I Couldn’t Stand Traditional Schools, So I Built My Own

Does anyone really believe that the traditional schooling model is still the best model in which to facilitate the growth of a new generation?

Really?

I live in an area of California that is touted for its “good schools,” which only means we are in a relatively affluent area. As a former piece of the public school puzzle, I became all too familiar with the damage that our outdated and standards-obsessed test centers afflicted upon our youth. Make no mistake; the teachers care. It’s the soulless system that stifles growth, kills curiosity, and all but eradicates the concept of personal liberty.

As I became more aware to the business of schooling, I began to feel the itch to move on where I could, as most teachers desire; to really make a difference. Surely, private must be the answer I was looking for. My dreams quickly dissipated, though, as I realized that most private schools are simply a more traditional and homework laden version of their public counterparts, with an equal number of broken children.

I couldn’t stand the thought of sending my own young children to such an environment, so I did what any red-blooded dad would do: I built my own school.

Welcome to Acton Academy Placer, where we still believe in heroes. In fact, that’s the common thread you’ll find in all of the Actons around the world. Each location is individually owned and operated by entrepreneurs who live and breathe an ethos that knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is genius living inside every child. It’s our job to partner with each child, and unleash their genius upon the world.

We are consistently tweaking and perfecting a Socratic method of education that takes what is essentially a one-room schoolhouse, and helps each student to find his or her calling. We do this without answering a single question, and without lecturing.

At Acton Placer, the kids teach themselves and each other, as they respond to a series of exciting challenges offered up by adult “Guides.” The challenges are inherently difficult, and failure is commonplace. Students are responsible for maintaining solid character on campus, and have signed covenants with each other that the “guides” expect the kids to uphold. Essentially, these covenants boil down to only two rules: work hard, and treat others well.

Our students learn responsibility through ACTUALLY having responsibilities. They are the janitors. They have their own systems of currency, and processes for negotiation and systemic change. As they get older, they’ll add in apprenticeships and internships, focusing on areas of life in which they believe they’ll excel.

Sure, academics are taken care of. No, they are never the primary focus. The paradox, though, is that since the students are guiding their own learning, most will complete 1.5-2 academic years’ worth of work in one year at Acton, without countless hours in “classrooms,” and without homework.

The kids even find time to be kids. ADHD is often miraculously “cured” when kids have control over their environment and are enjoying what they are doing. Quests are fun, and breaks are plentiful. No need to raise your hand to ask someone else for permission to use your God-given right of using the restroom, either.

Everything is voluntary. Everything is self-directed.

While the masses still have a difficult time imagining how this does not devolve into a “Lord of the Flies” scenario, the outcomes are undeniable. The most common feedback from parents this year? “We have a different child, in all the right ways.”

Parents will often ask what the curriculum is for us at Acton Placer. My answer is always the same: Self-awareness, self-confidence, hard work, and kindness. All done. The rest takes care of itself.

Public and traditional models of schooling are not going away any time soon. In fact, they still “school” more than 90% of our youth in this country. (In any other industry, we would call that a monopoly. Think about that.) It’s hard to think of any system more radical, and more anti-liberty than government-controlled standards of what thoughts and ideas are allowed to enter the minds of your children, but we’ve gone along with the ride for quite some time.

The best move we can make is to build something new; something better. We believe we have done that, and are excited to let everyone know.

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Matt Beaudreau

Matt Beaudreau is a keynote speaker, having spoken to more than 250,000 people around the globe about education, and Generation Z. He is also the founder of Acton Academy Placer, which is the fastest growing educational program in Northern California.

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