Monday, August 19, 2013

Year Three - The Hero's Journey

We were blessed this summer to travel to Greece and walk in the footsteps of Atreus and Agamemnon at Mycenae, the Oracles at Delphi, Pericles at the Acropolis, and so many other heroes of history and legend.  It was grand and inspiring but we feel that what we are all engaged in here at John Adams Academy is no less grand and inspiring, and truly a hero’s journey!

As we begin our third year let us begin with hope and enthusiasm that we too might follow the pattern that can be found in myths, stories, and legends. Like a rite of passage, our journey requires that in our ordinary world we receive a call to adventure. We are reluctant at first or even refuse the call, but are encouraged by a mentor to cross the first threshold and enter the Special World, where we encounter tests, allies, and enemies.  We approach the inmost cave (wouldn’t be JAA if we didn’t mention a cave!) crossing a second threshold where we endure the ordeal.  We take possession of our reward and are pursued on the road back to the Ordinary World.  We cross the third threshold, experience a resurrection, and are transformed by the experience.  We return with the elixir, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

This pattern is not the invention of the ancient storytellers.  Myths are metaphors for a process of growth and discovery and are a way to express the highest of truths.  As we discover and apply these truths we can become heroes.

 Joseph Campbell, an American scholar identified the phases of the hero’s journey.  The journey is about growth and passage.  The journey requires a separation from the comfortable, known world, and an initiation into a new level of awareness, skill, and responsibility, and then a return home.  Each stage of the journey must be passed successfully if the initiate is to become a hero.

According to Campbell, the hero is someone who has given his life over to someone or something bigger than himself. A hero is judged by the things he does and the way he reacts and relates to people.  His deeds must be marked by a nobility of purpose, and he must be willing to risk his life for his ideals.

For you returning you know what you have given in this adventure greater than any single member.  For those of you just joining us do not be afraid.  At the end of the journey great heroes are made in ourselves as we achieve our mission to restore America’s heritage and develop servant leaders!

During our trip to Greece this summer our Greek tour guide shared her favorite poem with us.  It is very appropriate to this theme and to our current reading of Homer. As I read it ask yourselves what your “Ithaca” might be in your journey of becoming.

by Konstantinos Kavafis (1911)

As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you' ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

The Jockey of Artemision is a large Hellenistic bronze statue of a young boy riding a horse, dated to c.140BC but possibly as early as 200BC. It is a rare surviving original bronze statue from Ancient Greece, particularly the Hellenistic period.

Some parts are missing, such as the rider's whip and reins, and the horse's bridle. The image of the goddess Nike is engraved on the horse's right thigh, holding a wreath in raised hands.  After seeing hundreds of statues and monuments this was our personal favorite and a fitting symbol of our hero’s journey here at John Adams Academy.  We will continue to leap forward, hardly contained, our scholars unafraid to go forth and change the world.

We express our gratitude to each of you and our confidence in our individual and collective hero’s journey this new year!

Dean and Linda Forman
Founders of John Adams Academy

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What is Man?

What is Man?
By Norman Gonzales

As we go through life we constantly strive to make ourselves better, to improve upon the knowledge and virtue that we brought with us the day before.  As parents we seek to have our children accomplish greater feats and to rise to greater heights than we were able to in our lifetimes. For those of us at John Adams Academy, we strive to develop servant leaders and to “inspire” our scholars to become lifelong learners who excel in their pursuits, to unlock the genius within every child. 

Integrating classics into our curriculum is one way that we do this. Socratic dialogue is another.  Classics contain and reveal time worthy values and ideas that can inspire, enrich and entertain.  They can also challenge and test.  Sometimes they force us to re-evaluate our positions, or ponder our previously held beliefs.  Socratic discussions regarding these texts can engage scholars, teachers, and parents alike.

One such classic is a work by Mark Twain called “What is man?”  This essay by Twain melds the two avenues I mentioned; genuinely rich and weighty concepts written in the form of a dialogue. As I read this essay it was reminiscent of Plato’s works in which he delves into the topics through conversations of the characters.

It is set up this way:

“[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old Man had asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and nothing more. The Young Man objected, and asked him to go into particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.]”

After a brief conversation between the two men regarding how a machine of steel is created and operates they arrive from that analogy to their discussion of man.  This provides the first hard idea.

Young Man: You have arrived at man, now?

Old Man: Yes. Man the machine—man the impersonal engine. Whatsoever a man is, is due to his make, and to the influences brought to bear upon it by his heredities, his habitat, his associations. He is moved, directed, COMMANDED, by exterior influences—solely. He originates nothing, not even a thought.”

The next hard idea is that every action of man is motivated by an impulse for self preservation and comfort, or in other words “securing his own approval.”

Old Man: Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. From his cradle to his grave a man never does a single thing which has any FIRST AND FOREMOST object but oneto secure peace of mind, spiritual comfort, for HIMSELF.”

The young man tries admirably, but never quite completely to overthrow the old man’s propositions.  Through the cordial and prolonged interplay between the Old Man and the Young, Twain brings into the discussion topics of temperament, creation, virtue, goodness, free will.  At first these arguments and positions are shocking, maybe even appearing offensive to some, but are we to be offended when our positions are challenged.  Does the challenge provide us the opportunity to strengthen and steel our resolve?  Do we ever really grow or improve our knowledge and virtue if we refrain from exercising the intellectual muscles of reflection and debate?  For example, assuming that the old man is correct and ‘Man’ has no ability for thought or reason for moving that isn’t derived from an outside force, then there must be something outside of man, outside of creation with independent thought capable of moving man.  Is this an argument for divinity? If Man’s sole purpose for acting is to secure personal satisfaction, then what does that mean for virtue, goodness and character?  Do we as teachers, mentors, staff and board model the 10 core values? If so, do we because of an internal, privately virtuous motive, or as Twain would argue, because of an internal selfish one.

This classic introduces the topics and allows for their discussion.  It also forces us to reflect and review our own positions and choices. In the end after reading this essay and debating its merits, Twain would argue that this essay, not our own initiative, was the outside force which compelled us to do so. What do you think?

Norman Gonzales sits on the Board of Directors for John Adams Academy.  This was taken from the July 2013 board meeting thought of the day.
As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Gift of Independence, a Priceless Heirloom

John Adams Academy is preparing future leaders and statesmen
through principle-based education.  Our long-range vision is that this organization
will be a model for the future of public education.
Below is a speech, given by one of our 8th grade scholars at this year's 2013, 8th Grade Promotion.  
Troy exemplifies what it means to be a "Servant Leader, and one who is Restoring America's Heritage."


I will start by saying that I have experienced a great sense of independence in two short years at John Adams Academy. This sense has given way to a larger sense of accomplishment, which I’m sure many of you have felt too.
However, as we all have noted, independence comes with the cost of increased responsibility. This is nothing new, as many of the travelers following the path of independence have paid this toll.

Among the travelers were our country’s founding fathers, blazing a rough trail through times of instability and uncertainty.  With such bleak odds, the dream of a free nation was kept alive with the promise of independence. Through years of war and dire times the dream didn’t die, and even today, nearly three centuries later, the dream is now been made into a responsibility and a priceless heirloom.
But this priceless heirloom that has been passed down ever since this nation has existed is far from inactive and archaic. Every day when we make our independent thoughts or do something as seemingly minuscule as pursuing studies, we are using that heirloom passed to us by those who came before us.

The class we are here to celebrate for has reached a large milestone. The passing into high school signifies a shift to larger ideas and enterprises. As the school year unfolded, and many of the students in this room were met with a plethora of challenges, academically, socially and personally, one thing was in common with all of these challenges. They all taught each one of us the valuable lessons and skills we can apply to challenges yet to come. Every time we overcome a challenge, we do our duty as inheritors of the gift of independence.
So when things get tough, or times seem dire, just know that you weren’t the first to traverse the rough terrain encountered, and you are not the first to reap the many benefits.

Troy G.
Class of 2017

Troy is going to be a 9th grade scholar this year here at John Adams Academy.  This 2013-2014 school year marks our FIRST senior graduating class!  Visit often to experience the amazing accomplishments John Adams Academy will experience this year. 

As always, we welcome your comments!
Jane Dildine
Director of Community Relations/Development Director

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Classical Schools are putting Plato before the iPad.

In Maryland, a group of students ponder which depiction of the Nativity shows true beauty: A 14th-century Giotto, a 16th-century Barocci or a 20th-century William Congdon. The students are in seventh grade.
Outside Houston, second-graders learn Latin amid the Doric columns, Romanesque arches and the golden Renaissance hues of a gracious brick building.
And in West Tennessee, a first-grade classroom lists virtues - reverence, discipline, diligence and loving kindness - along with Aristotle's "four questions," a simplified version of the Greek philosopher's four causes.
The students attend some of several hundred “classical” schools around the country - institutions designed to reflect the scholarship from the past three millennia of Western civilization, rather than the latest classroom trends.

Read More>>

What do you think of a Classical Education? Please share your thoughts with us.

Jane Dildine, Director of Community Relations

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why should classics be used in the field of Science?

     When we think of "classic" literature, we by default contemplate their value in the disciplines of history, literature, and art in the field of education.  However, to teach in the field of science using the classic model while using classical works and original source documents we need to first define what is "classical" in the field of science.

     The classic approach to science is entrenched in the ability to think critically.  When we attempt to define critical thinking we think of the characteristic of diligence that science represents, which is an important part of research.  However, research and the connection to diligence, which are important traits in science, are all established on the quest for excellence through reason and rationale, which is the classical aspect of science. 

     The classical model of education uses the traditional values of Greek and Roman cultures and their cultural value placed on the importance of critical thinking in order to teach science.  Classics in science represent the works of the finest thinkers that Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and many other disciplines within science can produce and contribute to our understanding of science in the natural world.  

     Examples of classics in science are Darwin (Natural Selection), Newton (Laws of Motion), Watson and Crick (DNA), Thompson and Rutherford (Atomic Theory), Democritus (The Atom), Galileo (Astronomy), De Vinci (Anatomy), Einstein (Physics), and Hubble (Astronomy). When the educator in science uses classic literature in the classroom in the form of original source documents, the scholar has the benefit of reading the "unfiltered" work from the individual.  When the scholar in the classroom has the opportunity to read and process complex ideas, hypothesis, data, and research the scholar has been provided with an example of critical thinking which is in keeping with the current philosophy of "Classical Education" and the scholar has an example to follow regarding science. Which means a quality classic can help foster the growth of the individual through modeling and "mentoring" what it means to be a scientist of the highest quality.

Special Guest Teacher Blogger,
Jason C. M. Turner, M.BS., M.ed.
Mr. Turner teaches Earth Science, Honors Biology, Honors Anatomy, Chemistry and AP Chemistry here at John Adams Academy

Monday, May 13, 2013

Self-Governance, 10th Core Value!

This was a letter written by  Amy Evans, our Director of Communication. This letter is in response to the possible change of verbiage in one Core Value, and the addition of another Value, to make the total, 10 Core Values. 

Please accept this Amicus Curiae for, or letter in support of, the proposal to change the ninth core value, currently stated as “Preserving a Culture of Greatness” to read “Building a Culture of Greatness” and to add an additional core value addressing Self Governance, Personal Responsibility and Accountability.

As new staff member at John Adams Academy, a supporter and parent of a scholar, I fully support the proposed changes. Being new to John Adams Academy I have spent much of the past school year trying to fully understand and internalize what the Academy stands for and will accomplish. For John Adams Academy, I have come to believe those answers center around three things; our motto, our core values and our emphasis on classical education through classical works and mentors. This proposal is important because it pertains to two of them; our motto and our core values.

In Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland, the young girl, Alice, encounters the Cheshire Cat at a fork in the road. Being confused, she asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The cat replies, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” That same wisdom applies to all of us when we encounter a choice, such as the decision to alter and add to our Academy’s core values. And so, the question becomes: Where do we hope to go (what do we hope to accomplish) at John Adams Academy? The answer, I believe lies in our motto: “Developing Servant Leaders and Restoring America’s Heritage.” With our focus on classics and mentors, we are likely to turn out great thinkers, which in itself is a worthy goal. However, great thinkers do not always become servant leaders and are not necessarily focused on restoring America’s Heritage. In fact, logic alone, no matter how perfectly followed, can only lead to conclusions as sound as the premise on which the logic is based. This is summed up in a statement by Mahatma Gandhi, “All of your scholarship, all your study of Shakespeare and Wordsworth would be vain if at the same time you did not build your character and attain mastery over your thoughts and your actions.” At John Adams Academy, this is where our core values become the bridge. 

In his book “The Passion of the Western Mind”, author Richard Tarnas laments that when Copernicus discovered that the earth was not the fixed center of the universe, and that the movements of the heavens could be explained in terms of the movements of the observer, man also came to see that he was not the center of the world, and his objectivity was inseparably colored by his own unconscious condition. Because of this, according to Tarnas, modern thought has accepted that there can be no objective truth or correct viewpoint, effectively cutting man loose from the anchor of truth. This lack of an anchor has had a profound effect on our society as a whole as many have rejected principles and virtues whose value has been proven throughout history. A classical leadership education re-acquaints us with those proven concepts and our core values serve to provide the anchor we need to accomplish our goals. Each of our core values is a statement of an underlying principle or virtue required to truly develop servant leaders and restore America’s heritage and our core values permeate all that we do at John Adams Academy. 

As we approached our WASC accreditation this fall it is quite telling that as we, as an Academy, chose our Nine Core Values, rather than educational outcomes that would have been easier to quantify and measure, as our Schoolwide Learning Results (SLRs). Then, throughout the process of our application and the following site visit, teachers demonstrated how completely these values are woven through all that we teach. At John Adams Academy the core values, prominently displayed in every classroom, provide the lens through which lessons are viewed. As scholars proceed through their education (as their genius is drawn out) the core values provide the framework for analyzing literature, for understanding history, for learning from experiences and for discussions in the classrooms. As teachers present a story or a concept they are able to turn and point to our core values to direct scholar’s attention and focus them on those foundational principles. 
As you know, our ninth core value was mis-printed from the original “Maintaining a Culture of Greatness” to read instead “Preserving a Culture of Greatness”. While we could simply re-print our materials to return to the original, this printing mistake gives us the opportunity to assess our current condition to ask if this is the best statement for our time. And so, which wording best fits: preserving, maintaining or building? In order to “preserve” or “maintain” something, it must currently exist. And does it?  In reading the Declaration of Independence again earlier this year I was struck again with the opening phrase penned by Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident…”  The phrase is followed by “….that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This has been called the best known sentence in America, but I would argue that many who quote it have forgotten its meaning. In fact, last fall as I listened to presidential debates, political pundits, the media, everyday people and even the presidential candidates themselves, I found very little evidence that these truths are self evident today. Closer to home, in the California State Legislature, there seems to be a theme emerging in much of the proposed legislation; the theme that government is better suited to dictate the choices of individuals, parents, schools, businesses and our communities than the people themselves. 
The proposed intrusions into personal liberties and the ability to self-direct are astounding, as is the profound silence and apathy toward them by Americans and by Californians. At the school level, as I pondered writing this letter of support, my son, a junior at a local High School, came home frustrated over a “debate” held in his history class over burning the American flag as a form of protest. What frustrated him was that while many students were vocal in their opposition to flag burning, their reason was simply that the many deaths of brave men and women have hallowed the flag (although those are not the words they chose to express their thoughts). While this is true, the expressions of violent responses toward any who would dare to question, the simple logic used to defend their stand and the labeling and demonizing that passed as “debate” proved to him that few understood or gave any head to the principles for which our flag stands and the symbol it should be. It appeared to him that the ideals our Founding Fathers fought for have been completely forgotten, and I would agree.  As we take stock of our cultural condition, we need to acknowledge that John Adams Academy indeed needs now to “Build” or at least “Re-Build” a Culture of Greatness based on the original truths and principles that built this country, if we hope to restore America’s Heritage.    
Two of those great principles that have quietly disappeared from our collective consciousness are the values of Personal Responsibility and Accountability, and both are essential to self governance and to our American Heritage. In observing through the presidential election, taking stock of the bills being considered by the California State Legislature, and listening to scholars and parents, it is obvious that in our time once again, a war is being waged to determine who should govern, and yet many seem so unaware of their part in it. It is disheartening and surprising that in less than 300 years we have lost the drive for the very goal our forefathers pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor: the right to self govern. In so many cases it seems, Americans are willing to trade the power to create, and the responsibility it brings, for the shackles of victimhood and the futile resistance to the natural consequences of their actions. Those who support increasing regulation by government often base the continual stripping of freedom of choice for the individual on misdeeds and tragedies cause by a few. Rather than acknowledging those as rare cases, and exerting themselves to find better answers, many simply accept the rationale. 
Personal Responsibility and Accountability are the keys to inoculating against this logic and the continual erosion of choice it brings. Steven Covey explained the basis of personal responsibility by saying, “our ultimate freedom is the right and power to decide how anybody or anything outside ourselves will affect us”.  Personal responsibility is also the understanding that every individual is responsible, meaning able to respond or to choose, for himself/herself AND is also obligated to act on those choices. Personal responsibility, when truly understood, then unlocks the cage that allows men to move from the prison of victimhood into the freedom and power of creation. Personal responsibility means that we retain our freedom continually, and our actions are always our own. Once we accept responsibility for our own thoughts, words, actions and character, we begin to recognize the opportunities presented in every situation. Personal responsibility also provides the opportunity to stop resenting the effort required to improve and resisting natural laws and consequences, such as in the case of dress code, home study and other requirements, and to start directing our energy in support of those things we believe in and determine to be of worth.
Accountability is the second key to self governance. Just as a classical education needs to be paired with core values to develop a servant leader, personal responsibility needs accountability. Those who truly understand our ability to respond, or to be “responsible”, also must acknowledge that the results of our choices will be felt by others, as theirs will impact us. Our actions then help to create our own experiences, our community and society as well, and therefore we must be accountable to ourselves and to others for those choices and actions. The twin principles of Personal Responsibility and Accountability then become balances for each other.  Together, these principles solve the dilemma of self interest by adding to what it is “our right” to do, the consideration of what is truly “right to do”.  Gandhi summed up the importance of personal responsibility and accountability when he identified the roots of violence as “….Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles” and added, “There are limits to self-indulgence, none to restraint.
Both of these principles, Personal Responsibility and Accountability, are essential to self governance and the ability to self govern is essential to developing servant leaders and restoring America’s heritage.  Because these principles are essential, weaving these principles into our core values will be a powerful way to instill them in our scholars. How powerful it would be to have “self-governance through personal responsibility and accountability” be one of those often seen, heard and reinforced, key foundations. 
For example, in my son’s fourth grade class a mentor is working with the scholars to plan and design a community. The scholars have each constructed a home from recycled materials and together are considering community needs such as water treatment, parks and social structures. During the course of these lessons the subject of guns came up in discussion. Many scholars discussed the pros and cons of allowing guns in their community carefully, but a few took a less mature approach and the discussion digressed. The mentor then ended the discussion by determining that guns would not be allowed. In the hands of an insightful John Adams Academy teacher this example became on opportunity to discuss what happens when a few chose not to self-regulate and also how a community can respond to those situations. 
Another example is with compliance with our dress code. Earlier this year an upper grade scholar was bragging to her classmates during study hall about the fact that she was “getting away” with wearing a sweatshirt with a logo on it to school in spite of the fact that at least one staff member seemed to look right at her. Because the study hall was in our Development Directors room, she overheard. While this may sound like an issue for enforcement alone, she took the time to engage the scholars in a Socratic dialogue about the dress code, compliance with it and the idea of personal responsibility and self governance. Later, the scholar sought out the Development Director to tell her what an impact her conversation had made and that she, the scholar, would be the one to ensure her dress met the requirements from then on. An issue of compliance and enforcement for one scholar is now an issue of personal responsibility and accountability instead.
It is well known that we remember only a portion of what we hear, slightly more of what we see, and more still of what we do. Our core values provide this valuable reinforcement. In both cases, and many others, staff members could point to our core value of self-governance through personal responsibility and accountability, to leave the scholars with a visual reminder that also connected to an earlier assembly and re-enforcement through their years at John Adams Academy. 
As the members of the Board of Trustees for John Adams Academy, please vote to adopt the changes to our core values. Self governance is critical to the John Adams Academy goal of developing servant leaders and restoring America’s heritage. Personal responsibility and accountability are critical to self governance. Although they may relate to other core values, self governance through personal responsibility and accountability is both separate and distinct, and largely missing from our collective consciousness. By accepting the proposed changes to the core values we can recognize where we are, take action to reach our goal, and build a culture of greatness within our scholars and ourselves. Through our efforts we may indeed be able to say again, “we hold these truths to be self evident…” and know that we have done our part to ensure that they are. 
On May 9th, 2013, the Board of Directors voted to change the wording to "Building a Culture of Greatness and added the value, "Self-Governance, Personal Responsibility and Accountability".  We now have 10 Core Values!
Guest Blogger: Amy Evans, Director of Communications