In a million years, I never thought we would open a school. Even though my own (Tobin's - one fo the CoFounders) Masters Degree is an M.Ed, I left education 20 years ago and with an intention to never go back.
But sometimes life has a way of handing you a new path. A new calling to make your impact on the world. So as our little school grows, these are some of the key questions we answer each day.
What Is Acton Academy?
Acton Academy Fort Lauderdale is a non-traditional K-12 alternative school based in the Riverland neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale. It is one of over 280+ schools in the Acton network, where we all focus on real-world experiences for our students, in a way that encourages them to take full ownership of their education. Self management and self-governance are the outcomes.
Literally, the adults step back and the students take on the roles to run the school. No Tests. No Homework. No Teachers. Yet the Acton model has a proven track record of high rates of achievement and more data collected/measured than any other type of approach to education.
What Does Learner-Driven Mean?
Acton Academy studios (not classrooms) are run by the learners, subject to contracts and covenants that delegate rights from parents to owners, owners to Guides and Guides to Eagles, giving Eagles a great deal of freedom and responsibility.
That means, within the bounds of the agreements with each other - the learners begin to take over the day to day running of the school.
No teachers teaching. No tests or homework because each learner is taking full responsibility for his or her own learning. Which is why the Acton approach is not for everyone.
What Does A Learner Driven School Look Like?
With his permission, I would like to share an excerpt of a letter that Jeff Sandefer (CoFounder of the first Acton school in Austin, Texas) posted for the Acton community. It speaks to the truth of what is actually going on behind the scenes of these revolutionary schools that are popping up all over the map (17 of them in Austin, TX alone!):
Acton owners, guides (and founding families)
I recently had an exchange with a friend who thinks a lot about how individual choices and community impact civilizations. For anyone who is interested, below in my letter to the friend is a summary of some of the larger lessons learned about tribes over the last dozen years.
1. Acton Academy campuses have 36 multi-aged learners in each studio. For an ideal campus, 36 in a pre-school studio; 72 in two elementary studios; 36 in middle school and 48 in Launchpad (high school.) In effect, these are small tribal societies linked as a larger community of learners from age 6 to 18; loosely connected to 270 likeminded campuses across the world.
2. In each studio, learners start from scratch to build Tocquevillian societies with personal contracts; due process; a market economy and reciprocal altruism. Learners choose from a set of options at each juncture – somewhat like building a civilization with a set of Legos that have been used in the past. Key to the rise of the culture are Sheepdogs, special leaders who are willing to draw clear boundaries and risk social capital to uphold the promises made to each other, even if it means subtly threatening the protective use of force to discourage bullies. (Some Sheepdog females have such presence that though sheer goodness they have a similar impact.) All of this happens with little to no adult intervention.
3. The overarching narrative is the Hero’s Journey, where the hero is changed through struggle, trial and error in pursuit of the Grail. We believe each child is a genius who deserves to find a calling that will change the world. In practice, this means each child is in search of a superpower that can be honed into a gift that will serve others. The main monsters to be faced are resistance; distraction and victimhood.
4. Our educational philosophy is: “We believe clear thinking leads to good decisions, good decisions lead to the right habits, the right habits forge character, and character determines destiny.” Adults are forbidden from answering questions or exerting authority beyond the limited duties granted by explicit contracts with learners. An adult may only offer choices, examples, recipes, testimony and stories.
5. In the market economy, learners soon see that honest trading adds value for both parties, because unless each party has something to offer that the other party values more, no trade takes place. In a way, competence that creates value to be shared, magically is multiplied through trading. Reciprocal altruism breeds respect and trust. Due process and honest measurement allow young heroes to understand through consequences that with freedom comes responsibility. Trust and kindness are the glue that binds.
6. Free riders do appear but suffer consequences. Free riders who refuse to change go through a series of due process steps, which result in them choosing to leave because of poor choices.
7. The first time a toxic learner appears, it is so alien that great damage may be done. This is the only other time an adult might intervene, to offer a Transition Contract to remove the evil influence earlier. Over time, learners become sensitive to the small lies and toxic behavior and act to remove the toxic individual without adult help.
8. Even in the younger studios, the sophistication of the tribe matures rapidly and the pace of learning is extraordinary across all measures. By Launchpad (high school) the graduates are much further ahead in knowledge, skills, social skills and maturity than I was when I graduated from Harvard Business School at age 26. The two most valuable skills are self-management and self-governance.
9. We have observed before age 13 or so, repeated tribal interactions seem to have a big impact on individual conscientiousness. After that age, an individual may be conscientious while in the tribe, but if he or she leaves Acton and doesn’t join another conscientious culture, the individual slips back to a lower level of conscientiousness. However, the long term impact of hero story after hero story seems to provide – or activate – a lifelong commitment to acting courageously and living with resilience.
To summarize: Individuals in a tribe with clear contracts who practice trading and reciprocal altruism get much further ahead. Trust and honesty are the glue. Free riders must be asked to leave if they repeatedly violate community norms, but always with a way to return if they repent.
Amazing, right? Isn't this the kind of school you would have wanted to attend?
To say this in a different way, this is what Marine biologist and writer, Rachel Carson, has to say on parenting, education, and the thirst for knowledge:
"I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.
If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning.
It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate." Source: The Sense of Wonder
And Do You Remember This?
This past spring we shared a series of the Top 10 reasons why your child will prosper in a learner-driven environment (recorded by the brilliant Matt Beaudreau of Acton Placer, CA). So watch these short videos with fresh new eyes. And imagine... is this the kind of school you would have wanted to attend?
And one last thought...
So Why Is It Called Acton Academy Anyways?
Kind of strange name, right?
Sometimes we get called "Action" academy, I guess because the letters look close enough to pass. And maybe that is a good moniker.
But the "Acton" name was inspired by the Lord John Dalberg-Acton, the British philospher who famously said:
Power tends to corrupt. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. ~ Lord John Dalberg-Acton
But what does that have to do with YOUR CHILD. THEIR SCHOOL?
Well... think about the teachers you experienced growing up. What levels of control were levied in the interest of order and crowd control? In many ways, a teacher in theri own classroom functions as a defacto-dictator.
Only you can decide if that is the best learning environment for you and your child.
That is the choice. There are many different educational options available these days.
- Traditional, public schools, Charter schools, Private schools, Religious private schools, Student-centered and Free Democratic schools.
But Acton Academy makes up 100% of the population of learner driven schools.
Because it requires a firm and unwavering committment to the learner-driven principles of handing over control to the learners. Day-by-day, and each day more responsibility until the adults are virtually invisible. On site and available only for safety and observation.
YOUR CHILD. THEIR SCHOOL.
What choices make the most sense for your family?