What is an Academy?

December 15, 2015

What is an Academy?

By Louise Hindle

Louise is IEA’s Program Manager. A British import, Louise has 20 years of experience in education as a high school literature teacher, lead teacher, administrator, adviser, and consultant. She is also the parent of three fun and active school-aged children. IEA’s Academy, mentioned in this post, provides gifted young students in the Pasadena, California area with challenging enrichment classes that focus on exploration and application of knowledge.

As we think about this question, buzz words and phrases spring to mind such as ‘eminence’, ‘appreciation’, ‘revered place of learning’ or in general terms a place where ‘distinguished scholars’ gather and  interact. We might also reflect on the early articulations of ‘an academy’ as established by Plato and now often cited as the first higher learning institution in the Western world. The evidence suggests Plato’s Academy was a place for informal, academic gatherings; a place which seems not to have had any particular doctrine to teach; rather, Plato, and others great minds, posed problems to be studied and solved through dialogue and reason. The Academy, in its genesis, seems to have been a space where the dialectic process was as respected as the academic content; where the chance to explore, probe and further society’s understandings was deemed an honorable human endeavor.

As we draw the curtain and peek at our 18th century European counterparts, we can look to The Royal Academy of Arts in London. Founded by King George III to promote and elevate the status of the artist, its mission was achieved through the exhibition of first-rate works of art, exhibitions which set the standard for artistic appreciation and good taste. Again, as we glimpse back, we see leading philosophers, artists and academics gathering together for ‘Discourses’, blissful gatherings of lectures and conversations amongst and between people who care for and held these things precious.

The architecture of The Royal Academy of the Arts in London can still make the mind and soul soar with inspiration; but for me, an academy is more than its physical edifice. An academy should be a place where minds meet; where eager and open conversation is exchanged between peers who are curious, have a thirst for knowledge and are excited to explore ideas. An academy is a place of excellence then, but in the excellent and enthusiastic pursuit of new learning. Its elitism resides only, I suggest, in its celebration of knowledge, and who could ever possibly argue against the acquisition of new knowledge?

Yes, 21st century school structures in the U.K and the U.S. have ‘re-branded’ their public and private schools offerings as ‘Academies’. The 2010 British initiative was an act of privatization of public provision. Commencing in 2010, British Academies were launched as state-maintained but independently-run schools, with status and financial remuneration being awarded automatically to schools that ranked highest during government inspection.  So yes, they are, in a sense, bastions of learning with some degree of bureaucratic freedom; but still accountable to nationally determined performance measures.

IEA’s Academy strives to be a bastion of learning unfettered by the constraints of federal initiative. It upholds IEA’s mission as a safe place for the curious mind who thirsts for new knowledge, who seeks to examine what they know and to forge new understandings through interactions with peers and remarkable teachers.

Fall Academy has just concluded, and one of our newly appointed teachers remarked: ‘I had a fantastic time teaching Microbial Ecology. The students were all extremely bright, which allowed me to spend more time on content and less time on motivation. Students asked intuitive questions which took us deeper into the subject material than I expected to go with middle schoolers. As a graduate student, it was a fun weekly exercise for me to think about conveying complex material in a manner which could be accessible for young scientists. More than anything else, the infectious enthusiasm of the students made teaching with IEA a joy — something I looked forward to each week.’

Parents remarked that their child had developed ‘a genuine passion for and love of science’ and that ‘the classes at IEA are content rich. This is important when you need to feed an intellectually hungry student who thrives on learning’.

And our true experts, the students, commented with joy on the Quantum Physics class because ‘I had to interpret the weirdest real of physics in the universe’, as well as in the chance to have ‘fun’ and ‘learn about subjects we do not talk about in school.’

An Academy does not need a grand auditorium and neither do we need to judge it as a place that excludes. Rather an Academy, IEA’s Academy, is a welcome home for those gifted young people who need nourishing, who need to feel they belong and who can find acceptance as they begin to realize their potential, through multiple disciplines, with children from many walks of life.

IEA’s Winter Academy commences on January 11, 2016. Why not sign your child up today to see how we can help serve their needs?

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The Guardian 
The Royal Academy

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