Our Unique Approach
Our Unique Approach Firm Foundation Academy is a non-profit educational institution focused on improving the literacy and critical thinking skills of its students through intensive reading and discussion of literature and philosophy classics. Firm Foundation Academy is a singular academic experience with one goal for our students: significantly improve their ability to read and think. We fuse traditional teaching methods with technological innovations to foster a rich learning environment. Students are given a tablet to use during their stay, equipped with our uniquely engineered FFA Reader Software. Through academic exploration, our students will learn how to develop and defend an argument as well as cultivate strong listening, reading and critical thinking skills.
Books and Only Books
We are only trying to solve one problem — how to help our students become better readers. We’re not trying to be well rounded. We're not offering life experience. We don't even have an athletic program. This is not band camp. Our students leave with significantly improved reading ability. That alone is no small accomplishment.
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing" fully applies to selections, anthologies and compilations. We will finish what we start. A great book is a big idea fully developed. And a big idea deserves time and energy spent comprehending and digesting, even if the idea is ultimately wrong.
Someone asked us once: ‘What will be your policy regarding cell phones in class?’ Our response: ‘Require them.’ The explosion of mobile computing devices and online information may have disrupted teaching, but it represents a revolution in learning — and that is all that really matters. Our entire program leverages software and networks to amplify learning. Our students are issued a tablet computer when they arrive and they are also encouraged to use our software on their own devices. Thanks to offline-first software design and the cloud, students can switch from device to device. They can read on a tablet, post exercises on a laptop, then go jogging while re-reading the current chapter as an audio-stream on a cell phone. Our entire facility is blanketed with high-speed Wifi and every possible nook has a charger. Read about our unique FFA Reader software.
Intensive and Extensive
Students have become accustomed to neatly packaged, pre-digested ideas, usually with more rhetorical fluff than substance. Learning to be a good reader requires a big shift. The authors of great books tend to argue with one another — by reading a lot our students learn to become part of a foundational discourse. Our typical day includes around ten hours of reading. Our students quickly become accustomed to long hours of sustained intellectual focus. It is difficult to develop a habit of reading intensely for long hours — but it is ultimately the most important of all study skills. Our classrooms are designed to feel less like a conventional classroom and more like a comfortable living room. Plush leather sofas and snack bars are standard in every room. We require our students to work long hard hours... so we try to make them as comfortable as possible.
The mind does not really believe anything it does not understand. One’s strongest beliefs are only as firm as our depth of understanding. This is probably why people feel uncomfortable when their cherished beliefs are challenged and dissected. Our school is not a ‘safe space’ where opinions and personal prejudices are protected and left undisturbed. We will challenge every pre-conceived position and our students will be the better for it. We do not tear down beliefs — we explore them. We do not accept the supposed dichotomy between Faith and Reason — which typically ends up with neither.
Zero Tolerance for Intolerance
With the rise of sensitivity to gender and race issues on campuses, a common illiberal approach has been to establish ‘speech codes’ designed to designate and prohibit the use of offensive words. In our school, we take a different approach. We do not try to hide bad ideas. Students expressing offensive ideas should expect to have such ideas challenged vigorously in the course of our class discussion. Our courses openly address every prejudice — whether of race, gender, class, religion, nationality or shade of political thought. We regard prejudice as a totemic response to ignorance and fear. As such, it is best addressed by a broadening of perspective, and this results from open and unfettered discussion diving more deeply into the origins and evolution of human thought.
If you are looking for a party or a fun and relaxing vacation, our school is not for you. Nor do we provide a sequestered environment in which your cherished ideas will remain unchallenged. FFA delivers a bracingly intensive study experience the like of which most students have never experienced.
Together we will explore great books which have issued forth from luminous minds. We will wrangle with the most portentious and revolutionary ideas. Our courses require sustained effort and undaunted courage. They are life-changing.