Executive Director of John Adams Academies
This testimonial was taken from the Foreword to Dr. Forman’s book Revolution in Education.
I first became friends with Dean and Linda Forman in the summer of 2007 after law school when I was studying for the California Bar Exam. Every morning before my bar class, I would jog or lift weights with Dean, in typical Dean fashion, well before the sun came up. During that time, Dean was working on his PhD in constitutional studies, which ultimately resulted in the founding of John Adams Academy. Those early morning workouts led us on long discussions about the proper role and function of education.
We stayed connected over the years. While Dean and Linda founded the Academy, I was overseas with my family pursuing an international corporate career. My children were enrolled in high-end international private schools, as were most expatriate children. They were getting what was regarded as one of the finest K-12 educations in the world. My wife and I observed that they were being well educated, however, primarily in high-end skills building. We felt a void in their education. We also felt a void in their appreciation of their American heritage. It struck home one day when someone asked our young elementary-aged son, “Where are you from?” Our son, who had spent the bulk of his life overseas, paused and thought for a moment and said, “I think I am from America.”
Sometime after that, we were preparing for a career transition when Dean fortuitously called and asked me to join him in building and growing John Adams Academy. My wife and I paid a visit to the Roseville campus and immediately felt something special there. It is a special something that has attracted thousands of families to this model of education. We knew it was something our family needed. We wanted an education for our children that was focused on more than just skills building, more than just college and job preparation, but rather an education that had a mission of developing great souls. In 2016 we moved to California and joined John Adams Academy.
Let me take a few minutes of your time to give you a taste of that special something that attracted me away from my promising international corporate career. That special something is John Adams Academy’s American Classical Leadership Education. I will share it with you in the way we share it with our new families and teachers.
American Classical Leadership Education is John Adams Academy’s unique model of educating young scholars that produced the great servant leaders who founded our great nation.
To understand and to implement such a model, one must first know what it was about America that produced such great servant leaders. Some leaders had a formal classical education—Adams, Jefferson, Madison, etc. Some were self-educated. For example, George Washington independently read the books his brother sent back from England. Benjamin Franklin was self-taught, as a young apprentice giving up eating meat in order to purchase books. Abigail Adams had no formal education but learned from the classics in her family library. She was articulate, astute, and had a keen political mind. Fredrick Douglass fought for his own education which ultimately lead to his liberation from slavery. But they were all rooted in liberty and engaged the liberal arts through the classics, which prepared them for servant leadership.
An American classical education is not the education of the old-world aristocrat. No, America rejected the notion that aristocrats were the sovereigns and the birthright leaders. In America, where everyone is sovereign there is a natural aristocracy of servant leaders rather than a hereditary aristocracy. America proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that each individual had an unalienable right to liberty. In America, the common man was not a subject anymore. At the time, this was a novel concept.
So then, what was the proper form of education for an American freeman? It was a classical education but one that necessarily had the American notion of liberty as its foundation. A freeman cannot be educated through a system of force. An education centered on force, manipulation, or management cannot effectively produce a free-thinking, self-governing citizen leader. It must be an education based in liberty that necessarily has leadership at its heart.
It must also be an education of stewardship; our nation’s founding generation of freemen took ownership of their education. They were fiercely independent. This was a generation that could produce, read, and discuss great ideas like The Federalist Papers. It was a generation that chose a liberal mixed form of government after reading The Federalist Papers, all without universal federal and state departments of education. Think about that, many adults today would likely struggle to understand The Federalist Papers if published in a newspaper. Of early American’s love of classics, Alexis de Tocqueville said: “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare, I remember that I read the feudal drama of Henry V for the first time in a log cabin.” When this notion of scholar empowered learning is extended to all people, then the birthright of liberty is fully set free.
Truth, Virtue, and Wisdom
The end, or aim, of an American classical education must be truth. But, the pursuit of truth alone does not capture the essence of American citizenship. Knowing truth alone does not a free society make. Rather, the end of education is a great soul who seeks truth, is schooled by wisdom, and has the virtue to act on that wisdom. Truth, virtue, and wisdom embody servant leadership—the very heart of the John Adams Academy mission. With truth, virtue, and wisdom, a scholar can then practice servant leadership by pursuing causes greater than self.
In an American classical education, the young scholar is recognized as an agent to act, not an object to be acted upon as one might expect from many of the current conveyor-belt models of education that subjects all students to the same process-oriented training using behavior management techniques. So then, how does a school help a sovereign become a servant leader while respecting that scholar’s free will? This is where the four liberty-based pillars of our educational model come in.
Pillars of Education
In the American Classical Leadership Education model, the foundation is necessarily liberty. The apex is servant leadership, our mission. This model is designed to nurture the practice of servant leadership in our scholars. The pillars form the education portion of our model.
Our scholars are invited, inspired and led to servant leadership through the four liberty-based pillars. These pillars are what we implement day-to-day in each of our academies with all of our scholars. In Latin, “education” is “educare” derived from the roots that mean to draw out or lead forth. The education portion of the model is leadership, not management. It is the act of a servant leader in the context of helping another discover, develop and become who they were meant to be.
The first pillar of the American Classical Leadership Education is core values. Our 10 Core Values form the culture and the fertile environment for the development of servant leaders. The Art of Mentoring pillar is the liberty-based art by which mentors draw the genius out of scholars and lead them through the liberal arts from ignorance to self-discovery of truth, from inability to capability, from dependence to self-governance, all while respecting the sovereign nature of the scholar.
The Liberal Arts, the third pillar, are the arts and skills a scholar must develop to become liberated from ignorance; the liberal arts empower a scholar to think and act critically. As distinguished from mechanical arts, the liberal arts depend more on the exertion of the mind than on the labor of the hands, and regard curiosity or intellectual improvement, rather than the necessity of subsistence, or manual skill. Such are grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and other higher arts such as math, science, painting, sculpture, and music. The liberal arts are also the arts of a civil free society. How can one be free if unable to read? How can one be free without the ability to reason and think soundly? How can a society progress without great communicators? How can a government of, by, and for the people survive if the people are not versed in the arts of societal liberty?
Finally, it is through the pillar of the Classics that the scholar engages in the Great Conversation that asks age old questions: What is truth? What is the good life? and Why am I here? The classics help scholars understand themselves. Through the classics a scholar comes face-to-face with greatness and is inspired to causes greater than self—using his or her liberty for the defense and propagation of goodness.
These pillars of education liberate the scholar by enabling the scholar to discover truth. The scholar is invited by great mentors to act on that truth and in the process develops wisdom. It is through engaging in the classics and by the examples of great mentors that a scholar is inspired to develop the virtue to know and do what is right. These are the necessary pillars for the cultivation of servant leadership of self-governing citizens who choose to serve. It is this type of servant leadership that is necessary for the perpetuation and protection of a free civil society.
On the way to school one day in the car, my children were acting homesick for international travel as they reminisced about their wonderful overseas experiences. During a pause in the conversation, I asked them whether they would prefer to go back to their international private schools. Their response was a unanimous, emphatic no. They love their John Adams Academy education.
More importantly, my wife and I have seen our children blossom in this model of education. They, like the founding generation, are building their own education on a foundation of liberty. Their mentors have inspired them to take ownership of their own education. Our elementary-age daughter has all summer long been asking for more math problems. Our high school scholar and her classmates organized their own Socratic discussions for their summer readings without any prompting. Our son refused to skip a day of school to ski because he did not want to miss participating in Socratic discussions in his class. Our daily evening meals have become discussion time where our children discuss the great ideas from their John Adams Academy classics.
This education is the education of a free people. It is this American classical education that we seek for our own children. The beautiful thing is that this education can also be made available to yours.
Joseph Benson, J.D.
John Adams Academies, Inc.