describing the process as “unschooling,” after he reveled that traditional schooling was neither valuable nor interesting to him as a child. “I didn’t see the regular schools doing the things I thought should be done,” Musk said.

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Taking on the more radical approach to schooling, Musk’s children will learn through natural life experiences, which present themselves on a daily basis. Household responsibilities, play, work experience, mentoring, books and elective classes that the child is interested in, will most likely be on the agenda. The intent will be to focus the child’s curiosity and exploration of activities initiated by them under the philosophy that if it is more meaningful to the child, it will become more understood, and useful.

There is something to be said about the man who thinks outside the box. Musk speaks about several topics including being a “multi-planet population” or electric cars becoming the norm, as essential occurrences for the necessity of our survival as a race. Self-taught in a lot of fields, Musk states in an interview below that he “learns what he needs to learn to accomplish an objective.” He goes on to say that most people “self-limit [their learning ability]. If you read a lot of books and talk to people you can learn anything.”

A self-professed bookaholic because his family moved around a lot in his childhood, his own self-directed learning is part of the legacy he accepts and acknowledges; that he now passes down to his own family. Down to earth with humble beginnings, Elon Musk reiterates that anything is possible if the person can remove their own limitations. Something he no doubt hopes to pass through to his five sons’ through unschooling.

“It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and their abilities.” It isn’t a production assembly line – treating every child the same. Problem solving is taught, and along with that, the understanding of the tools used to solve those problems is also imparted. He wants his children, and all children, to reach for the stars in an unhindered and open-minded way.

 


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38 COMMENTS

  1. The most influential teacher I experienced was the one that asked what was it that I was interested in. Posited the idea that I could be interested in something for its own sake

  2. The interviewer bothers me. She is constantly trying to put words in his mouth in order to sensationalize the story. I like that he doesn’t play along, though. He says “no,” and gives his own answer when asked stupid things such as “Did you cry? Scream? (talking over his disagreement:) Smash your apartment?” (18:32)
    Such a smart guy!

  3. I unschooled my children from birth to adulthood. The benefits: truly custom education tailored to each child’s specific needs and interests; sharing real-life experiences; family as center of the child’s socialization; flexibility to changing life and family circumstances; fostering the child’s innate desire to learn, rather than reducing it; teaching character and leadership through direct real life experiences that are relevant to the child.

    • Bravo! Allow me to ask though: What jobs do your now grown-up kids have and how did they get them, considering they never got grades, reports or diplomas? I reckon it is pretty hard in our economy to get a good position, if you can’t provide those.

      • If Shay doesn’t answer, I will. I “unschooled” my kids. The one who had the most exposure to the public school system (withdrawn in the fifth grade) is doing poorly. He was placed on drugs such as Ritalin which, coupled with his heart murmur, created significant health problems. The next, withdrawn in the first grade, is now a successful graphic artist (self-taught) and the youngest, who has never attended public school, begins college in the fall. Her major is criminal psychology. She had no issues regarding grades, and placement testing put her at a college level.

        • Please don’t try to make a case study with your 3 children as examples. Their different levels of success could be a result of MANY factors other than their school environment. To suggest that only “unschooled” children will be successful is insulting to every teacher trying to make a positive impact on kids. By the way, it seems that you have “given up” on your eldest child. Might I suggest that the life experiences and learning that child gets from those experiences may be just as valuable as the “unschooling” you seem to take credit for. As a teacher, one of the most valuable things I try to instill in my students is love, kindness, and patience. I am happy that your method of schooling your kids, works for you. Maybe your kids are progressively more successful because you are becoming a better parent.

          • Hang on a minute!
            Someone asked the question, so she answered it!
            No where did she say she was making a case study or suggesting only unschooled children would be successful!
            You don’t know the first thing about her but judge so harshly!
            Foolish!
            Typical crappy attitude from someone who’s comprehension skills are clearly lacking!

        • Thank you! I’m self taught and haven’t been to school very much, yet I have never seen a day unemployed. Never had a boss. Started my first company at 16, I’m now 32 and the owner 2 companies, starting a 3rd one. The formated way in which people think make them wonder how do you get a job after being homeschooled, this exposes the very weakness of conventional education (aka formating). When you’ve been taught in an out-of-the-box fashion, you find out-of-the-box ways (or not) to get things done. It doesn’t get any better than that.

      • Actually…if you do a little bit of research you will find home school teachers can in fact issue transcripts and diplomas. These resources or proof of education are NOT something only an institution can provide. one text book = 1 credit or a certain number of hours of standard reading on any topic = 1 credit. Grades are up to the teacher/parent. Many parents also allow their kids to participate in AP exams, college classes and so much more. ..these days..the sky is the limit! Also many homeschool kids these days work early..gaining a valuable edge with experience in the job market as well as education ahead of their ps peers. Even well known reputable colleges are accepting homeschool graduates now. Happens every day…more and more. A recent study in Canada showed that home school kids (compared against public school kids of the same age and gender) out performed ps kids considerably. ..although I must point out they also included unschool ed kids in that study as well..who didn’t perform as well as ps kids. To unschool, I believe it can work and be wonderful..however. ..it would take a special, incredibly dedicated parent (s) to pull it off.

      • Home-schooled/”unschooled” children can still get into college; there are many programs for this exact use case. I dropped out of public school in grade 9 and never went back due to family issues. I have had a cushy corporate job in online marketing for over 10 years and self-employment for the other 8 years of my working life thus far. Additionally, I was able to get accepted into an MBA program through work experience and GMAT scores alone. There are many fields you cannot work in without college-level education, but again, it is possible to get into college without lower-level schooling (not that I can see why anyone would want to go the undergrad route these days unless specifically seeking higher learning beyond that; what a waste of money!).

  4. well, I think Musk could easily give his kids a far superior educational experience with his “unschooling” methods. But this isn’t true for everyone..most kids don’t have a successful, smart, billionaire father lol.

    • Money plays in part in unschooling. You can do many things on a dime. You just need to be creative. I’m going to assume most people who want to do this method of education for their child would creative in the first place though.

      I very much intend to unschool any offspring I might produce. I’m a college instructor and I can say that our current educational set up is not ideal or practical for anyone really. But I knew that back when I was in school and the system was failing me. Normal school is soul crushing and does not leave room for anyone who has the dream of something outside the box.

      Sad really.

      • Not true. You do not have to be rich, you do need one parent to be a “homebody”. You have to want the best for your child. And if you don’t have the education yourself to effectively “unschool” your children, get help for that. Surely you’d rather your child learned the things they are interested in than a bunch of stupid lists of who the President is, or what year Napoleon Bonaparte died. Let them direct their own learning, and your kids will be much better educated than you were.

        • I am a single mom, I work 30 hours a week as an RN and take online classes to finish my BSN. I am not a “homebody.” My education does not have anything to do with the work my kids, grades 6, 9, and 11, do in homeschool. My three older boys homeschooled until grades 3, 5, and 8, then graduated from the public school. All three are in the military, two Marines and one Army NG. My younger three all started in the public school and I pulled them out at the end of grades, 2, 5, and 7.
          We do not unschool per se, but I get closer and closer every year. Besides math and grammar, I tailor classes to meet the interests of my kids. My 16yo studied hair and all things related last year. My 14yo son has worked 20-30 hours a week at a dairy farm for a year now. He has learned about hard work, personal money skills, and costs associated with life. He paid cash for a truck one week after he turned 14. He pays for all costs associated with the truck, including insurance, registration, tabs, gas, repairs, and extras, like a radio, tonneau cover, and a back up camera. His science classes this year are bovine anatomy (Friendly Anatomy)and Auto Upkeep. He is very much on target to graduate early. My 11yo daughter loves horses and everything about them. In the past we have volunteered at a horse rescue and now we own a horse that we board. We have signed up for online horsemanship training with Carson James. We have all hours of the day to explore my kids’ interests and prepare them for real life. A parent does NOT need a college education or even a high school education to homeschool, they just need to be committed to their children.

    • But everybody could have a unconditional, universal basic income, which provides the security to unschool children… and parents. Being free from wage labor, one has to find a purpose in life and feed selfactualization.

  5. My kids (now 30, 28, and 25) were all unschooled. Later, they went to college and grad school and each is pursuing a career path that they love. It is a joyful and life-enhancing way to raise a family. Elon Musk didn’t invent it, but I’m not surprised he’s adopted it.

    He should get in contact with other unschooling families – we unschoolers hold fabulous family events all over the United States and around the world.

    • Hey Pam – do you have info on the world wide events? I have a two year old and 5 month old and would love to learn more about unschooling. What I know of it, I do plan to adopt when warranted.

  6. He is such a gracious man. This interviewer rubs me the wrong way and for her to think that it is “weird” to enjoy learning (her response to Elon’s comment about his kids thinking vacations are too long and they can’t wait to get back to the school he’s designed) is a perfect example of how much she has left to learn in life. We are all capable of life long learning and I am very grateful to have been introduced to unschooling principles when my son was a newborn. He’s sixteen now, we are not billionaires, and you don’t have to be to unschool. California has an amazing library system in case anyone reading didn’t realize it’s a free resource. Self motivation is required because the library will not spoon feed you in the same way the public school system does, but the freedom to individualize your child/teens education is a reality worth pursuing.

  7. The essential ingredients for successfully unschooling is parental interest and creativity. Parents like me who are unschooling their children are curating a buffet of experiences and knowledge, from which the individual child can choose that which is most appealing. It promotes early specialisation (say, in computers, or art, or writing) as well as well-rounded young adults who understand how money works, how to maintain a house and often, how to run a business.
    The most difficult part about unschooling is releasing ourselves from a mindset which insists we must be taught certain things, at certain times, and in certain ways in order to be educated. But the truth is that the most well-educated person is one who can voluntarily and eagerly pursue knowledge when it is relevant, something unschooled childre have the freedom to develop.

    • I absolutely agree. This is how things were done until very recently. Children learned at their parents’ sides since the beginning of time. School is a very recent concept for the majority of humanity and as someone else said here, it is more about teaching compliance to the masses. There is no specialization or teaching to one’s gifts. My own experience with the public school system was horrifying and it has taken me decades to overcome it and find my way.

  8. At rank and file levels, the purpose of formal schooling has little to do with expanding the mind but a great deal to do with establishing life-long compliance. As an elderly person with very average mental abilities, I am constantly surprised that today’s adults are not offended when mainstream media addresses them in the patronizing tones that they once reserved for infant’s programs such as ‘Listen with Mother’.
    It could be that the natural intelligence and spontaneous curiosity of children is being deliberately stunted to the point where even I, threatened no doubt by approaching dementia, am frequently made to feel like a bloody intellectual

  9. Admits? As if this were some sort of crime? How about “talks about” or “discusses” or even “describes” . . . but “admits”? Come on.

    • that is not a very intelligent remark, Mr. Ellis. The whole point of what he is doing is ‘preparing his kids for life’ in the absolute best way possible. You are going back to the brainwashing that money will buy the kids’ future.

  10. Its a masterpieces and unschooling will raise very soon, I really appreciate what Elon Said. We covered few facts about next generation of education here http://goo.gl/nYWHVm where we want to use word LEARNING instead of EDUCATION

  11. Say what? Unschooling has been around for years and years. About 1970 it acquired this name…and it is controversial still? Gimme me a break.

    My son was unschooled. He was reading Roald Dahl books at age six. He is now working on a B.S. in Computer Science and also is an accomplished musician on violin/viola . (As a private school in California, I issued his diploma and created his transcript.)

  12. I love this idea! I have an amazing 15yr old son, who hated traditional school. I could see his angst and from middle school forward I enrolled him in an Expeditionary Learning school. Still on the traditional side, but they camp, they go on field trips (as in out of state field trips), every lesson is broken down to groups of kids working together, instead of sitting and listening to the Charlie Brown teacher talk at them. They visited Birmingham, AL for their Civil Rights study and spoke to actual individuals who experienced the Civil Rights movement and events. Traditional school is for some kids, but not all. The more flavor you can pour into a child’s cup, the better his/her brew will be.

  13. I took my son out of school when he was in Grade 10 as the system just did not work for him. Today he has published his first book at 20, hoping to get his 2nd book published next year. He is knowledgeable about many things that no school could teach him.

  14. I think this is an awesome idea, if I had had plenty of financial stability, I would have done the same for my kid. How much do we really remember from our mandatory classes, and how much is actually used? Reading is a must, once you have that, you can learn whatever you want.

  15. Have seen too many home schooled children having a difficult time reacting to discipline outside the home school rules. Problem at part time summer work…look for mom or dad to solve. Many believe that they (the parents) are the only ones who can discipline them. Not exposed to anything but discipline and/or rules in the home.

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