Mike Gemmell is the founder and president of Restore Our American Republic (ROAR). Prior to founding ROAR, he was a geologist specializing in groundwater resource development, a technical writer, and a freelance writer addressing environmental and other cultural issues. For more information on his professional background please see: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmgemmell.
“Nothing can be loved or hated unless it is first understood.” – Leonardo Da Vinci
America’s recent election has laid bare the biases of the mainstream media and in so doing aided the continuing rise and influence of social media. However, although the mainstream media failed the objectivity test, it does not necessarily follow that social media and many Internet publications are necessarily bastions of objectivity and accurate, unbiased reporting either. Obtaining and accurately interpreting information must be a high priority of anyone who wishes to be informed about the world around them as well as those who wish to take an active role in restoring the republic in America, e.g., this organization. Knowing how to identify underlying assumptions, cause and effect relationships, and integrating and synthesizing facts and analysis to a topic or theme are issues that should be addressed in a proper education. If we are to restore our republic in America, we must restore our education system in order to nurture these skills in the populace. Perhaps the first step toward that end is to observe a school that has an exemplary record of educating its students and identifying the factors that have made it successful. Toward that end I offer Lisa VanDamme and the VanDamme Academy (www.vandammeacademy.com). – Mike Gemmell November 27, 2016
Education: The Key to Restoring the Republic in America
Lisa VanDamme founded the VanDamme Academy in 2001 after working several years as a private homeschool teacher for two children. According to Miss VanDamme, the goal of education is the following:
“The proper goal of education is to foster the conceptual development of the child—to instill in him the knowledge and cognitive powers needed for mature life. It involves taking the whole of human knowledge, selecting that which is essential to the child’s conceptual development, presenting it in a way that allows the student to clearly grasp both the material itself and its value to his life, and thereby supplying him with both crucial knowledge and the rational thinking skills that will enable him to acquire real knowledge ever after. This is a truly progressive education—and parents and students should settle for nothing less.”
So what does subject content look like when this educational philosophy is put into practice? From the VanDamme Academy website:
We teach history. “Social studies” (aptly nicknamed “social stew” by one of Miss VanDamme’s favorite critics of modern education) amounts to a fragmented hodgepodge of facts and dates, crammed between the covers of a drearily written textbook, memorized and recounted in the form of filled-in bubbles on a multiple choice test, then gone, never to be recalled again.” But history—history—is a captivating story of epic figures, engaged in world changing events, with monumental consequences, that imply profound lessons about life.
We teach literature. “Reading,” commonly crammed in among the spelling drills, vocabulary puzzles, and stream-of-consciousness journaling exercises that comprise “English” class, often involves no more than a novel or two a year followed up by multiple choice comprehension tests or the dread “book report,” and mundane excerpts from textbook readers accompanied by instruction in how to find the topic sentence or identify metaphors and similes. But literature is a thrilling journey to other worlds, worlds in which we meet distinctly-drawn and timelessly memorable characters and in which we are exposed to great authors’ unique insights about life.
“After a decade of discussing these literary classics, our graduates are not just “well read”—they are perceptive observers, incisive thinkers, and passionate valuers.”
We teach science. Science—true science—is the process of systematically observing the physical world, thoughtfully and meticulously integrating those observations, and inducing ever and ever broader principles that explain those observations.
“Science gives the child the confidence, as he walks out of the school doors and looks at the world around him, to point and say, “I recognize that; I know something about that; I can explain that.””
We teach writing. The skill of writing is at once supremely important, profoundly difficult, and, in most schools – woefully neglected. At VanDamme Academy, the skills of writing, reading, vocabulary, spelling and grammar are not all crammed together and cursorily taught under the heading of “English.” Instead, each of those subjects is its own class, giving these vital skills their due.
“Writing is a crucial and empowering skill for everyone to have, no matter what their interests or career ambitions. Most adults feel it is a skill they are lacking. For VDA students, it becomes second nature.””
Across the globe, most math classes revolve around one goal: getting the right answer. If a student can do this, they are said to “get math.” Students pour over stacks of problem sets memorizing and automatizing the steps they need to follow to get the right answer. Too often, these students memorize the steps without understanding why those steps work and where they came from in the first place. The knowledge gained in this way is often brittle and inflexible; it fails the student when he faces a problem worded slightly differently. Many students, uninspired by memorization, conclude that they are “bad at math” and give up.
“Our approach at VDA is entirely different. We teach math conceptually, i.e., we teach math as a set of principles that can be applied to a variety of situations.”
Summary and Conclusions
The descriptions above barely scratch the surface of what is available at this remarkable school. The VanDamme Academy also has a unique approach to grammar, music, and art appreciation. In addition to her founding and leading the VanDamme Academy, Miss VanDamme has written insightful essays on related subjects such as the hierarchy of knowledge, the problems with a so-called “classical education,” and how to teach values in a classroom.
I hope that readers of this essay will now have the following questions in their minds: (1) “How can I find out more about the VanDamme Academy, and (2) Is there anything I can do to spread the word about this school?” The answer to No. 1 is— see the VanDamme Academy website at www.vandammeacademy.com. There is information on the website about the school, its history, curriculum, and links to the school blog, among other items. The short answer to No. 2 is—yes. The somewhat longer answer to that question is this: there is a documentary film about the school and its operations currently in production. The money to fund the project has been raised and filming began late in the summer of 2016. When the documentary has been completed, there will certainly be a need to help spread the word about the project in order to maximize its distribution, spread the word about the school’s educational philosophy, and help achieve the financial goals set for the documentary film project. To find out more about the VanDamme Academy documentary film project, check their website periodically and/or contact the school directly at [email protected]