First of all, welcome back, haters! I have been taking some time to focus on me and my health, pet puppies, be a bridesmaid, fall into an extreme depression that could only be cured by reality television, and experience nirvana at an A’s game I attended by myself. More on that later for those of you I like enough to talk to in person. My therapist has been encouraging me to spend less time around people I find terminally annoying, so you might want to check you’re on the list if you haven’t heard from me in a while.
Now. Elon. Fucking. Musk.
I know what you’re thinking. Rhi…you’re late to this party. You should have written this last month when Musk was calling actual heroes child molesters because he was angry no one wanted to play with his submarine. Yes, I should have done that, but 2 things:
- I am a person living with depression. I get credit for doing anything, ever.
- Except for my bona fide anti-capitalist friends, I fucking guarantee I hated Elon Musk first. I have hated this sack of cocaine and toxic masculinity since before I realized he had named his company after Nikola Tesla — also an eccentric blowhard who overspent his funds.
I actually first heard of Elon Musk while I was still teaching, and a white dudebro who hadn’t stepped foot in a non-college classroom since he graduated from private high school attempted to mansplain how public education could be improved by citing Elon Musk’s private school. This resulted in my first politically charged Facebook unfriending. We’re cool now, assuming he doesn’t read this.
After finishing my bottle of wine (teaching was a tough time, OK?) I googled “who the fuck is Elon Musk and what the fuck does he have to do with education?”
I then discovered Ad Astra, a school Elon Musk basically founded for his own children. It’s run like a speakeasy – you have to recieve a password just to look at a general information web page. According to one article I read, initially the school literally only enrolled Musk’s 5 children; another said there were at least 3 other children. It has never enrolled more than 50 students, yet employs an estimated 50 people (to be fair, the low estimate is 11). So the way I see it, Musk is personally financing a private school for his kids because he can. This is the opposite of a solution to public education. It is the rich running away from the problems of society, all while finding a way to convert some money into tax-free income because the school is a non-profit. If he can deduct a whole school from his income, the rest of us should be able to do the same for our tutors.
This isn’t a surprise. Rich people do selfish shit all the time. That’s how they got rich. What really makes me hate Elon Musk more than say, Mark Zuckerberg, is the way his fans treat him like he’s Jesus. To paraphrase whitemansplaining dudebro: “maybe the problem with education is how we teach our kids. Elon Musk has this cool idea at his school where they do projects and ask questions, and the education is tailored to each kid’s individual interests.”
In Musk’s own words: “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. ‘How are we going to take it apart?’ You need a screwdriver. That’s what the screwdriver is for,” Musk explains. “And then a very important thing happens: The relevance of the tools becomes apparent.”
Yes. That is the right way to teach. But Musk didn’t invent that. No teacher I know is going to suggest the best way to teach kids about an engine is to memorize flashcards with pictures of tools and parts.
As a teacher, these dialogues become incredibly insulting because I know project-based learning promotes engagement, critical thinking skills, and long-term memorization. It has been researched to death. The problem is that everyone seems to want to mansplain to teachers how to do their fucking jobs, force them to self finance project-based learning, and give them 40 kids in 1 classroom while demanding each one get an individualized education plan. How exactly are they supposed to be able to produce successful results under these circumstances? If Musk’s actions had anything to do with creating a better world, he’d donate the $475,000 he spent in 2014-2015 on Ad Astra to programs that support underfunded schools, run by people who actually know what the fuck they’re doing. Let’s be real – since Ad Astra is so secretive, we don’t actually know if it’s worth the hype.
So my problem isn’t actually about his companies. I’m vaguely OK with letting a douchebro burn through a bunch of investors’ money making glorified toys for other douchebros that don’t make them feel guilty because it’s “good for the environment.” I don’t love it, but it’s not exactly top of my list of injustices in the world. If they can still afford to do it after implementation of an ethical tax code that raises revenue while diverting funding from military and prisons to education, infrastructure, and health care — fine.
What really gets my fucking goat is that people actually think he is a good person. He certainly cares about looking like a good person, but a truly altruistic individual would not lose his shit because someone else got to save a bunch of little kids. Let’s be real, he just needed the positive press to distract people from the fact Tesla is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s the same reason he pledged to buy filters for the residents of Flint, Michigan. It’s about ego, not altruism, and ultimately the solutions he proposes don’t get at the root of the problem.
At the end of the day, it’s not really about Musk. He’s just a symbol of a grander problem in the collective American imagination: we think capitalists will save us. But they only solve problems that make them money. Their environmental solutions are only affordable to the already wealthy. Their education improvements are only affordable to the already wealthy. Their solutions that are affordable to everyone serve to improve their brand, not empower the community at large.
So I guess I don’t hate Elon Musk. I hate you for playing his game.