Why Not Hire Teachers?

The “Most Likely To Be Asked” question about Acton Academy is centered on why we don’t hire teachers.

  • How can children learn without a teacher?
  • Don’t you need experts in the classroom to teach biology, history, literature?
  • How can you keep children on task without someone directing them?

While I could quote Socrates, I’ll move a bit closer to our times. Wallace Brett Donham, Dean of the Harvard Business School from 1919-1942,  expanded the now famous use of case teaching: “It can be said flatly that the mere act of listening to wise statements and sound advice does little for anyone.  In the process of learning, the learner’s dynamic cooperation is required. Such cooperation from students doesn’t arise automatically, however. It has to be provided for and continually encouraged.”

At Acton, our Guides are not allowed to answer questions like traditional teachers do. Delivering information kills the dynamic cooperation with the learning. Dean Donham added, “…this dignifies and dramatizes student life by opening the way for students to make positive contributions to thought and…to prepare themselves for action.”

This is why at Acton we ground ourselves in the Socratic Method (of which case teaching is a subset) and weave in real-world challenges and apprenticeships. Through their engagement, they learn to secure their own authentic teachers and mentors which will arm them for learning throughout life not just while they are sitting in a classroom. We trust young people to take the reins of their education, own it and use it joyfully in the world.

Do you ever wish, like I do, that someone in your own childhood school had trusted you in this way?

The best I can do now is offer such trust to my own children and to hold true to the promise at Acton Academy that we will not answer questions. With this, I am following a lesson from my mom, a master teacher, who taught me to leave the campground better than I found it.

And so, I shall.