Preparing Scientific Heroes in the 21st Century – Guest Blog Post by Jeff Sandefer

How do you teach science in the 21st century? If you want to inspire young heroes to change the world through discoveries, inventions and innovations, our belief is that you don’t “teach” science at all.

Why not? Because when you study the lives of world changing scientists, you realize that these heroes weren’t “taught” science in a traditional way. Sterile historical experiments and textbooks do not provoke the imagination. And the indoctrination of Scientism – that science is the ruling authority in the modern world and can explain the entire universe – discourages the irreverent curiosity and maverick spirit that lead to new breakthroughs.

Our goal is to equip and inspire our Acton Eagles to be brave scientific paradigm busters, puzzler creators and data gathers, even if they never choose science as a calling. We invite them to deeply study the lives of paradigm busters like Galileo and Einstein, citizen-scientists like Benjamin Franklin and tireless trial and error scientific entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison or the pioneers at Bell Labs.

In the curriculum, we continually refer to Thomas Khun’s Theory of Scientific Revolutions, the paradigm shifts in the past and the brave heroes who led them, emphasizing how today’s accepted truths may be overthrown by future mavericks.

In real world projects our Eagles face the tensions between competing paradigms and heroes, learning to be skeptics who seek to disprove theories, gaining a practical understanding in hands-on challenges of topics like electricity, chemistry, genetics, biology, physics and cosmology, to name a few.

We want our Eagles to experience firsthand the ego clashes, catfights, accidents, missteps and reversals that made science, by standing in the shoes of Newton or Galileo or Einstein. To see how scientific advances begin as stories, created in the minds of heroes, influenced by emotions and political intrigue, leading to theories, experiments, inventions and eventually world changing innovations, all subject to later being overturned by new discoveries or innovations created in a competitive marketplace.

We long for our Eagles to be deeply curious and awed by the mysteries of the natural world and to focus more on provocative questions than answers. That’s why we’ll often revisit the debate between Francis Bacon and Adam Smith.

Is Bacon correct that discovery leads to invention to innovation in an orderly process, and that government support of institutionalized science is the key to progress?

Or is Adam Smith correct that tinkering with real world problems, adding investment to old science in pursuit of practical trial and error experiments, in places like Edison’s Menlo Park lab and Bell Laboratories, creates the wealth that allows us to invest in basic science?

Teach science as a dry series of facts and an arrogant institutional worldview? Never.

Expose Eagles to the rich history of scientific creative destruction, debating hard questions in the shoes of real world heroes? Absolutely.

Equip them with the courage to ask difficult questions and seek their own truth, with the practical skills to design and launch trial and error experiments and the humility to admit when they are wrong?

Now that would be a real scientific advance, wouldn’t it?

One Truth We Can’t Get Around at Acton – Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

My friend would sleep on her textbook before a biology exam thinking the words might sink in. She also played recorded lectures while she slept hoping for the same easy fix.

Sadly, there is no easy fix for true learning.

As much as we talk about the love and fun of learning at Acton, there is one truth we cannot get around:

Learning is hard.

How so?

  • I must embrace a bit of suffering for deep learning to happen. (Maybe it’s pushing through the disturbing feeling of not understanding something; or maybe it’s the sting of mistakes that are bound to happen.)
  • I must invest a large quantity of time. (Here’s the gist of a recent conversation in our home: “I’m sorry you hate math right now. You think you’re not good at it? How much time did you spend on Khan Academy this week? Let’s look at the dashboard…oh, 65 minutes this week? And you think you aren’t good at math? It takes a lot more time to master math. What you are doing is really hard. Have you watched the videos? How many times? I know these videos may not be exactly entertaining but they do bring you face-to-face with a master who will show you how to do the work. Think of him as your private coach. Some people watch a video over and over again to understand, finally, how to work the problems. There is no easy way out of this. I know you can do this. I’ve seen you work really hard many times.)
  • I will want to quit. Distractions tantalize and practicing is boring.
  • I have to be the one to do the work. No one can do it for me. And learning cannot be done to me. Learning is a deeply internal, ultimately private experience. Even when collaboration and play are part of the on-going process, deep learning is dependent on the learner’s honesty and effort.

Grounded in the story of the Hero’s Journey, the Acton Eagles have guides and fellow travelers alongside them as they learn. This means they have others who believe in them, love them and will not let them fall under the radar. It also means they have a safe place to grow their intelligence and their strength of character, even grit, over time. This is the magical – and difficult – road to living a meaningful life that is happy and purposeful.

At Acton, we embrace constructive collaboration, friendly competition, game-based programs and engaging quests. While these things may add fun and energy to the day, the truth lurking around every corner of every interesting activity is the hard work that must happen for the learning to stick.

As a mother, this means I must let my children have the suffering along with the fun. There are days I want to take the struggle away. I mustn’t. If I do the work for them, I will rob them of their own learning especially in the realm of “learning to be” where we become fully human, living rich lives filled with love and joy.

Up next: How do I know if my child is learning anything at Acton? I can’t see progress in the portfolio this time.

And then: An Important “To Do” item for Acton Academy Parents.

On Trusting the Children….Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

It was 1972. I was 8 years old with two red braids hanging down to my waist on either side of my sunburned face. I was on a deep sea fishing trip with my father – my dream come true. 

“Let her do this by herself.” My father’s jagged voiced struck the captain as he rushed toward me throwing his cigar stub in the ocean.

My fishing pole strained in a tight arch with an angry 50-pound king salmon flying up and fleeing at the other end. My father pinned me to the railing of the chartered boat and yelled at me to reel it in hard and fast. My ponytails kept getting caught in the line yanking out my hair as I worked with all my might reeling him in; then letting him take it back out and then reeling him back again.

After a grueling twenty minutes, the fish was up thrashing near the boat. The captain was ready with his large net – his one job was to get the fish in the boat. He leaned over, swooped hard and then the world went silent. He had knocked the fish off the hook and it disappeared into the depths of the black Pacific Ocean.

My devastation was a silent one. There was nothing to say.

I’ve re-lived those moments over and over in my mind through the years. My fish story. The one that got away. The painful lingering feeling evolved into one of pride  because my father wanted me to do it by myself.

 He trusted me.

The power of feeling trusted as a child sticks. I have heard my father’s words at so  many critical junctures in my life. “You can do this by yourself, Laura.”

I don’t know if I am giving my children the same moments in time that my father gave me. Parenting is hard. I get scared when I want them to succeed so I jump in – just before they fail. But the truth is simple: I want them to take charge of their lives and I trust them with important decisions, jobs and problems.

So today I remember my fish story. And today I remember to push back those ambitious captains (including myself) who rush in to save my boys from hard experiences. I will let them do the very hard things that come their way. I will say, “You’ve got this. I trust you.”

And if the fish gets away, we’ll all be okay. 

Loosen the Collar Guest Blog Post by Laura Sandefer

Hobbes is our 11-week old Tasmanian devil in Australian Shepherd clothing.

We took him to one of Austin’s dog-friendly restaurants last night. Probably not the wisest choice for his first “on-leash” experience but we survived.

In feeling around to get his leash on, I realized how stifling his bright red collar had become. I quickly loosened it, apologizing profusely to the little fella.

When something is growing in front of my eyes, the change is so subtle I forget to adjust some of the very basic things. Poor little Hobbes has no words for “please loosen my collar.”

My sons, too, are growing in front of my eyes. Am I forgetting to loosen my hold on them? In what ways do I keep a grip that is too tight? How am I causing pain without knowing it and in ways they cannot find words to explain? While I easily adjust to the physical growth I see with bigger shoes and longer pants, it’s the “Learning To Be” growth I often miss.

A few ways I crush their growing spirits come quickly to mind:

  • When I solve their problems
  • When I ask a question I know the answer to and listen with an agenda
  • When I lay onto them a busy schedule so they have no alone time
  • When I invade their privacy
  • When I tell them how to do something they can figure out on their own
  • When I relieve them of experiencing the true consequences they have earned
  • When I use fixed mindset language rather than growth mindset language (This: “Sorry, you must have gotten my sad math brain!” Rather than: “I see you are struggling in math. That shows me you are learning. Good for you.”)

“Learning to Be” doesn’t display itself nicely in a portfolio. It is the newfound abilities to solve problems, be patient, suffer consequences, admit wrongdoing, stand up for what’s right, sit in quiet peace, wait for results, delay gratification, laugh with love rather than meanness. These are the wondrous things I choke off by my well-intended protections.

Today I hope to loosen the collars in my midst. But Hobbes’ will remain a bit on the tighter side until he Learns to Be a good dog.

Breadth and Depth but No Instant Gratification – Guest Post by Laura Sandefer

We want our children to read well now. We want out children to write and speak with perfect grammar now. We want their struggle to be over now. We want them to be good at math now. We want social conflicts to be resolved now.

Traditional schools give instant gratification. It’s probably why I loved school. Take a class. Study for the test. Get a grade. Poof! It’s over. On to the next subject…

But transformational learning happens slowly. Deep friendships evolve slowly. Habits and character form day-by-day over months and years.

Since patience is my weak suit what can I do to feel better about my child’s learning at Acton?

I can remember.

I can remember the solid, purposeful design in the learning journey at Acton Academy. We designed it for the long haul, not the quick fix. There is a progression in the experience – from sparking curiosity to turning up the heat with real world challenges to being on fire with passion and deep learning.

This design requires a great deal of trust and patience from parents. Yes, trust and patience with the system but more importantly, trust and patience with the children.

Here is a simple framework of the designed progression from studio to studio:

Elementary Studio: Stoking the Flames

Think Breadth.

And gaining foundational learning and social skills.

The goal in this early studio is to spark a deep curiosity about this wondrous world and equip young Eagles with foundational reading, writing and math skills. In addition, our youngest heroes learn the important work habits of goal setting and simple time management along with how to be a good friend and a kind, helpful community participant. Finally,  they learn the hard lesson of how to live within boundaries.

Middle School Studio: Feeling the heat

Think a mixture of breadth and depth.

And learning to take responsibility for choices.

Within the grand sweeps or breadth of Civilization and the sciences, Eagles will take deep dives. They will learn how to secure an apprenticeship and then feel the heat of being out in the world working beside true professionals.

There is no more room for fudging, passing off mediocre work as “best effort” or being snarky with friends. There is no room for parents to cover for Eagles. The grappling with honesty, accountability and hard work is where the heat forges character. Consequences are real and can burn.

Launchpad: In the Fire

Think depth.

And taking on real responsibility, leadership and independence.

Launchpad is designed for depth. From personal life planning to intellectual pursuits, these years are laser-focused on preparing each Eagle to be strong and purposeful moving onto the next stage of life in the real world: college or another venture. The curriculum is designed around individualized goals based on each Eagle’s future plan. The focus now is on deep dives with experts, teachers and mentors in areas that matter to each person. In addition, writing, creative collaboration and high-level reading are mastered and Socratic discussions take on Harvard-like case method intensity. These are young people in the fire of pursuing personal missions, honing their gifts, seeking their calling. And wanting to be the heroes who change the world.

Remind me to remember. So much is brewing within the mind and heart of my child on this journey. If I worry the learning isn’t happening and pull my son out too early for fear he’s too stuck, it’s like opening the oven door when the soufflé is only almost ready. Without the heat, it simply never rises to its full and gorgeous potential.


360 Peer Review – Guest Blog Post Laura Sandefer

In this 1-minute video, several Eagles share what they wish their parents knew about the 360 Surveys (also called Full Circle Feedback.)

The Eagles explain their Acton lives better than I can; however, I feel compelled to share my story on this topic in hopes it will help another parent who has a child come home in tears with a bad survey score. Here is my condensed version:

Today was the day the results of the 360 surveys would be shared. It’s all my son could think about over the weekend. He was hoping for a good score so he could move up a freedom level.  We arrived at school and he got out of the car grim-faced.

Not to worry, I thought. He’d had a great session. He achieved badges, got excited about writing, had fun with friends and engaged in no social drama.

But 3:15pm came and he bolted into the car with eyes filled to the brim. The strain of holding in his frustration all day finally broke. He tearfully vented all the way home about how unfair the surveys were. He went straight to his room and closed the door.

My mama-bear ego rose up and sent me into a mental tizzy. Isn’t there an easier way to learn how about oneself? This young boy doesn’t know what to do with negative feedback from friends! What if he doesn’t recover and won’t want to go back to school? I just want him to be happy. Why are we doing these heart-wrenching surveys?

About an hour later, he came out of his room: “Mom, it’s okay. The feedback I got is actually accurate. I just didn’t want to admit it. I have been too tough-minded. I haven’t been nice to very many people. I haven’t helped my squad with their work. I know I can do better and I want to. I am going to work on being more warm-hearted.” He ran outside and played hard until dinner.

My reflections? Children are better at this than we are. I took this survey too personally and became defensive. I didn’t pause to look for the powerful learning it presented. He, on the other hand, did and will be better for it.

What a difference from my own school experience which taught me to run fast and hard away from criticism. My strategy was to please people and find the right answers – always – so I would never have to see red pen marks or hear how I could improve. This did not serve me well in relationships or life in general. Only recently have I grown to crave feedback.

Seeking and listening to feedback may be the most important trait in becoming a teachable person.  This is why our children are practicing these skills at Acton. They are on a path of continual improvement and lifelong learning. Defensiveness will fall by the wayside for them because it simply holds them back. And heroes choose to move forward.

How Acton Academy prepares a student for the real world.

How Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels Prepare You for a Hero’s Journey in the Real World

Acton Academy is a special place reserved for those committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey, determined to find a calling that will change the world.

Below are three important principles about the frameworks, systems and structures that will allow you to earn more freedom and responsibility at Acton Academy Las Cruces, as you discover the gifts and passions that are a path to a satisfying and fulfilling life in the real world.

  1. Acton Academy Las Cruces is a special place reserved for those committed to a Hero’s Journey.
    Will you choose to be a Hero or a Victim in life?


  • Welcome challenges and embrace responsibility.
  • Strive for and celebrate excellence.
  • Praise heroic choices by others, practice frequent acts of kindness and hold firm boundaries in relationships.
  • Are grateful and generous.


  • Avoid hard work.
  • Look for the easy way out and seek loopholes, rather than delivering their best work.
  • Fail to keep their word, gossip, brag or diminish others.
  • Feel entitled, whine, blame and complain.

While our learner driven community offers patience and grace, Acton Academy Las Cruces is reserved for those who are truly committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey.

  1. Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels act as guardrails and mile markers for your Hero’s Journey.

Studio Covenants and Freedom Levels prepare you for the real world by rewarding heroic choices with more freedom and responsibility.

As an Eagle, you will work with studio-mates to craft the promises and consequences in Studio Covenants, which will act as guardrails, signaling the impact your actions on others and developing habits that will make you happier, more satisfied and more fulfilled.

Freedom Levels provide milestones to measure your progress, and like a more advanced driver’s license, give you more freedom as you build healthy relationships, develop impressive work habits and showcase excellent work.

Even at the lowest Freedom Levels, you will enjoy more freedom and responsibility than a traditional school.   In the long run, Acton Academy’s Owners want to delegate even more responsibility for running the community, as soon as Eagle leaders show a track record of raising standards, holding boundaries and acting with respect, kindness and generosity.

While all of the activities below eventually will be delegated to Eagles and your suggestions will have a major impact on studio life and governance, our promises to parents mean owners always will have the ultimate responsibility to:

  • Establish safety protocols;
  • Set studio schedules;
  • Offer challenges and points;
  • Create systems like Eagle Bucks and Freedom Levels; and
  • Set final badge standards and graduation requirements.
  1. The Real World is Not Fair

One of the most important responsibilities of Owners and Guides is to prepare you for a real world that is both generous and relentlessly unforgiving with consequences.

If you look at the world as a Hero, you will welcome challenges; embrace responsibility; act kindly towards others and hold firm relational boundaries, while being grateful for opportunities that come your way.  If you do this, you likely will look back on life as a journey filled with almost limitless opportunity and luck.

If, however, you adopt the pose of a Victim, feel entitled; shirk hard work; seek loopholes; take the easy way out; fail to keep your word; or whine, complain or blame others, you likely will see the world as unfair because it does not cater to your whims.

George Bernard Shaw perhaps put it best about the contrast between choosing the heroic life and

“….. being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote  itself to making you happy.”

There is no Utopia on earth.  Work is work, even when it’s rewarding.  Skills must be mastered through deliberate practice; there are no shortcuts.  Human beings are complex and will disappoint as often will disappoint as they amaze.   If you choose not to work or to treat others unkindly, you almost are guaranteed an unhappy and unsatisfying life.  In the real world, there are real consequences.   The same will be true at Acton Academy because we have promised to prepare you for a calling that will change the world.

“That’s not fair,” is the cry of a victim.   If you were born in the United States, live in a middle class American family or attend a school like Acton, you already have had more luck and good fortune than 99% of the people on the planet.  Those who work hard, fairly and treat others well are not necessarily guaranteed material success, but they will have far richer lives than those who blame and complain.

The challenges, systems and frameworks of Acton Academy are not perfect, but they will serve you well if you are committed to continually raising community standards and serious about your promise to find a calling that will change the world.  Plus, even on your most difficult days, you will enjoy more freedom and responsibility than at a traditional school.

Two of the most important questions in life are: “Who am I becoming?” and “What road am I on?”  If you are committed to becoming a Hero on a Hero’s Journey, this is the place for you.  If you are prepared to make that brave choice, we respect your right to return to a more traditional school until you are ready.