Joy + Rigor

A recent guest to Acton Academy was struck by how hard the Acton students were working for long periods of time. “Your community is clearly rigorous.”

Before visiting, she had read our website and envisioned Acton’s culture as one focused on feel-good sentimentality.  She just couldn’t picture how the belief that “every child is a genius” played out. It seemed a bit mushy and too good to be true.

This is what is true: Every child is a genius. AND, genius and talent are wasted without a focused discipline toward excellence and mastery. We’re talking about native genius, creativity and potential here – not a label from a 1904 test for IQ the results of which are so limited and misused – combined with grit.

This weekend’s Children’s Business Fair is a great example of how our children learn best. They were not given textbooks or multiple choices tests about economics, marketing or sales. They didn’t sit and listen to lectures about how to start a business. They tapped into their own passions and talents and then did the work. They learned how hard it is to look a stranger in the eye and say, “I made this and I am proud of it; let me tell you about it; this is how much I invested; this is what the cost to you is; would you like to buy it?”

This learning is fun, scary and hard – and it is real life. Some Eagles made money; others did not. The lessons are rich either way. I am so happy my boys are learning how hard it is to make money.

One of our mantras at Acton is “fail early, often and cheaply.” This applies to everything from arguments with friends to writing a best-selling book or building a business.

The choice to work hard without excuses is a decision made by each learner at Acton Academy. Embracing rigor is part of saying, “yes” to a Hero’s Journey. Herein lies the joyful sweet spot of deep flow in learning.

What does this mean to me as a parent? Children are tougher and smarter than we adults make them out to be. As a mother, I need to remind myself of this when I want to take shortcuts to make my children’s lives easier. I need to allow them to struggle. I need to step back and let the learning happen. “Thank you for letting me do this by myself” are the words I love and long to hear.

I recommend that each Acton Academy parent read The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got that Way by Amanda Ripley. The two things that distinguish the highest achieving learning communities (which aren’t in America, by the way) are: 1) a culture that takes learning more seriously than anything else – including football; 2) a culture that gives children high levels of autonomy.

I have a copy you may borrow.