What I Wish My Parents Knew about “Civilization” at Acton Academy

Parents: Please heed the yearning of our children. They want us to understand the learning method and experiences at Acton Academy so we can stop pestering them with our worrying. One area of our curriculum that parents seem confused by is “Civilization.” One Eagle, who wishes to remain anonymous, responded to the question, “What do you wish your parents knew about Civilization at Acton?” with the following note:

“There are a few things my parents need to understand about civilization at Acton.

First of all, civilization just means history. We call it civilization because it involves more than just what happened a long time ago. We learn about the successes and failures of past civilizations (whether Greek, Roman, or American) and apply what we see to the civilizations we belong to today (whether the United States, Texas, Austin, or Acton Academy).

Second, we do learn about history. We don’t spend hours (or even minutes) memorizing timelines or facts, so we may not be able to tell you who signed the Declaration of Independence fifth and at what time he signed it, but we can tell you what it must have taken for him to pick up the pen and sign his name. And, whether it’s easier or harder for us to sign the Acton governing documents than it was for him to sign that Declaration. And, whether or not we – as individuals – would have signed it and why. And, whether it was a mistake to give up negotiations with the king of England. And, finally, whether that moment was one of the most influential ones in history. Those are the kind of questions we wrestle with during Civilization.

Civilization works like this: Every Tuesday and Thursday, we are assigned prep work for a certain topic (for example, “Hitler’s Rise to Power”). We are typically given one to five online resources (such as articles or videos) and asked to find a few of our own as well. After researching, we write 100 to 250 words on a question related to the topic (for the Hitler topic, we wrote on “Was Hitler evil or not?”). Then we “circle up” to either watch a longer video on the topic and then discuss it or simply jump right into the discussion.

The discussion leaders (volunteer Eagles) usually select from the questions provided on the Points Tracker, although they have the option to write their own. During these discussions we dig deeply into what happened, but more importantly, why it happened, the consequences, and what it means for us today. We close by discussing what we learned or how this topic will impact our future decisions.

We alternate topics every year. If we do American history one year, we’ll focus on World history the next, then American, and so on. [The elementary studio Eagles have a three-year rotation through Ancient History, the Middle Ages and Early Modern History. They also do American History experiences each year and learn cartography and geography with each era.]

This year our focus was on American history. Through a deep exploration of our country’s past, I learned that sometimes motivations and results don’t always line up. A lot of kids today are taught about the colonists’ brave struggle for freedom from King George’s tyranny, but, in reality, it is a lot more complicated than that. Most people in the colonies didn’t want a new country created. But somehow, through the chaos and confusion created by the revolutionaries, the United States was born. It’s incredible to me how something amazing can come from such turmoil. And that’s just one example of how any event is always more than it seems at first.

We may not get all of the nitty gritty details of everything that ever happened under the sun, but we learn enough to grasp the major ideas and apply them to our lives.

And isn’t that what learning history is all about?”