The Academy:  rationale and theory

How do you shape an axe handle?
Without an axe it can't be done.
How do you take a wife?
Without a go-between you can't get one.
Shape a handle, shape a handle
the pattern is not far off.

- Shi Jing





Focus:  the teacher

Heart:  communication

Measure:  cooperative competence

Purpose:  enlarging the future



The teacher is the focus of the Axe Handle Academy

Theodore Roethke, the poet, once said, 'A teacher is one who carries on his education in public.'  The curriculum of the Axe Handle Academy is a curriculum for both students and teachers.  Our teachers are expected to exercise their professional abilities as learners of new and complex materials as they work together with students in developing their understanding and knowledge.

But this is more than just an attempt to raise teachers to their truly professional status.  Our history tells us that the best teachers have always carried on their learning in the company and in dialogue with their students.  This was the practice of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Confucius.

Confucius used the poem above which was already old in his time to teach his students how to teach.  When you make an axe handle you use the axe in your hand as a pattern.  It is the model.  When you teach a student, you yourself are the model of teaching and learning that the student studies.

And when you come down to it, this is really the only way to teach someone how to learn.  You have to show them by your own action.

Teachers in American education are normally called professionals but are rarely treated as if they were professionals.  One of the most important qualities of a true professional education is not an accumulation of knowledge, it is an education inlearning to learn.  Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are expected to deal with extremely diverse kinds of problems covering many fields of knowledge and life.  They are expected to work through the complexity, learn whatever needs to be learned, and then to exercise their judgment in arriving at a decision which can be the basis for action.  A person who does not deal constantly with new learning is a technician, not a professional.

Yet many people expect teachers to be more like technicians.  They are expected to know everything required of them when they graduate as certified teachers.  They are expected to remain within their certified body of knowledge throughout their careers.  In our current system teachers are expected to take further course work to 'upgrade' their education, as technicians would be expected to return to school before being allowed to work in a new area.

The curriculum of the Axe Handle Academy is as varied, complex, and problematic as anything to be found by any professiona.  There are no courses at present that a teacher could take in a bioregional perspective.  There is no course or even degree program that would prepare a teacher to teach in our cultural studies program.  Our communication studies component would try the intelligence, knowledge, and learning ability of many communications specialists.

If a student sees a teacher who is absorbed in the problems and questions of our curriculum and actively learning, the student comes to be absorbed in that curriculum as well.  On the other hand, if the student sees a teacher who is concerned primarily with classroom management and the transmission of a static body of knowledge, the student becomes manipulative on the model of the teacher and considers learning as something that is static, rigid, and of little relevance to his or her life.

By placing the focus of the Axe Handle Academy on the learning of the teacher we want to provide a model of skills in inquiry, discovery, and synthesis.  We believe that the professional teacher who is actually learning together with his or her students is the only means of teaching this attitude toward life-long learning.  This is why we have called our model for education the Axe Handle Academy.


the academy

the curriculum


life of the land

comparative culture studies

responsive communication