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An Interview with Lisa VanDamme on Education and Objectivism

Michael F. Shaughnessy, a senior columnist for Education News, has published a wonderful interview with Lisa VanDamme. Here are the first two questions and answers:

1)  Lisa, first of all, what got you interested in education and teaching?

From one perspective, you could say I stumbled upon my career as a school owner and director; in another sense it is the perfect harmony of my lifelong interests.

The “chance” element came in 1996, when I had just graduated with a degree in philosophy and was contacted (through mutual friends) by some families in California who were fed up with traditional schools and were seeking a private teacher for their children. I came home one day to a message on my answering machine informing me of this unusual opportunity.

I very quickly became enthusiastic about the prospect: I would be given the opportunity to educate children as they might and ought to be educated, entirely unlike I had been educated in public schools, and as I had been attempting to educate myself as an adult. I interviewed, was hired, and packed my bags to begin the adventure.

I can only describe those early years of home-schooling as a magical experience. The children were wildly enthusiastic about learning: with my guidance, they became logical, articulate and eager writers; they devoured classics of world literature and learned to appreciate them with intellectual sophistication and deep emotion; they progressed to the limit of their capability rather than being held back by classmates; etc.—and, as it might and ought to be, they sincerely loved to learn.

I was convinced that the principles that made that home-school experience so “magical” could be translated into a school environment. So, in 2001 my ex-husband and I started VanDamme Academy, a school dedicated to giving children a real education. The school was to provide all that—and only that—which was necessary to help the children mature into informed, thoughtful, rational, life-loving adults. Rather than endless, fill-in-the-bubble busywork, rather than agenda-laden discussions of current events, rather than classes on everything from cooking to citizenship to clay making, rather than countless play-days meant to make the supposed drudgery of learning palatable, we would just educate them, in the core curriculum. That has been my ever-improving goal for the last ten years.

Though in a sense I stumbled upon my career, with that out-of-the-blue call from California, it is the perfect integration of my love of children and my passion for philosophy. I have the opportunity to contemplate, research, write about, and then apply my most deeply held philosophic convictions to the proper education of children, and then the joy of observing the results in year after year of students.

2) Who has influenced you?

The greatest influence on my philosophic views broadly was the philosopher Ayn Rand, and the greatest influence on my educational philosophy was Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir and the father of one of my first students.

I discovered Ayn Rand in college and was awed by her philosophic insights, which, in contrast to all I had learned in my philosophy classes, made sense, were consistent with my life experiences, gave new order and intelligibility to the world around me, and identified rational principles by which I could guide my actions in order to live a fulfilled and joyful life.

I learned from Ayn Rand both the importance of having a philosophy to guide your life, and what a rational, life-affirming philosophy would look like.

Leonard Peikoff’s course “Philosophy of Education” applied Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism to educational theory, and it is that course which has been the most formative influence of my career. The course identified a proper definition of “education,” explaining the basic necessity and purpose of education. It identified the principles that define which courses a good education should comprise, and the basic methodology that should be followed in teaching those courses.

It contrasted a rational approach to education with that of other historical movements in education, such as Dewey’s progressive method and Prussian education. It showed me, in essence, what had been wrong with my own education and how to redeem education for my students.

Read the whole thing here.

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