Words by Mark Heller, Head of School
At Academy at the Lakes, we teach history. We teach critical thinking. And we promote patriotism.
We teach history because history helps us understand ourselves and our world. Our past is always part of our present. Our history has shaped every element of today – who we are, what we believe, how our society and government and economy work. History often includes exploration of the triumphs of our spirit, our great achievements, and our grand purpose as well as exploration of the unpleasant, the unenlightened, and the shameful moments of our past. We teach history to help us understand, often to emulate, and always to be inspired to do better and to be better. We teach history to gain insight about ourselves.
We discuss slavery and its legacy. We also discuss westward expansion, Johnny Appleseed, immigration and migration, how humans overcome barriers, the hero’s journey, and countless other topics.
As students grow and mature, we don’t shy away from discussing race as a deeply important issue in our history. (Because it is.) In exploring slavery and race, we do not teach that all white people are evil or that our children are responsible for having oppressed other people. We work to help our students understand that injustice has been part of our history, that it persists in ways that are both overt and subtle, and that our democratic system has brought progress and change from earlier days. We work to help our students know that they, as citizens and voters, will have the opportunity and the obligation to continue to shape our nation’s evolving narrative. This is one of the key ways in which we promote patriotism.
We do not aim to teach our students what to think or which political party to join. We teach them how to think:
- How to form and frame good questions;
- How to seek, gather, and evaluate information;
- How to analyze information, see patterns, and draw conclusions;
- How to make a case and reason through an argument with support;
- How to listen to those whose arguments are different from their own and how to engage with those people and those arguments with respect and a genuine spirit of inquiry.
Especially at the Upper Division level, we discuss many philosophies (including Marxism, laissez faire economic theory, and many other systems of thought). We examine issues from multiple perspectives and take care to include a range of voices in order to uncover and explore universal truths of human existence and to strengthen each student’s capacity to develop empathy, understanding, and opinion. We encourage students to arrive at their own conclusions and judgments, and we challenge them to make their best case. These are the skills they need to be active and engaged citizens in our democracy.
We promote patriotism — a patriotism that understands and is inspired by our system and our history toward the ends of both pride and participation.
I believe that the United States of America is a truly exceptional nation because of our commitment to common ideas (the rule of law, freedom of speech and of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, equality under law, free enterprise, and the right to vote, to name just a few). In these challenging times, I would add to the fundamental list the precious freedom to read, the freedom to challenge and be challenged, and the freedom to learn. I am deeply proud that, in our country, citizenship and “Americanness” are not conferred by common race or religion or ethnic heritage, but by common commitment to these Enlightenment-based ideas. We are special because of that, and we have served as a beacon of goodness and principle to the rest of the world because of it. I want our school to help all our students learn to love our country and our system through exploring both those times when we rose to meet the moment and those times in which we did not.
Our Core Values and the policies in our handbooks trumpet our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We continually work toward the end of all students, all families, and all employees feeling that our school is a place where they can be who they are and that they belong. As long as an individual or family is aligned with our Mission and Core Values, the attributes in which they are cloaked (ethnicity, race, religion, political affiliation) matters not. The core (not the surface) is what truly matters.
We believe that our way is the best way to answer today’s urgent call to citizenship. Progress may not be linear, but the arc of history does bend toward justice. Our school is working to make it so.
At Academy at the Lakes, we teach history. And we do not shy away from the difficult, the challenging, or the unpleasant. For it is through all of those stories (the challenging and the uplifting) that we take guidance on how to reach the full flower of promise that is an essential part of our democratic system.