Restore Our American Republic

Toward an American Cultural Renaissance

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The signs that America is in need of a cultural renaissance (“rebirth”) are all around us. Astonishing rates of illiteracy, out of control political correctness especially in institutions of higher learning, and large percentages of America’s youth favoring socialism in the land founded on the principle of the rights of the individual. This even after Venezuela’s recent failed experiment that has all but destroyed a once prosperous country. But where to begin? With the one institution that serves as the foundation for all the others in our culture: education.

There was a time when Americans were very well educated. Literacy in the early days of the republic were very high with private education resources including subscription libraries founded by Benjamin Franklin, private professional mentoring in various subjects, homeschools, and private schools. The high level of literacy in early America was commented on by several prominent Frenchmen who visited the U.S. in the early 19th century. According to Pierre Dupont in National Education in the United States of America, published in 1800, Americans received an education far superior to that of other peoples. “Most young Americans,” he wrote, “can read, write, and cipher [i.e., do basic arithmetic]. Not more than four in a thousand are unable to write legibly.” Alexis de Tocqueville several decades later in Democracy in America stated that Americans were the most educated people in history.

So what happened to our system of education from our early days to the present? In two words: Progressive Education. The essay to follow: “The VanDamme Academy vs. Progressive Education” contains a brief history of the immense damage done to generations of Americans by Progressive education. However, more importantly it presents a documentary video of the VanDamme Academy and a summary of its educational philosophy. To watch the video, please click here. The video and the articulate and sophisticated young minds it presents at the academy stand in vivid contrast to the destruction Progressive education has been wreaking on young minds for far too long. If you are concerned about American culture and its educational system, please read the essay and watch the hour-long documentary video with the inspiring story of a school that very likely will help lead the way to an educational and cultural renaissance in the United States.

As always, if you have questions, comments, or suggestions regarding this newsletter or ROAR’s operations, please contact us.

Mike Gemmell
Founder and President, Restore Our American Republic, LLC

 


The VanDamme Academy vs. Progressive Education

The Progressive movement arose in the late 19th century in response to perceived economic inequalities in the U.S. Although early Progressives had some legitimate grievances concerning preferential land grants and policies given to certain railroad companies and other businesses, their solution was not to remove the preferential treatment given to some businesses, but to regulate all business concerns. Progressive leaders such as Herbert Croly were explicitly against individualism and free enterprise, and for collectivism and big government. Croly reflected the Progressive philosophy in his statement:

“The traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth.”

Their philosophy of education reflected their disdain for individualism. The foundational idea of Progressive education is the belief that the primary goal of education is the “socialization” of the child, something that is considered more important than academic training, more important than studying literature, history, science, and math. Early Progressive education reformers contended that a “narrow focus” on academic training must give way to something that focused on the “whole child.” Jane Addams a prominent early Progressive reformer reflected a common Progressive theme with her emphasis on group work and collective activities.

They also used an epistemology (theory of knowledge) that has had disastrous consequences. Contending that certainty and absolute knowledge were dogmatic and needlessly authoritarian, they proceeded to directly assault the method of phonics, a conceptually-based method of teaching reading. The intellectual foundation of phonics is the use of the 26 letter alphabet with 44 sounds. By using the 26 letters of the alphabet and the 44 sounds associated with them it is possible to sound out 87 percent of the words in the English language. The other 13 percent can then be learned through experience and contextual understanding to match irregular spellings such as the word “rough” with the spoken word they already know.

This proven system of teaching reading was replaced by the anti-conceptual approach of “look-say” and later “whole language.” These Progressive techniques replaced the relatively minor amount of memorization for the 26 letters and associated 44 sounds and instead instructed students to memorize the shape of every word in the entire language. Critics of whole language methods have compared the whole language approach to a warehouse containing millions of items randomly stored without letter-by-letter classification necessitating those searching for items to memorize the shape of each and to recall that shape and meaning as needed. (For more detail on the whole language approach and its disastrous effect on reading literacy in the U.S. see: Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch,1955.)

The results of these changes in teaching fundamentals have been well documented with American students scoring near the bottom of industrialized nations in reading, math, history, and general literacy. (For a review of the history of education in the U.S. please see: “Heroes and Villains in American Education.” An excerpt of the article is presented at The Objective Standard website. A PDF copy of the full essay can be obtained for $3.)

The antidote to Progressivism: The VanDamme Academy

Directly challenging Progressive education and its underlying philosophy is Lisa VanDamme who founded the VanDamme Academy in 2001 after working several years as a private homeschool teacher. Her educational philosophy is a welcome contrast to Progressive educational philosophy. 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.”

A recently completed hour-long documentary on the VanDamme Academy, “A Little Candle,” gives an excellent indication of what her philosophy looks like in practice. (To see the video Click Here).

The video discusses her method of teaching in all the major subject areas. The Academy’s approach to literature is to expose children to the timeless themes of great works; history by emphasizing cause and effect relationships rather than the hodge podge of “social studies” taught in most public schools; science by following the footsteps of the original discoverers of important ideas rather than memorization, and much more.

The fundamental principle that the Academy rigorously adheres to is the principle of hierarchy. Anything that is taught at the Van Damme Academy is presented step-by-step building on low level ideas to the more complex. There is virtually no memorization, so the students reason their way to higher level ideas and abstractions. This is in marked contrast to most schools. (For more on Miss VanDamme’s views on the crucial importance of teaching hierarchically, please see “The Hierarchy of Knowledge: The Most Neglected Issue in Education”)

When asked what a success in education looks like, Miss VanDamme describes her students when they graduate as having “poise, grace, and a wisdom or “depth of soul.” They also learn to write clearly and eloquently and become passionate and dedicated to learning and achieving.

When you observe and listen to individual students in the video you will quickly see that she is not exaggerating in her assessment of them. They are strikingly articulate and sophisticated well beyond their equivalents in the public schools.

If you would like to follow this exciting school and its activities go to: www.alittlecandlemovie.com. And please consider sharing the link to the video far and wide so that others can see what a school can do when it utilizes an approach and philosophy such as that developed by Lisa VanDamme and the VanDamme Academy.

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