Reflection, Gratitude and New Opportunities

 

Holidays are a time for reflection, gratitude and surveying the horizon for new opportunities.

Bernard Bull is a deep thinker and respected voice in the education world, with over 200,000 followers.  Last night, Bernard called Acton Academy “one of the most important educational stories in our generation.”

We know better than to read our own press clippings.  We understand how much work remains to be done.  We also know each of us, and each of our heroic families has been given a great gift, the chance to make a real difference in the world, individually and together.

Middle School is one example of how much work remains. Thanks to the genius of Maria Montessori, Socrates, Sal Khan and others, we have a robust elementary studio model on which to build.  Middle school is an entirely different world, where we still face challenges.

The Peter Pan Syndrome in young boys (and some girls) is a real one, embedded deeply into the human archetype.  We won’t “solve” it, because it’s not a solvable problem, or Lord of the Flies and Pinocchio wouldn’t still be classics.  My bet is we’ll discover a vessel and structure to allow many middle school aged heroes and families to grow.

Laura and I are deeply grateful to have each of the Acton Eagles and parents in our lives.  We know it’s a gift.  So we hope after this coming week you get some well deserved rest over the holidays, and come back refreshed for more discoveries and challenges in 2018.

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What’s on your bucket list?

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Do you have a bucket list – a list of exotic locales you’d like to see before you die?

Well, the middle school and Launchpad Eagles have a bucket list.  Plus, they know how to plan a trip to each place, whether it’s a bare bones visit, a luxury adventure or something in between.

Even more importantly, if our Eagles are called to write and deliver a world-changing speech – they know how to do that too!

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During Session Two, MS and LP Eagles selected a historical hero – like Winston Churchill.  Then each wrote an eight to ten minute speech in the voice of their hero  and chose a city somewhere in the world to deliver it.

Eagles dug deeply into speech preparation and delivery by identifying the needs of an audience, crafting memorable taglines and hooks, calling an audience to action and, of course, watching dozens of world-class speeches.

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Next came the task of planning the trip, including:

  • Detailed itineraries and budgets (at various prices) to the city where they delivered their speeches;
  • A list of favorite travel apps;
  • Google Earth tours, and
  • A bucket list of places to visit around the world and in Texas.

At the Exhibition, we saw powerful renditions of historical and modern politicos, social activists, artists and entrepreneurs, including: Thomas Jefferson advocating for the signing of the Declaration of Independence to the delegates of the Thirteen Colonies in Philadelphia and Mahatma Gandhi calling an audience of Indian citizens to peaceful protest near Ahmedabad. Leonardo Da Vinci even made an appearance!

Eagles also pitched their travel planning services to visitors, banding together to form travel agencies, and the agency that generated the most revenue won.

Strategy was key. Would the winner sell high-priced travel planning services to a few customers or low-priced travel planning services to as many customers as possible? Did it make more sense to spend a significant amount of time with each prospective customer or as little time as possible?

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Our winner, AA Travel Solutions, found success by qualifying customers early and selling luxury travel planning services.

After the Exhibition, Eagles gathered for lessons learned where they showed a deep appreciation for the difficulty of delivering an eight-minute speech and a newfound respect for the art of trip planning and sales.

Specific lessons learned included:

 

  • Eight minutes is a long time. Speak slowly.  
  • Customers are fickle. I had someone talk to me for 10 minutes and not buy anything!
  • Every business begins with a customer need. Once I learned we were selling our travel planning services, I really had to change the way I thought about my budgets and itineraries.

Powerful take-aways for Eagles who will soon be running businesses and delivering their own world-changing speeches.

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How do we measure growth?

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Education Guru Bernard Bull thoughtfully featured Acton Academy in his latest blog post: Show Me What You Measure in Your School, and I’ll Tell You What You Value (if you care about young people and innovative learning, Bernard’s blog is a must read!)

Bernard reminded me what we measure and why at Acton to deliver on our promise to inspire each person who enters our doors to find a calling that will change the world.

  1. Weekly Points to encourage hard work;
  2. Badges to celebrate excellence; and
  3. 360 Peer Reviews to strengthen warm hearted and tough-minded habits that lead to healthier relationships.

Work hard, strive for excellence and treat others with respect.  Three key ingredients for a hero on a Hero’s Journey.

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Acton Launchpadder Chris Carpenter Goes Glamping

If you want to enjoy some Acton Academy laughs, check out Amanda and Jack Go Glamping,  a lighthearted romantic comedy featuring Chris Carpenter as an Acton-like Lord of the Flies character.  Every few minutes, I found myself chuckling at a reference to badges, SMART goals or another Acton ritual.

Chris has worked hard on his acting, directing and filmmaking skills, and it shows, both in his starring roles in various local productions and his work in  Amanda and Jack Go Glamping.  He’s a real pro.

The indie film – which can be found on Amazon or I-tunes or select local theaters — is directed by former Acton parent Brandon Dickerson, and Acton parents Jeff and Marcy Carpenter and Steve and Jenny Williams serve a Executive Producers.

Seeing Chris’s performance as an Eagle-in-the-woods is alone worth the price of admission!

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How healthy is your Tribe?

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Two of the best predictors of happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment are industriousness and the ability to work well with others.

While there’s a hereditary component to these traits, you can develop positive micro-habits to enhance them.  One of Acton Academy’s secrets is how we forge heroes on a Hero’s Journey into a supportive tribe, and along with strong parental support, develop positive micro-habits.

But how do you know if your tribe is healthy and getting healthier?  How do you measure the mix of individual personalities and aspirations, and tell if they are multiplied by a common cause?   How do you detect wayward individuals or the rise of cliques and warring factions?

Welcome to the Culture Map a tool we’ve developed to measure the health of a tribe.

The Culture Map asks each Eagle how close he or she feels to every other Eagle, and where there might be an unresolved conflict.  By plotting the strength of relationships, you can measure if a group is moving more closely together or further apart.

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Here’s how Middle School has progressed this year, from early in the year to the end of Session One to today.   The closer the Eagles are to the center, the closer they feel to each other.  Concentric rings around an individual indicate a conflict with another person.

Clearly, we have some work to do, but we’re moving in the right direction.

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Launchpad has made even more remarkable progress.  Starting with a relatively close-knit tribe, and becoming even healthier as the year progressed.

What would the Culture Map look like at your place of work, your neighborhood or your place of worship?

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Khan Academy Math Works!

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Khan Academy (KA) is a website with short videos and adaptive game-based exercises in a wide variety of subjects, most notably math, where it covers from “1+1=2” to advanced Calculus.

We’ve been fans of Sal Khan from the start, personally, as philanthropic investors and professionally, and were delighted to play a small part when he launched Khan Lab School.

If you are an Acton Academy parent, you may have become accustomed to hearing a mild expletive uttered before “Khan” when an Eagle makes a sloppy mistake and sees a mastery challenge disappear.  You may have even heard “Khan doesn’t work for me.”

Well, we finally have enough data to set the record straight:

If your Eagle dedicates 25 minutes a day, every day on Khan Academy math, watches the videos and asks for encouragement when needed, KA is a powerful way to learn math, offering deeper and more comprehensive coverage than the average traditional math class.

We encourage Eagles to do math during silent core skills time, so they can earn their way to higher freedom levels.  If your Eagle is struggling, he or she may need help removing distractions, overcoming resistance or avoiding victimhood – but it is unlikely Khan Academy is the problem.

KA Math in a Nutshell

  1. The secret to KA math? 25 minutes a day, every school day.

KA does work for learning math, and it works extraordinarily well.

An MS Eagle needs to invest 25 minutes each school day, five days each week, for 36 weeks a year will finish Algebra I in middle school.

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Minutes of Work to Finish KA MS Subjects

An LP Eagle needs to invest 42 minutes each day, five days each week, to complete all required high school math in Launchpad in 2 years, setting the stage for Pre-Calculus and Calculus.

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Minutes of Work to Finish KA LP Subjects

An MS Eagle who comes from another elementary school needs an additional five minutes per day to catch up on the first half of Pre-Algebra we cover during ES.

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ES-MS Skill Overlap

  1. KA math is deeper and more extensive than a traditional math class.

Mastery of math through KA provides more depth and coverage than a traditional school.  We estimate KA math is between 2-4 times more efficient and effective than the average classroom lecture.

  1. KA math works for Eagles at all levels of intrinsic math ability.

Some Eagles require 20% more time than the averages above; some 20% less.  But when an Eagle decides he or she is serious about completing math, KA works for all levels of math ability.

  1. Some Eagles soar through seven years of traditional math in as little as 18 months.

Eagles who start to love math can rocket ahead or catch up quickly.  We believe most differences in advancement rates are a matter of attitude, not aptitude.  By investing 90 minutes each day – 30 minutes at Acton Academy and an hour at home – an Eagle can finish all of middle school math in nine months.

The difference in time to completion is not a matter of talent, but largely the amount of time invested.

A Few Caveats:

  1. Learning math is hard.

An hour of intense concentration on Khan Academy burns up a lot of brain energy and is draining.  But this is exactly what deep mental work is supposed to do.  So when your Eagle complains: “Math is hard;” the best response is: “It sure is.”

  1. Eagles must watch the KA videos for a specific problem. 

An Eagle absolutely, positively must watch the videos – there is no substitute, unless he or she wants to Google to find different YouTube videos.

  1. Eagles who do KA math every day do far better than those who binge and procrastinate and binge.

One secret to doing well with KA math is to do it every day.  It is very easy on Khan to track when your Eagle is working on math, and whether he or she is truly focusing on videos and problem sets that will help, or wasting time to log minutes.

  1. A subject like Algebra Basics is not the same as a school year of math.

Do not make the mistake of assuming each KA subject area equals a year’s worth of work.  An MS Eagle from our ES should finish Pre-Algebra plus 30 skills in Algebra Basics in the first year of MS and Algebra Basics plus 40% of Algebra I in the second year of MS, to be on track.

  1. Encouragement and companionship can help.

Some Eagles like to sit next to a parent, sibling or friend and collaborate.  As long as the encouragement delivers more learning than distraction, having a coach is helpful.

  1. KA math is not Math Utopia

Everyone would like to have Euclid sit next to him or her to learn Geometry.  And it would be much better to learn all math in a hands-on, real-world way or to dive deeply into Set Theory; real-world risk management, computational math and other areas.

But this Math Utopia doesn’t exist – yet.  If a parent or a college admissions officer wants an Eagle to trudge through a traditional math sequence, KA math is a terrific way to proceed.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line? KA Math works.  If your Eagle is struggling, we hope you’ll follow our lead in the studios, and use Growth Mindset encouragement and focus on incentives and consequences designed to address Resistance; Distraction and Victimhood, until KA math becomes a deeply embedded habit.

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Does the Apprenticeship Quest work? Just ask Karl Rove.

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Acton Academy has a proven model for Middle School and Launchpad Eagles who want a life-changing apprenticeship.  It’s one of the most popular challenges we offer.

The Apprenticeship Quest takes each Eagle through the following steps:

What do you want?

How do the adventures you have chosen match with your gifts, passions?

Have you done deep research?

Do you have deep knowledge about the person you are pitching, including what he or she cares deeply about and the hiring process and position?

 Do you have a compelling pitch?

Do you have an email, phone and in person pitch that cannot be refused?

Do you have a clear covenant? 

Have you agreed on a clear set of terms with your parents and the business owner describing what you have promised and what you can you expect?

Are you ready to execute? 

Are you willing to show up early, work hard, stay late and take careful notes about who you meet and what you learn?

Will you follow up afterward?

Did you write a sincere thank you note and ask for a letter of recommendation?

Along the way, Eagles learn to manage a portfolio of apprenticeship possibilities, including a “dream opportunity,” a “reach opportunity” and a “sure thing.” Important preparation for landing a “next adventure” later in life.

Does it work?  A recent middle schooler who has a passion for political science followed the formula with Uber-Politico Karl Rove.

He followed the process, and:

  • Wrote a genuine “you are my hero” email asking for a five minute phone call to explain how apprenticeships work.
  • During the call, he asked for a ten minute in person meeting to explain how he could serve.
  • At the in-person meeting, he asked for a chance to prove himself, promising to show up early, stay later and do whatever was asked with excellence.

The result?  A life changing apprenticeship with one of the giants of politics.

And the kicker?  This young man had already completed all of his formal apprenticeship requirements.

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Algorithms for Life

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How do young heroes-in-the-making prepare for an uncertain and fast changing future?  What skills will be the key to success, satisfaction and fulfillment in the 21st Century?

Hedge Fund Guru Ray Dalio believes radical transparency and algorithmic decision making hold the key to the future.    Polymath Stephen Wolfram made a similar point when visiting Acton Academy last spring.

Whatever the answer, standardized tests and rote memorization likely won’t make the list.

Here are the ingredients we go through when creating every Quest at Acton:

  1. Name an important real world challenge you’ll encounter on your Hero’s Journey.
  2. What are the most important questions to explore?
  3. Describe a process or recipe to increase your chances for success.  Can it be improved?
  4. What are the most difficult decisions you’ll face?  Is there a framework to help make better decisions under pressure?
  5. Find a world class example so success is more concrete and measurable.
  6. Set milestones and deadlines.
  7.  Form a team with the right vision, mission and skills.  Add incentives for individuals, squads and the tribe.
  8.  Schedule a public exhibition or sell your creation to a customer, so in the end, you’ll get honest feedback so you can improve over time.

Now look closely at the eight steps above.  What do you see?  It’s an algorithm for creating algorithms to increase happiness, satisfaction and fulfillment in the world.

Creating algorithms to live by for a Hero’s Journey.   That’s what we do.

 

 

In the early years in the elementary studio, Guides provide more of the game elements.  Our goal, however, is to quickly inspire and equip Eagles to be Gamemakers themselves, so we’re no longer needed.

 

If you look at the meta-process above, what Eagles are learning to do is create algorithms for life.  Maybe not as crisp and clean as Dalio or Wolfram, but perhaps even more applicable to real life.

 

Best

 

Jeff

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“The envelope please. And the winner is…”

We hosted our Film Fest Mini-Exhibition on Friday, where MS and LP Eagles signed studio contracts, unveiled  Hero Boards, listened to “Who am I?” essays and awarded the first Acton Academy Film Fest “Acties.”   Click here to watch the Best Picture.

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Thanks to the Film Fest and Eagles paying close attention to the new Pyramid of Intentionality –which asks Eagles in lower Freedom Levels to put in a minimum amount of work in Silent Core Skills each day– we’ve started the year with more positive energy than ever before.

Our next quest:  Your Friend Strategy for life!

 

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Will an Acton Academy diploma get me into Harvard or Stanford?

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No one completely grasps the alchemy of college admissions, where an applicant’s fate often depends on an over-caffeinated twenty-five-year-old reviewer, sifting through dozens of applications each hour.

Luckily, Acton Academy graduates have a choice:

  • Translate badges into a diploma and transcript identical to those issued by top college prep high schools, a strategy most effective for second tier state universities with more bureaucratic admission hurdles; or
  • Present a rich portfolio of work and a fistful of reference letters from apprenticeships, an approach favored by alternative schoolers and homeschoolers for more selective universities like Stanford or Harvard.

Increasingly universities like Harvard and Stanford covet self-directed, focused graduates like ours and offer large discounts on tuition.

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Calling all Patrons to the Art Quest

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During Session Seven many Eagles are out on apprenticeships; often families choose to travel for all or part of the summer.  The pace in the Middle School and Launchpad studios slows.  Exactly the right time to explore the artist in each of us and the following questions during the Art Quest:

  • Are artists born or created?
  • Can everyone become an artist or just a gifted few?
  • What do all artists, from ancient cave painters to Michelangelo to modern graphic designers all have in common?

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In the first part of the Art Quest, Eagles dove deeply into basic drawing skills, from learning how to “see” as an artist; to using pencil to draw hands, feet and faces; to the subtle techniques of shading.

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Next Eagles shifted to ink and landscapes, and later the use of color and drawing mythical beasts, as well as using watercolor.

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Finally, it was time to move to the business side of art: assembling a body of work; pricing pieces and preparing just the right displays for the exhibition.

Was the Art Quest a success?  Let’s just say that like our earlier New Media Quest, the patrons voting with their pocketbooks certainly seemed to think so.

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Apprenticeships Galore in the Summer of 2017

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Acton Academy’s Apprenticeship Quest is one of our most transformational challenges.

The apprenticeship process equips Middle School and Launchpad Eagles to find and secure apprenticeships  with little to no assistance from adults.

Included in the process:

  1. Digging deeply into your gifts, activities that bring you joy and deep burning needs in the world to create a prioritized list of apprenticeship possibilities.
  2. Writing a compelling introductory email to a business owner you see as a hero or role model, asking for a short phone call to explain the Acton apprenticeship model.
  3. Crafting a phone pitch explaining how apprenticeships work, including a promise to show up early, work late and do whatever it takes to add real value, and asking for a chance to meet in person.
  4. Creating an in-person pitch, where you ask for a chance to prove yourself.
  5. Learning to manage a portfolio of apprenticeship possibilities, just in case your first choice runs into logistical problems.
  6. Negotiating a contract with your employer and parents to make sure goals and promises are clear.
  7. Having a plan to add value in the first few days and a way to capture the lessons you learn.
  8. Following up with thank you letters and a request for a reference letter.

Step by step, Eagles learn to find and land just the right steppingstone job towards a calling – all on their own.

Does it work?

This summer, Eagles landed twenty five apprenticeships —  from a leading role in a feature film to troubleshooting a Calculus course for Khan Academy, to working at an airplane parts manufacturer to working for a cooking school —  each Eagle took one step closer to finding a calling that will change the world.

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Austin’s New Museum: Donated by Launchpadders

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“Imagine you were able to donate a museum to the citizens of Austin…”

As part of the Session Seven Art Quest, Launchpadders received a challenge:

Imagine you and your six best friends have sold your businesses, and want to leave a gift to the city of Austin – two new museums to be built at Zilker Park.  Given your civic spirit, the city has agreed to match your contribution, with 70% of the funding going to a world class museum of one type, and 30% to a regional quality museum.

The catch?  You and at least five of your friends must agree on which two museums to build, and which one will “world class.”

Armed with the challenge, off we set out for:

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The Dallas World Aquarium;

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The Perot Museum of Natural Science;

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and the Dallas Museum of Art.

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The Dallas World Aquarium received high marks for “telling a story” with it’s exhibits, offset by high admission prices and relatively fewer visitors.

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The Perot Museum featured DNA testing; world class gems; dinosaurs and hands-on science quests that would have fit in well at Acton.  Those arguing for the Perot pointed out the high number of visitors and potential for learning; those against its $185 million price tag.

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Hard working philanthropists get hungry, so a refueling stop at Hard Rock Cafe was a necessity.

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Exhibits at the Dallas Museum of Art ranged from Chihuly glass to honoring the heritage of the cocktail to sculpture to the Voyage of the Icebergs by Frederich Church.  Proponents argued for the power of art to transform; detractors for the need for more comfortable benches.

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The final verdict for Austin’s new museum?  A world class Natural Science Museum and plus a lesser aquarium: the Art Museum of Austin at Zilker Park simply would have to wait.

A simple field trip?  Not for Launchpad.  After all, one of them likely will build one of the world’s great museums, so we might as well start making the hard decisions now.

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Which families are a good fit for Acton?

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Often, we are asked what type of families are a good fit with Acton Academy.  We used to say: “Anyone can flourish,” but recently we realized we must have Eagles and parents who have the courage and conviction to set and hold high standards.

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Originally, we believed if either an Eagle or both parents were committed, the odds were good an Eagle would soar at Acton Academy.

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We still believe almost any young person can succeed at Acton.  But we now know an Eagle and both parents must be fully committed to a Hero’s Journey or it puts too much pressure on the studio.

In other words, if our Acton Academy is a model for hundreds of Learner Driven Communities, we cannot ask Eagles to put up with studio-mates who shirk work or disrespect others or parents who allow such behavior to continue.

A Courageous Stand Against Corrosive Forces in Modern Society

Acton Academy families face three corrosive forces in modern society:

  • Resistance – a fear based reluctance to take the first step in learning a key skill; and
  • Distractions – addictive like behaviors towards video games, television and social media.
  • Victim-hood – lashing out at others rather than courageously assuming personal responsibility for life’s surprises and challenges.

Under and over-parenting in America has led to:

  • The average nine-year-old spending over 50 hours per week in front of a screen;
  • Child obesity increasing 500% in a single generation;
  • Americans medicating teenagers at seventeen times higher rates than parents in Great Britain.

Even more troubling than tumbling rankings on international tests is the loss of self-control, conscientiousness and civility that are the bedrock for a satisfying and fulfilling life at age 30 and beyond.

Celebrating Eagles and Parents Committed to a Hero’s Journey

Acton parents refuse to cede critical responsibilities to schools in return for a report card that makes them look like successful parents.  They care less about being “liked” by their children or short-term happiness, and instead accept the struggles, failures and lessons needed to prepare for a fulfilling life in the real world.

Acton parents are willing to hold the line when an Eagle refuses to work or acts disrespectfully:

  • Overcoming Resistance by insisting Eagles take the first step.
  • Removing Distractions by setting strict limits on or even eliminating access to television, social media and the internet;
  • Ignoring Victim-hood and instead letting the natural consequences of studio contracts and covenants shape habits and decisions; and
  • Making manual labor or a much less attractive traditional school the alternative to Acton Academy instead of a painless transfer to a less demanding school where every child receives a trophy.

Here’s to a great year in 2017-18, as we build a Tribe of Eagles and parents who can be a model for hundreds of Acton Academies all around the world!

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What do Guides do at Acton Academy?

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Guides at Acton Academy are gamemakers who propose exciting challenges, set  boundaries and invite Eagles to start a life changing journey.

Guides authority is limited by an Eagle-Guide contract that restricts the role to five primary tasks:

  1. Guides lift the eyes of Eagles to the horizon.

Guides believe each Eagle is a genius who deserves to find a calling that will change the world.

Guides inspire Eagles by offering a Hero’s Journey through life, beginning with the end in mind; discovering precious gifts and using them in a joyful way to serve others as they build a strong community.

  1. Guides are gamemakers who provide challenges, frameworks, processes, tools, milestones and world class examples.

Guide’s offer real world challenges that resonate with young heroes.  A Guide is a gamemaker who describes an exciting quest; sets incentives and rules and invites Eagles to play.

  1. Guides hold up a mirror of accountability.

Guides encourage Eagles to create covenants to govern the studio and then allow Eagles to learn from mistakes.  Guides insist on due process and if the studio isn’t living up to its promises, hold up a mirror so the tribe can decide to do as they promised or explicitly lower its standards.

  1. Guides shepherd the energy of the learning community.

Guides feed and nurture learner driven communities through the rhythms, rituals and reflections that build a healthy community, proposing intrinsic and extrinsic rewards tfor individuals, squads and the studio to boost intentionality and energy.

  1. Guides prepare Eagles to become gamemakers.

A Guide’s final and most important role is to catalogue, record, document and simplify processes so Eagles can become gamemakers themselves.  Guides celebrate as Eagles take on more and more of a Guide’s responsibilities until having an adult in the studio is no longer necessary.

What do Guides NOT do at Acton Academy?

  1.  Guides do not pose as Unicorn Teachers.

We each long for a personal tutor with the wisdom of Socrates; the curiosity of Nobel Physicist Richard Feynman; the developmental knowledge Jean Piaget; the pedagogy of Maria Montessori and the emotional intelligence of Oprah Winfrey.

Unfortunately, such Unicorn Teachers do not exist.

  1. Guides do not act as parents.

Guides do not nag or try to force Eagles to work.  Instead, guides trust parents to parent.  Guides never offer parenting advice.

  1. Guides do not offer insights about individual Eagles.

Many parents wish a trusted adult to ensure them their child is “above average.”  Acton Academy believes it is impossible for one adult to make accurate insights into the thinking and motivation of dozens of young people.

  1. Guides do not grade or lecture.

Guides do not grade.  Excellence at Acton Academy depending on whether an Eagle has given a “best effort or improved over time.

Guides never lecture.  Guides ask questions instead.

  1. Neither Guides nor owners offer financial advice, become enmeshed in family drama or act as bill collectors.

Guides are not financial experts, family counselors or bill collectors, so they do not help parents in these areas.

  1. Finally, Guides never answer any questions…EVER.

 

How many teachers are there at Acton Academy?

We often imply that there aren’t any teachers at Acton Academy.  That’s not true.

Traditional schools have classroom teachers to maintain discipline, dispense knowledge and assign passing grades.  The teacher-to-student ratio at most traditional schools is 1 adult to 20 or 30 students.

At Acton Academy, the teacher-to-Eagle ratio is nearly infinite, because our Eagles have access to subject matter experts from all over the world — from Sal Khan to Richard Feynman to an unknown genius on a YouTube video —  plus Socratic coaching from peers; mentors from scores of professions and heroic role models from antiquity to the present.

At Acton Academy we equip Eagles to engage teachers, coaches, experts and mentors whenever they need one, rather than to be captive to a single teacher-as-authority figure.

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What can I do as a parent if my Eagle is struggling?

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No parent enjoys watching a child suffer.  Most parents are uncomfortable if a struggles or is unhappy.  Some parents feel every mistake made by their child means parental inadequacy.

So the following advice from veteran Acton Academy parents may be hard to take:  When your child is struggling: Celebrate!

Celebrate?  Yes, celebrate.  Because if your child is failing early, cheaply and often, she is becoming more independent.  She is learning how to survive and succeed in the real world, in a community where it is safe to learn from mistakes and grow. She is developing GRIT.

If celebrating is too difficult for you, practice doing nothing.  Let natural consequences teach valuable lessons.

If doing nothing seems a dereliction of your parenting duties, then provide empathy: “Gee, that sounds hard.”  Perhaps add growth mindset encouragement: “I see you are trying hard.  I would call that ‘grit.’”  Finally, send them back into the game with an affirmation: “I trust you can figure this out.  I’ll look forward to hearing what you decided to do.”

If apathy sets in with your Eagle, you may need to provide some boundaries and consequences at home.  Perhaps even offer a far less attractive alternative to Acton Academy to increase the stakes.

Anything enabling beyond this is likely to do long term harm.  Our job is to prepare our young heroes to change the world.  Not to prevent struggle or unhappiness.

Setbacks that aren’t permanently damaging encourage grit, courage and perseverance.  Again, our job is to prepare our young heroes to overcome challenges and soar, not to remove all obstacles to make life easy, or to be a best friend.

The Costs of Under or Over Parenting

We celebrate our Acton Academy parents who care enough to move counter-culturally and know that failing to set boundaries; focusing on short term happiness or ceding critical parenting responsibilities to schools in return for glowing report cards and cheap trophies has a cost.  All you have to do is consider the statistics:

  • The average nine-year-old spends an average of 50 stupefying hours per week in front of a video screen.
  • Constant snacking has replaced family meals, leading to a 500% increase in child obesity in a single generation.
  • Americans medicate disruptive teenage behaviors 17 times more than parents in Great Britain, instead of holding young people responsible for their actions.

The most troubling result isn’t that children are poorly prepared academically, even though it’s true America’s ranking on international standardized tests is plummeting. The most troubling result is the loss of self-control, conscientious, civility and character that are the bedrock for a satisfying and fulfilling life at age 30 and beyond.

Below is specific advice from veteran Acton Academy Guides and parents:  

 1.  What should I do as a parent if my Eagle has an issue in the studio?

Great question.  Our goal is to arm Eagles to solve their own problems. So:

  1. Ask your Eagle for permission to become involved before you do anything.
  2. Resist the temptation to email a Guide unless there is a threat of serious, immediate harm.  Guides are not allowed respond directly to parent emails or texts, but to follow a process that equips the Eagle to solve his or her own problem.
  3. Ask your Eagle whether she should approach a Guide or Council with the issue and help her frame the issue in a positive light.
  4. If the issue remains unresolved, ask your Eagle to write an email to Council and copy Guides, expressing his frustration and a proposed remedy.
  5. If the issue is a personal one between Eagles, ask your Eagle to call for a Conflict Resolution session, by email to Council with Guides copied.
  6. If the issue is serious and remains unresolved, an Eagle may call for everyone involved to meet to address the issue, and parents are welcome to observe but not participate.  We’ve found requiring everyone to be in the same room discourages mixed messages and triangulation, and often deescalates issues.

 2.  What if I’m worried about how my Eagle is progressing academically?

Our Tracker system allows you to view the work your Eagle produces.  Reviewing Weekly Points, Badges earned versus plan and Eagle Bucks asked/versus requested (or 360 Coaching Reviews) will give you a far more accurate picture of progress than a report card or standardized test.

If our Eagle seems to be struggling, as parents we offer encouragement as well as asking the following questions and seeking verification:

  1. Are you doing 45 minutes of Khan Academy each and every day?  Are you watching the videos?
  2. Do you have a Deep Book and are you reading at least 45 minutes each day?
  3. Are you doing every challenge for the Genre (writing) prompts?
  4. Are you doing every Civilization challenge?
  5. Are you guarding against distractions and avoiding being asked for Eagle Bucks?

Quests are like dessert.  If your Eagle is struggling, verify that the required effort is being put into Core Skills first; then ask about Quests.

3.  What if my Eagle says she just can’t learn from Khan Academy?

Many parents worry that without a teacher it’s impossible to “learn math.”  We’ve found just the opposite:  Khan Academy is a powerful tool and requires users to learn to think critically from a number of perspectives and master a  broad set of mathematical approaches.

In contrast, many traditional math teachers simply ask students to repeat a limited number of simple algorithms as homework.   And despite what we might hope, seldom do traditional schools deliver powerful theoretical insights.

Eagles who have a hard time with Khan Academy typically struggle because they do not do the work or refuse to watch the videos.  It is likely they would find the lectures of most traditional math teachers even more boring.

If your Eagle is struggling, start by making sure she is spending 45 minutes a day, every day on Khan.  Encourage her to watch the videos, every time, and only afterwards to seek Socratic help in the studios.  We’ve also found as parents that sitting beside an Eagle who is doing Khan provides encouragement.

4.   What if my Eagle simply refuses to work hard?

This is a difficult question, because human motivation remains one of the great unsolved mysteries.

Our studio systems, modeled after companies like Google, are designed to reward effort, excellent work and leadership with more freedom.  For those struggling, increasingly higher amounts of effort and goodwill to remain in the studio.  We even offer ways to provide grace and a chance to start over.

When we still see motivation issues as parents, the three most likely suspects are:

  • Distraction: Is your Eagle, like most, drawn into social media, games, web surfing or other types of cheap distraction?   If so, as a parent, you may need to strictly limit access to these distractions.  While extrinsic rewards have their limits, some parents have found tying electronic access to Weekly Points will increase motivation. When in this situation, we often ask ourselves if we are fiddling with our own Iphones instead of paying enough attention to those around us.
  • Resistance: Sometimes it just takes courage to take the first step.  Encouragement and modeling are a powerful tool here, and we would highly recommend The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield, perhaps even listening to it on the way to school for older Eagles (there is a bit of racy language, but only in a few places.) We often ask ourselves when we see resistance in our Eagles, when is the last time we took a difficult and courageous first step in front of our family?
  • The Victim: Often Eagles gain attention and solace by playing the part of the victim, and almost all families have some form of the Dreaded Drama Triangle.   We highly recommend listening to the book as a family or watching the videos, and committing to use the language of empowerment instead. At the very least, while being empathetic we refuse to allow our Eagles to blame others or circumstances.  If you were born in America and attend Acton Academy, the lament that “life is unfair” rings hollow. When the Victim is the issue, we ask if we are modeling negative or blaming language ourselves, or playing the part of a Rescuer or a Persecutor.

 5. Why can’t you force my Eagle to ____________ ?

Many of us wish our Eagle would spend more time on handwriting or spelling or Math, and when he doesn’t, long for a learning community or school to require the behavior.

Unfortunately, learning doesn’t work this way.  Someone has to want to learn, if deep learning is to occur.

We’ve found that Growth Mindset language and praise – and most of all patience – work better than criticism.    We also have systems at Acton Academy to reward hard work and growth by rewarding effort (Weekly Points), excellent work (Badges) and leadership (360 Coaching Reviews) with more freedom.

6.  What if my Eagle is unhappy?

Our promise is to equip and inspire your Eagle to find a calling that will change the world.  Struggles and difficulties are part of the journey.

We are encouraged by research showing we all have a natural set point for happiness, and tend to revert to that level no matter what the circumstances – so chasing happiness often is a dead-end journey.  Acton Academy focuses on long term satisfaction and fulfillment rather than momentary happiness.

Acton Academy parents have found our Eagles grow most when we comfort them and listen emphatically, but do not try to solve the problem ourselves or allow blame to be cast on others.  “I hear you. That must be so hard.  I trust you to find a way to solve this on your own and can’t wait to hear how you did it” seem to be the most powerful words we can use as parents.

If your goal is to have a child who is happy all the time, Acton Academy may not be the right place for you.

7.  What if my Eagle wants to leave Acton Academy for another school?

Acton isn’t a fit for all young people and families.  But often we’ve found that the requirements to do real work, live up to your promises and treat others with kindness and respect can lead to a knee jerk reaction to look for greener (and easier, less accountable) pastures.

When faced with this dilemma, some Acton parents suggest offering an unpleasant alternative: like a difficult after school or summer job requiring manual labor or a transfer to a rougher traditional school environment, to show your Eagle you believe she has what it takes to succeed and do not believe it is wise to always make life easier.

A parent’s job is to prepare children for a fulfilling life in the real world, not to remove all obstacles or be a “best friend.”

 8.  What if my Eagle is facing a problem that makes me especially anxious?

Our Eagles take extremely difficult situations in stride every day.  It’s called life.  Most of our hearts would break if we knew the challenges Eagles quietly and bravely overcome.

We’ve found when an event makes us especially anxious – like social anxiety or bullying — is more likely about an unresolved issue we faced in childhood than a problem our Eagle is confronting.  However, once an Eagle senses our concern, he or she may consciously or unconsciously return to the topic, because it brings attention and comfort.

If a situation makes you particularly angry or anxious, before lashing out or overreacting, ask: “Is this more about me or my Eagle?”

9.  What is my Eagle claims to have been treated unfairly?

Life isn’t fair.  Acton Academy’s rules and processes aren’t perfectly fair either, but they are much more just than most communities in the real world.

Our parents have found that the best response to unfairness is to acknowledge the unfairness of the world, and trust and empower your Eagle to do something about it.

10.  What if I’m frustrated because I keep emailing Guides and never receive an answer or resolution?

Guides are never allowed to come between an Eagle and her parents.  Our job is to let parents parent; let Eagles learn to solve their own problem in a safe environment; and as Guides ensure the guidelines and due process Eagle create are honored.

All emails sent to any one Guide or Owner are immediately copied to all Guides for transparency and to ensure everyone is on the same page.  Plus, we keep track of the number of emails we receive from each family.   As a yardstick, the average Acton Academy parent sends one or less emails a year about a specific incident regarding an Eagle.

11.  What if my Eagle gets a strike or an honor code and has to spend a day at home?

If our Eagle has to go home for a day, this is a powerful opportunity for deep learning.  Everyone makes mistakes, including cheating and lying, but when discovered, it gives us a chance to encourage deep introspection.

As parents, we’ve found it far more powerful to reexamine our Family Mission and Plan, look explicitly at facing resistance; remove distractions and disavow the Victim.

 Final Words

Acton Academy offers an encouraging environment where Eagles can earn more freedom by assuming more responsibility and grow as they learn from mistakes.  While we have a great deal of energy and fun in the studio, learning from real consequences and doing real work can be hard at times.

We’ve found the most successful Acton parents understand that growth requires effort, and occasionally discomfort.  So when an Eagle falls, the best a parent can do is help the child back up, give him a hug, and send him back into the arena.

Because it is much easier to learn the most important lessons in life early, at home and at Acton Academy, than to dodge them, only to have to same problems reappear a decade later.

Next post: What do Guides do?

 

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How will I know if my middle school Eagle is faring well or poorly?

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Many Acton parents want to measure a middle school Eagle’s progress towards learning to work hard, deliver excellence work and contribute to a community.

Four yardsticks measure the most important areas of growth:

  1. Weekly Points measure the ability to focus and work hard.
  2. Badges Earned prove an Eagle can deliver excellent work.
  3. 360 Coaching Reviews show growth as a leader, as measured by a survey of peers.
  4. Months until Launchpad is earned shows how long it will take an Eagle to enter Launchpad at the current pace.

Some Acton parents also may care about academic skills.

  • Progress in Math and Grammar can be tracked directly on Khan Academy and No Red Ink.
  • Progress in learning to write and reason can be judged by reading Civilization, Genre and Quest deliverables on Tracker, where every piece of Eagle work is captured and displayed.
  • Progress on more integrative skills can be seen in exhibitions, where the amount of learning can be compared to a ranking by peers that shows how much hard work each Eagle invested in each Quest.

Finally, three times a year an Eagle will create a badge progress report for parents and have a chance to revise his or her badge plan.  Usually the report will include comments from a Squad Leader and your Eagle.

 What are Freedom Levels?

Freedom Levels allow Eagles to earn more freedom by delivering on promises.  As a parent, there’s no need to completely understand Freedom Levels because you can rest assured Eagles have studied every nuance.

At Acton Academy, every Eagle has more freedom than at a traditional school.  Eagles jointly develop studio governance and rules every year.  Every Eagle largely is free to choose when to work and what to work on and free to leave his desk at any time, to take a walk, get a drink or grab a snack – as long as he doesn’t distract anyone else.

Freedom Levels allow each Eagle to earn even more freedom with regard to music, eating, collaboration and other choices, by earning Weekly Points, badges and high 360 Coaching Reviews.

In early months, Eagles may only be working 12.5 to 15 hours earnestly to earn 250 to 300 points per week in Freedom Level One or Two, with 360 Peer Review scores between 6.0 and 6.5 and from zero to 6 badges.

By Launchpad, Eagles in Freedom Levels Four and Five will be working 20 to 22.5 hours each week to earn 400 to 450 Weekly Points; with 360 Peer Review scores between 7.5 and 8.0, with between 36 and 50 badges to prepare. for the rigorous work of Launchpad.

How will I know if my Eagle isn’t progressing?

Acton parents may want to more closely monitor progress on Tracker if an Eagle consistently fails to deliver on badge plans and the “Months until Launchpad” estimate grows higher over time.

Likewise, it is a serious matter if an Eagle is sent home for a day for receiving a third strike for violating the minimum standards of the studio or an Honor Code violation.  Being sent home is a serious matter because the third time an Eagle is asked to leave he will not be invited back.

Finally, if an Eagle’s actions are believed to be detracting from the studio culture, the Eagle and parents may be asked to sign a Probationary Contract laying out a specific set of requirements for remaining in the studio.  Likewise, any Eagle who has decided to attend another school will be asked to commit to specific deliverables to make sure commitment remains high.

Final Words

The allure of the Hero’s Journey, Freedom Levels and the accountability of studio contracts are powerful incentives for continued growth.

When an Eagle does stumble, parents normally just send an Eagle back into the studio for valuable lifelong lessons.

In the rare case where more encouragement from home is needed, Weekly Points, badges earned, 360 Peer Reviews and “months until Launchpad” can help parents keep a close watch on progress, so as to praise every advance.

Next post: What can I do as a parent if my Eagle is struggling?

 

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Why is it worth belonging to the Acton Academy community?

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Why is it worth belonging to the Acton Academy community? 

Being an Acton Academy Eagle or parent isn’t easy.  It takes courage to be on the cutting edge of educational transformation; it takes a generous spirit to be willing to pave the way for thousands of young heroes and families to follow.

So why take on the challenge?

First, because the Hero’s Journey has stood the test of time.  There’s a reason most novels, movies and plays feature some version of the Hero’s Journey as the main plotline.  As human beings, we have a deep longing to make a difference and use our gifts to serve others, as we transform ourselves and change the world through courageous acts.

Choosing a Hero’s Journey means fully embracing what it means to be fully human.

Second, because Acton Eagles are different.  By Launchpad, an Acton Eagle Eagles know how to work hard at something that matters in her own journey.  She has learned in middle school to self-manage against long term goals, to self-govern using personal covenants with the courage to hold herself and others accountable; to choose a gift to deliberately practice in order to seek a worthy calling.

By Launchpad, an Eagle knows how to write and speak persuasively and how to make logical arguments and numerical calculations that are on point, accurate and meaningful.  She knows how to participate in and lead a Socratic discussion to discover a new process for accomplishing an important goal; how to find a world class example and mentor to provide guidance; and how to have an even deeper discussion about eternal truths, principles and values.

She knows how to be tough minded without being harsh, and warmhearted without allowing others to take advantage of her kindness.  She knows how to lead a meeting and cast a compelling vision or offer powerful incentives.  She’s learned to make friends out of strangers and treat co-workers with respect.

Third, Acton Academy studios prepare Eagles for the real world.  Acton Academy is not an educational Utopia.  Human beings and communities are too messy and complex to hope for perfection, so life in the studio is messy and the culture must constantly be rebuilt.

But our studio contracts and systems do function much like a Civil Society, where good choices lead to more freedom and responsibility, and poor choices deliver clear consequences and grace so Eagles can stumble and rise again.

Fourth, because Acton families are different too.  Families join in community and share difficult lessons learned.  Family contracts and family meetings let us clarify what family means to each of us, the first step towards setting set individual and family goals so life is less busy and more fruitful.

Acton parents frame choices rather than issuing edicts or helicopter-like micromanagement or to give an Eagle unlimited license with no responsibility.   Acton parents allow their Eagles to learn from mistakes, even when it’s hard.  Acton parents realize that in many ways they are moving counterculturally, continually against three corrosive forces:

  • Resistance, fear based paralysis that prevents making hard choices or starting a difficult project or journey.
  • Distraction, a behavioral addiction to television, online gaming and video and social media that destroys concentration and flow and cheapens life.
  • Victim-hood, the reflex to blame circumstances and others instead of accepting life can be unfair, and resolving to take personal responsibility for making the world a better place.

Being an Acton parent means realizing that our job isn’t to make our children’s lives as easy as possible; to relive our childhood wounds through our children or to treat children as friends or equals, but instead to act as role models, exercising genuine authority when needed and having the courage to trust natural consequences to prepare our children for a world that is at times magical and at other times terribly unforgiving.

Why is it worth belonging to the Acton Academy community?  Because each of us has a limited time on this planet.   We know that the mistakes, failures and trials build courage, resilience and grit one lesson at a time.  We want to nurture in our children a sense of genuine accomplishment with every Exhibition or apprenticeship, tempered by gratitude.

Acton Eagles and parents are different.  We are different in ways that will serve us well in the decades to come, eventually leading to fulfilling answers the three questions that matter most at the end of a well lived life:

  • Did I accomplish something meaningful?
  • Was I a good person? and
  • Who did I love and who loves me?

Why is it worth being an Acton Eagle or parent?  Because we long to squeeze every drop of joy, wonder and love from each day, even when the road is hard.  We have no other choice, except to live a less meaningful and less interesting life.

This is the first of several posts to prepare our community for a spirited re-launch in September 2018.

 

 

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Meaningful Rituals to Celebrate the Year

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Eagles worked hard this year, so it was important to close Session Six with a celebratory Spring Ranch Trip, including team challenges, meaningful reflections and commitments for next year and beyond.

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We started with spirited contests, including an obstacle course  a shooting competition and a kayak race, with a closely fought team battle until the very end.

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Next it was time for swimming and a nature tour of the ranch.

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As we prepared to settle in our Hill Country bunk beds beneath 100 year old oaks, it was time for s’more’s  and a fireside ceremony, where each Eagle chose which roles in life to discard, embrace and hold as priceless.

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The next morning we assembled high on a hilltop to welcome the sunrise, celebrating how far we had come together; bidding”goodbye” to a few Eagles who were heading to Launchpad or beyond, and already anticipating the upcoming year.

 

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A Sumo Robot Battle Royal: “Is artificial intelligence discovered or created?”

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Session Six focused on programming, artificial intelligence and securing world changing apprenticeships.

Eagles dug deeply into programming and artificial intelligence, including: coding in Python and EV3; solving real-world coding challenges; creating computer generated art and competing in weekly robotics contests.

Along the way Eagles learned lessons about how computers work, complexity theory, machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence, all with constant drumbeat of Socratic questions over the true meaning of intelligence and consciousness.

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On Friday, we celebrated the session with a Robot Battle Royal  as well as a sharing of the “Why am I here?” video talks taped by each Eagle to describe his or her continuing Hero’s Journey.

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Of course, programming and robots weren’t our only focus this session, as each Eagle learned to find an apprenticeship by following Six Steps to Find a Life Changing Apprenticeship

  1. Find an adventure that matches your gifts and passions.
  2. Do deep research about your target company and who will be hiring you.
  3.  Create a compelling email, phone and in person pitch, each advancing you closer to hearing the magic phrase: “I’ll give you a chance to prove yourself!”
  4.  Craft a clear covenant between you, your employer and your parents.
  5.  Prepare to execute by showing up early, working hard, staying late and taking careful notes about who you meet and what you learn.
  6.  Follow up afterwards with a thank you note and request for a letter of reference.

Yes, some young people will be aimlessly wasting their time in college and afterwards living with their parents.  But not our Eagles – who already know how to identify, find and secure a challenging adventure, leading ever closer to a calling that changes the world.

A sure-fire way to guarantee  you’ll never be a replaced by a robot.

 

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“Are great cities planned or do they emerge?”

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Middle School Eagles hosted the Electricity Quest Exhibition Friday, exploring the question: “Are great cities planned or do they emerge?”

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During Session Five Eagles explored over fifty theoretical, simulated and hands-on electricity challenges to earn the right to add buildings to their neighborhoods, and light them with a functioning electrical grid.

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Along the way, middle schoolers dug deeply into voltage, current, resistance, Ohm’s law and designing circuits in series and parallel; the struggle between urban freedom fighter Jane Jacobs and uber city planner Robert Moses and and the tussles of inventors  Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

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Plus, Eagles experimented with different forms of electrical generation – coal, gas, wind, solar and nuclear – and the costs and risks of each.

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The Best 21st Century City would have the highest population, most amenities and lowest cost of electricity, leading to the highest per capita income and lowest cost of living per capita, thus the most prosperous city.  Of course, there were awards for the most beautiful and creative cities too, as well as the city with the most monuments to Electricity Heroes.

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Sound difficult?  It gets worse.  Each building had different lighting requirements, therefore different voltage and current needs – and each wasted Watt meant a higher cost of living.

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Since per capita income increased with population  – a real world truism – winning required combining your neighborhood with others, who often had a different voltage.  Not surprisingly, Eagles could be found wiring, testing and re-wiring as late as 9 pm some nights.

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During the exhibition Eagles had a chance to present their “I have a dream for my city” persuasive speeches and field Electricity Bee questions to demonstrate their grasp of electrical theory.

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Finally, the grand finale.  Once each city had been electrified for its required hour, a series of dice rolls determined  if anything unexpected would happen to power generation costs.  After all, sometimes the wind doesn’t blow; coal prices soar or solar power subsidies disappear.   Then one last test – would the city economics survive a rolling blackout or brownout?

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It was a far from pristine exhibition, with much energy expended on last minute additions to the cities.  Nevertheless, the cities themselves spoke to how much had been learned. As one adult Electrical Engineer said: “They learned more in this quest about electricity than I did in college.”

Theory. Simulation.  Hands on contests.

Artistic freedom. Competition. Real world economics and uncertainly.

Whether the result of careful planning or emergent growth, or both – quite something to behold from the city builders of tomorrow.

 

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Ready for the job interview of your life?

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“Ready for the job interview of your life?”  That’s the question Launchpadders faced during the Free Agent Quest Exhibition on Friday, fully knowing in the 21st Century there’s no such thing as a secure career path.

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Each Launchpadder interviewed with a successful entrepreneur, asking: “Will you give me a chance to prove myself?” in an industry and function he or she had chosen as a “next great adventure.”

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All of this a culmination of six weeks of exploring gifts and passions, asking:

  • “Why am I here?”
  • “What’s my next big step?” and
  • “What will it take to get there?”

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What mattered most?  Commitment.  Putting a stake in the ground for a passion and deliberate practice that will pay the bills and lead to a calling.

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Launchpadders also pitched Hero’s Progress allegories, up to 20,000 word Pilgrim Progress-like tales of heroes who embark on a great adventure, only to encounter Victim, Distraction and Resistance, villains determined to thwart the quest and throw the hero into a fiery hell of eternal mediocrity.

Direction; passion; valuable individual skills plus a deep understanding of yourself. Add fun with friends, and that’s what Launchpad’s all about.

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How to Learn STEM – for Real

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Teaching STEM  – Science, Technology; Engineering and Math – is a hot topic in traditional education, particularly when it comes to women.

So how do we teach STEM at Acton Academy?  We don’t.  Instead, Eagles learn it.

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Session Five’s Electrical and Quantum Mechanics Quest has Eagles designing and constructing a neighborhood, complete with an electrical system, and then melding neighborhoods and electrical grids together into one giant city.

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The most attractive city, with the lowest power cost, that can stay illuminated for at least one hour at the Exhibition wins.

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In order to earn the right to buy wires and components with Eagle Bucks, Eagles have to solve complex circuit diagram problems and answer “Electricity Bee” questions about electromagnetic theory in front of the entire studio.

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On Thursday, the last two teams were still trying to qualify.  One Eagle woman and then another, both convinced they could never “do science,” stepped up to the plate.  Everyone held their breath – and each got it right!

“How do you teach STEM?” isn’t the right question. As it turns out, neither is ““How do you learn STEM?”  The right question is: “Why do you learn STEM?”

Apparently you learn it so you can build your very own illuminated city on a hill.

 

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The Middle School Classical Physics Olympics

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Our Classical Physics Olympics was a smashing success, except perhaps for Mr. Egg, his family and friends, many of whom gave their lives in the pursuit of Science.

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We started with a reading of Hero’s Progress, a personal allegory about the Hero’s Journey, plus three condensed Pixar-like story pitches from other Hero’s Progress allegories.

Next we moved to the Classical Olympics, taking Mr. Egg, his family and friends through six thrill seeking challenges, trying to keep them alive by practicing the three processes we’d learned:

  • Trial and error
  • Observation and Prediction (aka the Scientific Method) and
  • Theory and equation.

Our course, the real world is messy, and as the Eagles had learned over the last five weeks, errors between theory and reality can occur because of:

  • A misunderstanding of the problems, definitions or tools;
  • Inaccurate measurement
  • Inconsistent units; or
  • Other real world complications.

While Eagles had learned solving a large complex problem require:

  • Breaking the problem into smaller problems that are more easily solved;
  • Solving those smaller problems with the right tools; or
  • Recombining the solutions to address the more complex problem;

Mr. Egg wasn’t impressed.  He demanded an Eagle Buck insurance policy – if the Eagles were wrong, they’d literally pay for their mistakes.

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The first Olympic event was balancing a lever, so delicately poised that even a smidgen of error meant Mr. Egg would be crushed.  Next Eagles had to guess which mass would counterbalance a pulley system – one miscalculation and Mr. Egg would pay.

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Event Three was the rolling ball bobsled, where armed with Kinematic Equations, Eagles chose just the right height, for just the right potential energy to overcome rotational inertia and friction to propel a ball off the edge of the table into a tiny, waiting cup below.

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Event Four was a Static Bungee test, designed to calm Mr. Egg’s nerves for Event Five, his dynamic bungee jump into Lake Acton.  One inch short and he’s miss his bucket goal of diving into a river unscathed; one inch long and he’d crack his head on the bottom.

Before the grand finale, Eagles gathered for lessons learned, where several showed not only a deep appreciation for the difficulty of real world science, but also an interest in science as a calling.

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Tensions were high leading into Event Six,.  Teams One and Two were tied; Team Three close behind, Eagles had to calculate eggactly the right angle to shoot Mr. Egg to hit a small target more than 50 yards away.  Alas – Mr. Egg was not expected to survive this one.

After a hard-fought battle, Teams One and Two tied and split the Olympic cupcakes.  Team Three came in a respectable third place.  Mr. Egg?  Too gruesome to describe on a community blog.

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The New Media Quest closed with a photography exhibition hosted at Zach Theatre’s Skyline Lounge. Eagles were responsible for planning, shooting, editing and printing a series of three original images. Their chosen theme for the exhibition was “life.”

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Attending parents and guests could browse their work, ask Eagles about their creative process and bid on their favorite print in a silent auction.

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In the days leading up to the exhibition, the Eagles discussed the question: how will you know the exhibition is a success?

  • Was it satisfaction for creating great work?
  • Was it selling all of your prints?
  • Was it leaving the guests in awe?
  • Was it just having a good time?

By the end of the exhibition not a single print remained in the lounge, and each artists left with some extra spending money.  Art may be its own reward, but so is selling  something you’ve made with your own hands.

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The Illusions of Traditional Math Education

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A recent late Middle School transfer recently described the difference between Math at Acton and a traditional school: “At my old school, we learned one type of problem at a time.  Once you knew how to repeat the steps, you did twenty homework problems on a worksheet that were exactly the same.”

He continued: “At Acton, Khan makes us do way more types of problems, and they come in different disguises, so you can’t repeat the same steps over and over again.   You have to get five in a row right to master a skill, but you see the steps in a different order or have to re-learn a problem you solved a long time ago.”

Khan Academy Math has over 1200 skills; traditional Math with a teacher can lead students through only a small subset of these.    So that’s the choice:  a fraction of the procedures learned by rote or hundreds of skills of different types, presented in different ways, learned peer to peer.

Certainly there’s a sense of satisfaction that comes from parroting procedures correctly, but neither Khan nor traditional schools seem to deliver deep critical thinking skills.  Clark Aldrich, author of Unschooling Rules and simulation guru, believes Khan Math is just a faster buggy whip — in a time when horseless carriages soon will drive themselves.

Aldrich believes there are only thirty or so important math concepts and that all can be mastered in Excel or Google Sheets.  That’s why we’ve engaged Aldrich to diagram the thirty challenges so we can incorporate them into Quests.

Of course, then Eagles and parents will have to decide to master Differential Calculus on Khan, or choose something most people will use in the real world.

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Mr. Egg’s Bucket List

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Mr. Egg made a bucket list of extreme sports challenges he wanted to try before he died.  High on Mr. Egg’s list is a bungee jump into a lake.

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You are in charge of Mr. Egg’s bungee and need to set the right parameters:  get it wrong and Mr. Egg dies.  Are you up to the test?

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Confusing definitions. Dull equations.  Lame experiments.  Is it any wonder that many young people turn away from Science?  And yet, at some point the fun science demonstrations in elementary school must give way to more rigorous processes.

In the Middle School Classical Physics Quest we are experimenting with challenges and narratives — like Mr Egg’s – to drive the hard work needed to understand the natural laws and mathematics that describe how the real world works.

One fundamental question we’ve explored:

“Is it better to solve a problem using:

  • trial and error;
  • careful observation and prediction
  • or theories and formulas?”

Another question:

“If your theoretical calculations and the real world results differ, was the error caused by:

  • Improper unit conversions;
  • Sloppy measurement;
  • Choosing the wrong equations, or
  • A fundamental misunderstanding of the problem?”

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On Friday, pairs of Eagles predicted how long the bungee cord needed to be to dip Mr Egg’s head in Lake Acton without breaking his neck on the bottom.   A ten Eagle Buck life insurance policy made failures more expensive, so Eagles who mastered theories and equations were rewarded.

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Mr. Egg died many deaths, but his sacrifices in the name of science will be remembered by all!

 

 

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Launchpad’s New Media Quest

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In the era of “selfies” and vines, what separates an excellent photo from a good one? Is lighting or composition more important? Would you rather hire someone with technical mastery or creative genius?

Is social media hurting social skills and communication development in young adults?

Does technology help you or end up wasting your time?

What happens when you spend time looking a captivating image? How does it change you? Is art even important? How has art influence our society? What has a deeper influence: fine art or applied art?

These are some of the questions we have been exploring in the New Media Quest this session.

Many weeks before the quest began, the Launchpad Eagles – and a select few from the Middle School – were promised two things: (1) that this quest would offer an authentic glimpse into life as a media professional and (2) they would work harder and have more fun than any other session. Every day there are creative deadlines, blogging prompts, and photography challenges. Eagles are coordinating with clients and working with talent on a weekly basis.

Launchpad has completely transformed into a production studio filled with cameras, lighting equipment, and editing bays.

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Last week the studio was fortunate enough to be visited by Jonno Rattman; a professional editorial photographer. Jonno was gracious enough to share his inspiring hero story with the Eagles and also some of his deepest insights into his creative process.

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Here is some work from the past week’s portrait and “forced perspective” challenges:

The pains of learning new software are concluding, and now the fun can begin with a rigorous new batch of projects!

 

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“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how:”- Friedrich Nietzsche

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Measurement is important, but if can dampen motivation.  Short term rewards quickly lose their power, and can be counterproductive.  To understand motivation, you must dig deeply into “why” someone wants to work hard, to pour his or her soul into an effort.

Last session Middle School Eagles were asked about a personal passion and why they worked so hard to pursue it:

  • Sophia works hard on the violin because she wants to become a violinist, someone who masters a complex skill but can never quite perfects it.
  • A second Sophia practices the guitar, because she wants to  effortlessly create something beautiful, whenever she pleases.
  • Jaiden wants to express his ideas through drawing, so he can change the lives of people, because he wants his life to make a difference.
  • Ridge plays soccer because he wants to be able to improve at many new experiences, so he has options in life, and never has to be under under someone else’s control.

Our young people have very deep “why’s” in their lives, passions that schools seldom touch – even ours.  Nietzsche believed in a “will to power” and a Superman who could dominate others.  Our Eagles long to be a different kind of superhero, one who changes the world by offering gifts through passion.

 

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Big Data Storms Middle School

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Middle School Eagles have been immersed in a Data Visualization Quest, learning the questions, examples, tools and challenges needed to convert bits and bytes  into pictures and graphs to more easily create and discover truth in the world.

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For the exhibition, Eagles:

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Crafted a compelling question, gathered the data, cleaned up any errors or inconsistencies, chose the right display and took care to avoid “visualization traps” that could be misleading.

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Delivered a “pitch” to convince someone to fund their project; and

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Provided examples of the ways we track learning at Acton Academy.

What did we learn?  We learned that when discovering and creating truth, a picture may be worth a billion words.

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“I was in my pick up, driving down Manor road…”

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Lee Walker, the first President of Dell Computers, formerly a NASA award winning PhD candidate in Physics and one of the top professors at the University of Texas, launched his Cambridge-style Oral Examination of the Launchpad Eagles:  “I was in my pick up, driving down Manor road, hurrying to get here when a lightning bug dropped from the overpass…”

For the last five weeks Launchpadders were immersed in a Physics MOOC (Massive-Open Online Course,) conducting hands on experiments, exploring the lives of Physics Heroes and learning to think with the childlike curiosity of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman.

Yes, being able to quote Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics and  F=MA matter, but far more important are having the curiosity and disciplined thought processes of a world class physicist.

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For 90 minutes Walker asked probing questions about the force of his “2,000 kg truck accelerating at 3 m/s*s” impacting a lightning bug with “1/1000th of the mass,” weaving a fanciful tale Feynman would have enjoyed, ranging from gravity, to electromagnetism to the strong and weak nuclear forces to Quantum Physics and the Theory of Relativity. Eagles moved  between childlike questions of their own, using equations to solve problems, describing the discoveries of Physics heroes, reliving previous experiments and exploring analogies.

In the end it was simply great fun for the audience, witnessing a mix of structured and unstructured exploration of the wonders of the universe.

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Launchpadders — shown here in a “thank you” photo sent to Walker —  next will create a  Next Big Thing,  a deep dive into an area of Physics we hope will become a personal passion.

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Science: It’s Harder than it Looks

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Repeating ancient experiments can be boring – unless you do it with a sense of wonder about the devices and thought experiments the ancients were able to create.

It also helps to do a little real data gathering from time to time.  It’s much harder to drop two balls “at the exact same time” than it looks.  Especially if you were Galileo measuring with a water clock, long before the invention of Iphones.

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Earning the Ranch Trip

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Should celebrations be enjoyed by the entire Tribe, regardless of effort or reserved for those who earn them?  Are celebrations a time for play or rest and reflection?

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This week sixteen of our thirty one Middle Schoolers traveled to a ranch for high spirited games, fellowship and fireside smores.  We celebrated a new dawn with gratitude and new commitments.

The requirements for earning the trip were set so all could earn them, but five or six Eagles stumbled or chose not to invest enough effort.  Many more stayed back to work on Children’s Business Fair ventures, too busy to take time off for fun and games.

Those who made the trip had great fun; but we missed those not present.

 

 

 

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To the Moon!

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Imagine you want to send a rocket to the moon, which is located directly overhead, and because rocket fuel is expensive, you want to do so with as little energy as possible. 

 Would you fire the rocket “straight up” or at an angle towards the horizon?  If at an angle, what angle requires the least amount of fuel?

Sound like an easy problem?  It’s not.   In Launchpad, some of us thought we had the “answer” several times, but this just led to more Richard Feynman-like questions.

In fact, we have a hunch that a thorough explanation of this query will reveal why Einstein’s Theory of Relativity clashes with Newtonian Physics, yet they are both right.

Real Science requires childlike curiosity and sustained effort.  Far more difficult than memorizing answers for an AP test, but far more rewarding and life giving too.

 

 

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Hope for the Future: The Children’s Business Fair

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On a perfect autumn day, over two hundred young entrepreneurs and thousands of visitors gathered for the Acton Children’s Business Fair and  the Rising Entrepreneur’s Fair (for older teens).

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Some days it’s easy to despair over the state of the world.  Then you realize the incredible wealth of talent soon to be unleashed, and that with the freedom to create, a few will always rise to rescue the many.

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Learning Arcs and Lessons Learned

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Traditional schools have semesters, textbooks and standardized tests; Acton Academy offers Learning Arcs, real world challenges and lessons learned instead.

What is a Learning Arc?  It’s action packed sequence of “learning by doing;” a series of challenges, launched with a bit of mystery; linked by compelling narrative; stuffed full of real world puzzles,  challenges and dilemmas;, culminating with a public exhibition and followed by reflection and “lessons learned.”

We recently completed the Entrepreneurship Archetype Quest in the Middle School Studio.  Here are one twelve year old Eagle’s lessons learned, in her own words:

Lessons learned:

  1. If you take everything slowly and carefully, making it your best work you will get loads farther than if you just rush through it thinking “They’re only deliverables.” Slow and steady wins the race. I will improve to make it “fast and steady wins the race.”
  2. It is important to watch out for competitors. If you ignore them, they are likely to keep lowering their prices until they steal away many of your customers. If they keep lowering their prices, you might want to lower yours, because it will get you more customers. But be careful; if you price below your variable costs, you will bleed cash with every sale.  Watch out for price battles because they can get intense!
  3. Sometimes pricing high and skimming the market is better than pricing low and penetrating. When you price high people think that your product is worth more. If you sell wands for a few cents each people will think they are low quality. If you sell them for $5 or so people may think they are high quality, even if they are  not.
  4. It is never too early to be an entrepreneur. If you try your best, you can make things and sell them and actually make money. You could become an entrepreneur.
  5. Sometimes you have to take risks. If you play it safe every time you will have less fun and may make less money. In the girl’s bathroom in the MS, there is a picture that says “If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably won’t lead anywhere.”In my first Children’s Business Fair, I had a booth called Spooky Sacks. I was in it with my brother and we were selling Trick-or-Treating bags. We had too many variable costs and not enough customers. The only person who bought our product was one man who did it just to be nice. We lost $80. My parents were nice enough to share the loss with us. Sometimes you shouldn’t take too many risks.

If you are an entrepreneur, you will recognize priceless truths in these reflections; learned the hard way and deeply embedded through trial and error.

Semesters, textbooks and standardized tests are no match for Learning Arcs, real world challenges and lessons learned, because a soulless bureaucracy is no substitute for a fulfilling Hero’s Journey.

 

 

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Out into the Real World of Entrepreneurship

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At the end of each exhibition, we take time to reflect and celebrate.  As part of our celebration, Launchpadders on Friday toured the Capital Factory, an entrepreneurial incubator.

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Afterwards, a Capital Factory Director wrote: “And I was just talking to my husband about you and your students. The CF team of entrepreneurs truly enjoyed their time with you. In fact, they were blown away by them … even remarking that they were the most poised and intelligent high school students they had met yet.”

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Just wait until we unleash them on the real world!

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The Entrepreneurial Archetype Quest Exhibition

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On Thursday our Middle School and Launchpad Eagles welcomed parents and visitors to the Entrepreneurial Archetype Quest Exhibition, where our guests would decide which business ventures would qualify for the Austin Acton Children’s Business Fair (for pre-teens) and Rising Entrepreneur’s Business Fair (for teens) set for October 22nd.

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As usual before an exhibition, Eagles were hard at work, with many continuing rehearsals and final preparations far past normal bedtimes on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

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On Thursday afternoon, the event was entirely run by Middle Schoolers and Launchpadders, beginning with a welcome and the sharing of Hero Stories crafted by Eagles after interviewing their favorite entrepreneurs.

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Next visitors were invited to tour each Eagle’s booth, to hear a pitch for an entrepreneurial venture, including the customer’s need, Unit Economics and preferred Entrepreneurial Archetype.

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A panel of successful Entrepreneurial Sharks listened to pitches and grilled rising entrepreneurs about their businesses.

We concluded with final lessons learned from guests and Eagles, and announcing the winners of the Business Fair booths.

Thanks to over twenty difficult challenges, ranging from Unit Economics to trading Red Paper Clips to running an assembly line to make sandwiches for the homeless, our budding Eagle entrepreneurs are now ready to take on the business world.

 

 

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The Yacker Tracker

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Welcome to the Yacker Tracker, an invaluable tool allows Middle School Council to ask everyone in the studio for an Eagle Buck when the noise exceeds a preset decibel level.

Draconian?  Perhaps. But the Middle School Eagles would prefer using the Yacker Tracker to quiet the studio than to be red carded (asked for 32 Eagle Bucks) by the Elementary Studio downstairs.

No one wants to answer to Elementary Overlords.

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Deliberate Practice

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We need to fortify the habit of Deliberate Practice at Acton Academy, the serious dedication it takes to hone a skill, through repeated and measured trials, under expert instruction, with serious reflection.

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We hope soon to be working with Anders Erricsson, the intellectual father of Deliberate Practice and famous for “10,000 hours to mastery.”

As a prelude, during a recent Acton Parent’s meeting we focused on GRIT, the courage and dedication it takes to cultivate perseverance.  At the end of the session, nineteen parents pledged to take on a skill to deliberately practice for the fall, from mediation to tennis to baking pies.

Our children may not listen to what we say, but they do watch what we do.  So if we want them to become grittier, we must first become grittier ourselves.

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Time is relative in our studios

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Our Elementary Eagles frequently work hard, but curiosity and exploration are more important to us in early years.  In Middle School, the work becomes far more serious.

One Eagle, who recently moved from the Elementary to Middle School studio put it this way: “In the Elementary Studio, often I felt I was killing time. In Middle School, I have to cling tightly to time, or it will slip away and I won’t have created anything of value.”

An eloquent description of the act of growing up.

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Would you dare haggle with an Asset Fox?

 

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Week Four of the Entrepreneurship Quest was action packed.

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Eagles played the Red Paper Clip trading game; took on the Rich Uncle Valuation challenge and competed in an MIT Negotiating Role Play, testing out their skills as Asset Foxes.

By Friday, it was time for a some real world competition.

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Launchpadders took on the Acton MBA’s in a no-holds-barred eighty minute Socratic discussion of the Harvard Business School Caribbean Café case study, emerging victorious in a closely matched battle.

No mean feat, since for eight of the last eleven years the Princeton Review has named Acton’s students as The Most Competitive MBA’s on the planet.

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Friday afternoon, Launchpadders and Middle Schoolers descended on Austin storekeepers, haggling even the most hidebound merchants with “Is that the best you can do?” and “Are you sure that’s the best you can do?” until we had secured cumulative discounts of more than 40%.  Few Eagles are likely to ever pay retail again!

Next week – it’s time for the Exhibition.

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Forming the Tribe: Fun, Hard Work and Commitment

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A secret of Acton Academy:  first we make learning fun.

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Then we make Acton Academy a place where you are known and surrounded by people you like and admire, with group activities designed to challenge, inspire and bond – like each Eagle making a Hero Board about his or her life.

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Then we each promise to embark on a Hero’s Journey, each dedicated to finding a calling that will change the world – that means hard work is a must.

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Finally, Eagles commit to each other, signing the contracts and covenants that they have drafted, debated, revised and ratified.

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Our Eagles are as serious about their promises as our Founding Fathers who pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”  These commitments bind us and serve as guardrails  for our Learner Driven Community.

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Are you a Bootstrap Tortoise; an Asset Fox or an MBA Hare?

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This year’s Overarching Question asks: Is the truth discovered or created?

Our Session One Entrepreneurship Quest echoes the Overarching Question by asking: Are great opportunities discovered or created?

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Just as importantly, we ask: “Does your entrepreneurial archetype, formed by your gifts, passions and personality, best fit a Bootstrap Tortoise (building businesses one customer at a time;) an Asset Fox (trading assets) or an MBA Hare (chasing the latest hot deal)?

The Quest started with The Trading Game, an action packed, hands on simulation where teams competed not only to win, but to discover which archetype was most appealing for each individual entrepreneur.

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We also launched this session’s Entrepreneurship Genre project, where each Eagle will choose an entrepreneurial role model, request an interview and write a Hero Story about his or her role model’s life.

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In Week Two, Eagles shifted to learning how to sell, playing Acton MBA simulations and creating and practicing a sales pitch for their Children’s Business Fair venture.  The winners of the pitch contest enjoyed lunch at El Chilito, but only after pitching a few customers at the restaurant.

A personal favorite opening line, from an Eagle who will sell voodoo dolls at the Children’s Business Fair: “Have you ever disliked someone so much that you wanted to stick him with a pin?” (Spoiler alert – the pitch worked!)

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In Week Three, we wrapped up our Bootstrap Tortoise challenges playing the Acton MBA simulation Galactic Zappers and then competing to make sandwiches for the homeless, while learning valuable lessons about throughput, cycle times, bottlenecks and Unit Economics.  (Eagles also learned a valuable lesson about empathy and customer service when they learned the sandwiches were really their lunches and that you must never serve anything to a customer you wouldn’t serve yourself!)

Next week we move on the Asset Fox challenges, as Launchpadders also prepare to take on the Acton MBA’s in a winner-take-all Socratic discussion.

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Launching the Year: Is the Truth Discovered or Created?

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So what’s the first step on a Hero’s Journey?

Today we started with Acton Academy’s mission: to inspire each person who enters our doors to find a calling that will change the world.    Moments later, our Middle Schoolers and Launchpadders leaped into a flurry of tribe building and entrepreneurial activities.

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Eagles spent much of the morning questioning each other, probing about heroes, gifts and dreams, simultaneously building bonds of friendship as they practiced interviewing skills they’ll need to write a Hero Story about an entrepreneurial role model for this session’s Genre Challenge.

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In the afternoon, Middle School and Launchpad Eagles dove into the Trading Game, the hands-on, action packed contest that launched the Entrepreneurship Quest, and served as a first step to discovering if they are Bootstrap Tortoises, Asset Foxes or an MBA Hares.

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All of this is preparing us to explore this year’s Overarching Question: Is the truth discovered or created? through seven Quests, including forays into Entrepreneurship; Classical and Quantum Physics; Data Visualization; the McCarthy Trial; Programming and Robotics; Art and more.

And to think – this is only Day One!

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Standardized tests are a scourge, yet….

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Sadly, public school students in Texas spend a reported 45 of their 180 days each year in standardized tests.  At Acton Academy, we prefer to equip and inspire Eagles to learn 21st Century Skills instead.

Still, once a year we subject Eagles to a half day of SAT10 (Stanford Achievement Test) testing, just to make sure they are learning the basics.

This year, Eagles scored an average of 3.5 grade levels ahead of age in Reading; 4.5 grade levels ahead of age in Language Arts and 4.6 grade levels ahead of age in Math.

Approximately seventy percent of middle school and Launchpad Eagles ranked at a Post-High-School (College) level in Language Arts and Math, and almost half ranked at a Post-High-School (College) level in Reading, Language Arts and Math.

Standardized tests aren’t very important.   But it is reassuring to know our Eagles score well, even if we don’t spend one minute “teaching to the test.”

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Death, Taxes and Launchpad Eagles

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More young people ages 18-35 live with their parents than at any other time in modern history.  Over half of post-college aged adults now live with a family member, rather than  living independently.  Sadly, many college graduates are directionless, saddled with large loans and over half are underemployed.  

Not much is certain beyond death and taxes.  But here’s a good bet:  Ten years from now you’ll be hard pressed to find an Acton Academy Launchpadder living on a parent’s couch, lacking grit, skills or direction.

 

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Overheard in the Grocery Store Check Out Line

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Overheard and reported by an Acton Academy parent:

Two cute, young, fun-looking traditional teachers were in front of me in the grocery store check-out line, talking about how busy the end of year was and lamenting the torture of standardized tests.

Then one said: “Oh my god. I didn’t even read their final research papers. I just skimmed over them. If they had as much as an intro and summary, it was good enough for me.”

 Then they both laughed. Such an injustice to the young people who had worked hard.

At Acton Academy, every writing challenged is peer reviewed.  In most cases with a detailed critique; in many cases, posted on the wall for all to see.

Here’s the point.  Of course everyone would prefer having a warm, caring English teacher, who nurtures each student; writes like Hemingway and could offer Tolstoy a helpful literary critique.  But that’s not reality.

The truth is, Acton’s transparency and peer critiques offer far more coaching and motivation than in any traditional model, with a far lower likelihood of the outright fraud that no one even bothered to read your thesis before assigning an arbitrary letter grade.

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Bringing the Tribe Back Together

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Groups of humans split quickly into we/them factions that can spiral downwards into personal attacks, and eventually civil war.

During the Politics and Economics Quest, Eagles argued passionately for different causes, on occasion leading to hurt feelings.  Because we are a tribe, not a group, the end of the session meant it was time to come together by:

  • Finding a Common Enemy;
  • Pursuing a Common Mission;
  • Bringing leaders together for Conflict Resolution, where necessary; and
  • Examining our own psychological shadows, to curb the unhealthy projections that drive us apart, so we each rediscover deeply buried parts of ourselves.

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Reconciliation and re-commitment.  All part of the Hero’s Journey.

 

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Our Politics and Economics Quest Exhibition

Tension built as the Libertarian Party, Demo-Green-Surprise Party and independents assembled for a Battle Royal of a political convention.

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Candidates for Executive Office unleashed stump speeches to persuade Elementary, Middle School and Launchpad Eagles to support their campaigns.

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Legislators gave floor speeches in an attempt to pass important legislation for the Acton Academy studios and Acton’s worldwide…..

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…. while Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments.

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We celebrated important lessons learned about personal political principles, powerful tools and political Kryptonite (corrupting influences), all combined into a toolkit Eagles could use to change the world.   Eagles also showcased White Papers, Editorials and Hero Stories written as part of the quest.

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In the end, the Libertarian Party prevailed, proving if nothing else that Acton Academy  is the only place in the world Libertarians can win an election.  Or at least until the Demo-Greens-Surprise party regroups for the next election.

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Propaganda or Spreading Truth?

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During the Politics and Economics Quest, Eagles earned the right to watch movies such as 2018, a movie based on by Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron

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and Poverty Inc. by the Acton Institute.

Afterwards, Eagles circled up for a Socratic Discussion to debate the power of story to communicate political truths as well as political propaganda.  Of course, the real trick is to tell one from the other.

 

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The Federal Reserve, Depression and Hyper-Inflation

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The Chair of the Federal Reserve is one of the most powerful people in the world, and one of the President’s most important appointments.

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The Great Depression. Unemployed men queued outside a soup kitchen opened in Chicago by Al Capone. The storefront sign reads 'Free Soup, Coffee and Doughnuts for the Unemployed.' Chicago, 1930s (Newscom TagID: evhistorypix027753.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

As part of the Politics and Economics Quest, Eagles explored Keynesian and Monetarist theories before playing a powerful Inflation Simulation to experience how the Federal Reserve and monetary policy impact economic booms and busts.

Then Eagles had to stand in the shoes of the President of the United States, making difficult economic and political decisions during the 2008 Economic Crisis.

Would the Eagles have approved a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street?  Not likely.

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Political Tools, Well Used

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Traditional students study the three branches of government.  At Acton Academy, Middle School and Launchpad Eagles make learning about governing by running a real campaign.

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Eagles not only wrote and delivered campaign stump speeches, legislative floor speeches and oral arguments for the Supreme Court, but also polled and canvased Elementary Eagles to convince them to register and vote in the Acton Academy election – a task almost as difficult as motivating the average American.

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As the battle between the Libertarian and Demo-Green party grew intense, some Eagles started dressing up each day in order to make a better impression on voters.

If only an Eagle would consider running for President in 2016.

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Going to War; Paying the Price

Fifteen intense Socratic discussions have put Launchpad and Middle School Eagles in the shoes of a political leader facing a difficult decision.   Perhaps the most difficult of all decisions for a leader is to order American troops into harm’s way.

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Eagles investigated four frameworks that couldhelp a President decide whether or not to commit troops:

  • The Just War Doctrine
  • Vital Interests
  • Idealism and the Spread of Democracy
  • Isolationism

Each Eagle dug deeply into one or more of the following wars to decide if he or she would have committed troops as President:

  • Korean
  • Bosnian
  • Vietnam
  • Iraq I
  • Iraq II

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Then we assembled for an intense simulation where Eagles would take turns acting as the President in a time of war.  Before we started, we watched scenes from Saving Private Ryan to drive home that war is not a video game.   Once the discussion started, in real time new information arrived in the Situation Room and demanded to be included.   The tension kept rising, but in the end, the President had to make a decision.

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As one Eagle soberly commented afterwards: “It is a heavy responsibility.  Someone is going to die, and as President, you have to decide who it will be.  And then you must explain to a mother, father, husband, wife or child why you asked their loved one to make the ultimate sacrifice.”

Quests at Acton Academy are not an academic exercise.  Quests are preparation for real world decision, and the heavy burdens it places on a leader.

 

 

 

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Experiments, Simulations and Role Plays

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The Politics and Economics Quest featured more than ten economic and political experiments, simulations and role plays, including the Lord of the Flies, Tragedy of the Commons and The Power Game.

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Soon, Eagles were finding an executing their own behavioral experiments to prove a point, including the Privilege I and Privilege II experiments shown above to drive home the need for Affirmative Action, as well as a counterpoint M&M Incentives Game to demonstrate the impact of high marginal tax rates on economic growth.

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Sheep, Wolves, Sheepdogs and Shepherds

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According to Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman there are three types of people in the world:

  • Sheep who go about their business,
  • Wolves who feed on the sheep; and
  • The Sheepdog who protects the flock.

At Acton Academy, we would add Shepherds, the countless servant leaders like Gandhi, King and Borlaug who pursue individual callings that strengthen the fabric of society.

Of course, people are not animals; wolves and the need for protective violence are thankfully rare; and we live in a society where you can enjoy the fruits of freedom without participating in the political or civic arenas.

Nevertheless, in the midst of our Political and Economic Quest, we should never forget that it is the sacrificial love of Sheepdog and Shepherd Heroes who keep our fear of wolves at bay.

Acton Academy.  No sheep allowed.

 

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Session Six Civilization: The Big Questions of Politics and Economics

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Our overarching question for the year is: Must a hero conquer fear to find true love?

This session, the more specific question we are exploring in the Politics and Economics Quest:  Must a hero conquer fear of the public square, to find a true love of country, community and self?

Given this goal, our Socratic discussions in Civilization have been centered around the big questions in politics and economics:

  • Is government’s primary role to protect our individual rights or create a more prosperous and just world?
  • Should we fear anarchy or tyranny more?
  • Who should decide how society should be structured: elites or a strong man; the mob and pure democracy or free individuals making individual choices?
  • Was Hamilton right about centralizing power or Jefferson right about dispersing it? Who would Madison have agreed with more?
  • What happens when governments and markets fail?

Twice each week, Eagles do an hour or more of original research, looking both historical battles and current day dilemmas, followed by a twenty minute Socratic discussion led by an Eagle.

All of this with the underlying question: How will you change the world through political or economic action, without having your morals and principles corrupted by the process?

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What is your Political Kryptonite?

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One of the key themes of the Politics and Economics Quest is the issue of personal corruption.

As James Madison wrote in Federalist 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

As our Eagles struggle for their party to win the Politics and Economics Quest, they will have to measure principle against compromise, and obeying party leaders versus serving constituents versus staying true to their conscience.  Just like in the real world, we expect them to be tempted.

What will be the greatest temptation:

  • Unbridled competition;
  • Money;
  • Power;
  • Fame;
  • Something else?

Perhaps the most important task for anyone entering the public arena is to discover his or her political kryptonite – the substance for which you might unwittingly trade your freedom and soul.

So what is your political kryptonite?

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Finding a Cause that Matters to You

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How do you discover, explore and sharpen (or change) your core political beliefs, those bedrock principles that form your actions in the public square?  Is it best to dive into ancient texts or current day battles?  To wax philosophical or enter into the fray?

At Acton Academy, we decided to start with conflicts in the studio that matter to Eagles.

For example:

  • Should everyone be taxed an equal number of Eagle Bucks for supplies or should those who earn more Eagle Bucks pay a larger share?
  • Should freedom of speech, press and association be unlimited for Acton Eagles or restricted for the good of the community?
  • Should all possibility of embarrassment be stricken from Acton or do serious consequences deter future bad acts?

In the Politics and Economics Quest, we started with nineteen controversial decisions that could impact the  our community.   Each Eagle then took a test to identify his or her core political principles, and selected five top Acton Personal Political Causes.

We then matched up each Eagles with one side or another of a Personal Cause, while also asking Eagles to identify a real world controversy where the same principle applied. For example: environmental protection, gun rights or freedom of religion.

Eagles will research and write white papers and editorials on the real world issues, and use real world facts and examples to argue for changes in Acton governance during the Exhibition.

The common link between the Acton studio issue and the real world? A firmly held political principle.  In a way, the Politics and Economic Quest is a test of whether each Eagle will stand by his or her deepest principles, or sell out for power, fame, popularity or money.

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