The Price of Freedom (3/1/22)

Well last time I wrote, I said that the Weekly Roundups were going to become a thing of the past--to be replaced by stories of the school that needed to be told. And boy are there some stories coming out of this Quest that must be told. To contain them would be a tragedy...

Sixty minutes. One whole hour. That's how long one of our eagles held a wall sitting position this afternoon. Continuing on through intense pain surrounded by friends. But let me back up...

Several weeks ago the guides set out to create a Quest unlike any other. We wanted to give our eagles the chance to experience some pivotal moments in our country's history--not just read about them, but actually experience them. Our brainstorming led to this badge called Experiencing History: The Price of Freedom. This will be one of many badges the eagles can earn over the years in the Experiencing History Series (similar to the different badges within the Entrepreneurship Series). We knew we were undertaking something beyond what we typically did for Quests, but we were up for the challenge. So we came up with the framework that I'm sure many of you have heard about by now from your eagles. Two sessions. Two badges (one economic badge, one civilizations badge). Two newly formed studios (one for all ES eagles, one for MS/LP). Each week a new time period. And inspiring lessons from heroes along the way. 

Last week the eagles dove into the colonization of America. Making real decisions every day with real consequences such as losing or gaining real EBs, setting sail to new lands where the chosen eagles were to be isolated from their country, and challenges/battles comprised of games. We talked about Columbus, Jamestown, and conflicts between natives and colonists. To make matters more real, all of the learning from the quest was underscored by some powerful discussions around the crisis in Ukraine. Undoubtedly, some of you have heard from your eagles about our conversations. We have some brilliant political, military, and human rights leaders in the making!

This week the stakes got a lot higher. We moved forward to 1765 for a week centered around the American Revolution. This is where things began to get interesting.

The guides have been playing the part of a tyrannical government hell-bent on making sure our claim on the new world is secure. We have been enacting our own version of the Intolerable Acts of 1774 through taxes on things around the studio, additional studio maintenance, and more. Some things were quite quickly brushed off such as a desk tax of 1 EB collected twice per day where virtually all of the eagles simply refused the tax and just opted to move their desks out of their colonies (aka house rooms) and proceed to do their work on the floor. Other things such as studio maintenance in the middle of the morning were less pleasant. The morning ended in absolutely shocking fashion. The eagles have all grown accustomed to the immense freedom ingrained at Aim. They are used to guides asking questions. So you can imagine that guides demanding things was beyond foreign. It was wrong. Several eagles began to look to the sacred Studio Contract for relief. None of the rules of the quest were in line with the Contract. So...we rounded everyone up into the lab. And tore their beloved contract to shreds in front of their disbelieving eyes. Things began to feel a bit more real. 

To complicate matters further, we solicited several of the eagles to be Loyalists. Prove loyalty to the crown and be rewarded. This presented many eagles with great internal conflict...some described it as the hardest choice they have ever had to make. For others, it was never even a question. Their freedom mattered more than anything else. 

Soon after, the eagles were informed that they could choose to rebel whenever they wanted, but there would be severe consequences if they lost. To initiate the rebellion, they were to simply challenge me to 'battle' in a game of chess. The loser of the game loses the battle and if the rebels lost, all who were a part of it were going to be captured and put in prison. The vast majority of the school rebelled almost immediately. The chess game ended almost as quickly. The eagles were sent to stand in a corner to complete silent core skills for the remainder of the afternoon. The Loyalists helped enforce the law of silence and collected EBs from dissenters. The afternoon landing was one of deep reflection about the day. Some comments worth eagle described his shock at seeing the contract ripped up. The contract was supposed to be protected and honored. Another spoke about his horror at seeing a few limited fellow travelers join in the ripping of the contract after it was in piles on the ground. Another spoke of how proud she was to be fighting for freedom. One spoke of how grateful she was to be able to stand and work on her computer. Yet another spoke about how life has no meaning if you have no freedom. Even after the challenges of working in 'prison', not one of them said they regretted rebelling. It's honestly a little strange to think that that was just yesterday. It feels a lot longer ago. 

This morning was more of the same. More ridiculous laws and taxes. Fewer freedoms to go around. Random cleaning assignments. Tension between the Loyalists and the Rebels. All while the quest game continued to expand with core skills and quest challenges being completed to extract more resources such as food and water to keep their little band alive (since at the end of each 'turn' of the game they have to deliver a certain amount of food and water resources or lose some of their colony to starvation). The morning included an amazing auction for some more resources, an epic treaty between one colony and a group of Indians that displayed the type of unbelievable critical thinking skills this model develops, and more. 

The afternoon took a dramatic shift and led to an experience I am confident none of your children will ever forget. It began with some more tyranny which led to one of the older eagles being commanded to get in a wall sit position for speaking ill of the crown (don't worry :) it was one of the guides children) at about 1:40 pm. If this eagle fell down, he was to pay an eagle buck. If he said "Long live the Queen!" or "Down with the rebels!" he would have to endure no more. Within the first minute, he fell down. Less than a minute later, he sat down again. At this point, I thought he would pay a few eagle bucks and move on. But that wasn't the case.

He got back up into position with a fiery determination in his eyes and began to hold it. A moment later a few of the other rebels saw what was going on. Before I knew it, he was joined by four others in the wall sit position. This is where things went from interesting to inspiring. The eagles began to swap each other out just as one was about to collapse...all except for the original eagle and a few others who joined him early on. They refused to accept a break. 

Five minutes passed. Ten minutes passed. They knew that the quest landing was scheduled for 2:40. They still had a long way to go. 

About this time most of the school was upstairs cheering their fellow travelers on. There were songs and celebrations and chants of freedom--all of which were quickly squashed by the tyrants. There was to be none of that. But the eagles pressed on.

So they were separated further. Some into rooms where they couldn't see each other, and where as bad as it hurt me, my character scoffingly pointed out how alone they now were. But their spirit was unbreakable. In the conversation at the end of the day one eagle remarked that they knew I was wrong. They were not alone. 

The minutes and the pain pressed on with a few major victories along the way to refuel their energy. One of the Loyalists could take it no more. He renounced his loyalty to the crown and joined his friends on the wall. A few moments later, one of the most stalwart of all of the Loyalists, one who some thought could never be flipped, joined her friends on the wall with tears pouring down her face. I don't think she has had a more proud moment at the school. 

At 2:30 pm, with ten minutes to go until the end of quest time, all eagles were commanded to do a wall sit. No more trading each other out in the five original spots on the wall. With little left in many of their tiny legs, this was an excruciating command. But they all found a spot and silently gave each other nods of encouragement. 

It was at this point, in a desperate last ditch effort to win, I doubled down on my attempts to get any of them to crack. "Thirty EBs for anyone who will renounce freedom and rejoin the Loyalists!" They all exchanged looks. A few of the eagles could almost bear it no more. One literally had the first few words coming out of her mouth when all those around her shook their heads and silently willed her to go on. She did. 

The upstairs was probably 85 degrees at this point from all the bodies and their collective exertion. Most of their faces were covered in tears or sweat or a combination of both. But they watched the clock turn to 2:40 and cheered. They had done it!

They left the room for a moment to get drinks and collect the EBs they owed to the crown for the moments they defied the orders of silence and we officially took a time-out from the game to process what had just happened. This is where my inadequacies at writing will become painfully apparent. As I really just don't know how to describe the feeling in that moment.

There was emotion in the voices of most of those who shared their experiences, including from several who are typically several leaps away from such vulnerability. The original eagle who had not moved from his grueling position for literally an hour talked about how it was no longer about a silly game we were playing. This was his real stance for his convictions. He spoke of his ability to endure only because of being surrounded by his friends. One of the Loyalists spoke of how she saw the love and friendship and commitment in the eyes of her fellow travelers as they supported each other in this trial and said that she knew that was the type of tribe she wanted to be a part of.

One eagle asked me how it felt to be defeated. The rebels won. The tyrants were unable to break them. And let me tell you...I felt a lot of things in that moment but I've never felt less defeated in my life. 

So....we move on to another day tomorrow. More exciting challenges and dilemmas to grapple with. I am sure the rebels will revolt again soon. They may or may not win the chess battle and they may or may not win back their freedoms. But one thing is for sure. They now understand what's at stake. They understand the price of freedom. 

Lance Stewart

Hi, I'm Lance Stewart.

I'm the founder and Head of School at Aim Academy.

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