Module 4: The Axe Handle Academy

Linguist Ron Scollen and his wife Suzanne Scollen propose their idea for an “ideal” academy that takes an holistic, place-based approach to education.  At the Academy, three questions get asked of students and faculty:  how well do you know your place; how well do you know your community; and how well do you communicate.  Based firmly on a sense of place, the physical location that is meaningful to the Academy’s teachers and students, the curriculum covers a multitude of disciplines, geology, archeology, history, art, journalism, writing, etc under three heads:  communications, cultural studies, and bioregional studies.

The idea behind the curriculum is to produce graduates who are productive members of society and who ultimately will have a choice of careers to pursue.  So, rather than approaching the curriculum with a view of pushing students towards certain careers, such as researcher or scientist, a practice most evident in Western educational/intellectual traditions, the curriculum seeks to enable all students to become good researchers and good scientists, and just generally sensitive thinkers.   Graduates, regardless of the line of work or career path they ultimately choose, should be cognizant of the impact that their work has on their bioregion.  They need to be aware of the impact that various human activities has on their lives.

The Academy’s title “The Axe Handle” derives from an ancient Chinese proverb that they way to make an axe handle is to have an axe handy so that you can copy it.  The proverb informs the educational philosophy of the Academy where teachers are constantly learning new stuff, and they learn alongside their students.  The teachers model the cognitive skills that they expect their students to acquire, while encouraging students to share information and help each other learn materials.  This is a bit like the concept of constructivism where the educator does not dictate static knowledge to students, but engages them in the learning process by assigning them projects and problems to solve.



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