Whenever media critics start clamoring “has Musk gone too far?” while mild-mannered moderates wonder “who is this eccentric billionaire?” in response to Elon’s antics, I am forced to consider whether I can surgically remove the analytical part of my brain in order to reduce the pain. Do you really not know how trash Elon Musk is yet?
I do not say this lightly: Elon Musk is a bad person. From a psychological perspective, he is a self-centered narcissist. From a Christian perspective, he worships himself above God. From the College Board’s perspective — the lovely capitalists profiting off of SAT and AP testing — he’s a gem.
He can’t go too far, he is already too fargone. He is not an eccentric billionaire, he is a narcissistic trainwreck.
And until I live in a country where the objective reality of a person means something, I will be tempted to drink myself down to my countryman’s level of stupidity. No wonder beer is the all-American beverage.
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. Fun fact — we actually are cool now after bonding over our decisions to quit drinking.
After finishing my bottle of wine (speaking of drinking) 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, 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.
Put another way, Americans do not care if a billionaire raids their public education funds for his personal benefit. They are either too uninformed to care, or naive enough to think Musk is actually trying to improve education for anyone other than his own offspring.
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.
But it’s not a surprise, either. Rich people do selfish nonsense all the time — that’s how they stay 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-whose-cool-now: “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 explain 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 student 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 billionaires will save us. Truth is, they only solve problems that make them money. Their environmental solution? Luxury vehicles. Their educational improvements? Require diverting funds from public education. Any kindness serves to improve their brand, not empower the community at large. Yet, we continue to look to the billionaire class for leadership out of the disastrous cultural climate they created.
As usual, I don’t actually hate Musk. I hate my fellow Americans for falling for his “eccentric billionaire” act.