The VanDamme Academy Curriculum... On One Foot
When visited by prospective clients, I usually have the span of a half-hour appointment to learn about the family and their reasons for seeking a new educational environment, to explain the basic history and structure of VanDamme Academy, and to describe what I regard as the defining virtues of the school. I have therefore had to become adept at a “standing on one foot” description of the VanDamme Academy curriculum. This is what I tell them.
First, I highlight the fact that ours is a core knowledge program.
Nowhere in our schedule will parents see the array of time wasters that clutter a typical grade school curriculum, classes that range from the traditional Phys Ed, Home Ec, and Wood Shop to sundry modern incarnations like Tech Ed, Sex Ed, AOL (Awareness of Other Languages), and Conflict Resolution.
At VanDamme Academy, we do not regard all subjects as created equal. We are ruthlessly possessive of the school day, and will give time only to those subjects essential to the child’s development into an informed, intelligent, rational adult capable of making good judgments and leading a fulfilled life.
We teach them history, so that they learn on a grand scale the consequences of men’s ideas and actions, and can bring that understanding to bear on everything from their political opinions to their personal lives; we teach them great literature, so that they are introduced to an array of intriguing situations, masterfully drawn characters, and insightful world views, and can then face their own lives equipped with this wealth of knowledge and experience. We teach them science, so that they come to recognize their world as an orderly, law-governed place that can be harnessed for man’s welfare. We teach them math, so that they grasp the power of gauging, scaling, and measuring the physical world and appreciate the value of precise, logical thinking. We teach them the language arts, so that they become thoughtful, logical, articulate writers (which means thinkers), who can consider and express the knowledge they have gained with clarity and precision.
I then point out how the content of the classes differs radically from that of today’s schools.
We do not teach socialstudies, we teach history. Rather than a random assortment of facts, figures and dates that bore a child to tears and leave him always questioning, “Why do I have to know this?” we teach a purposeful and compelling story of mankind. As we present it, the story is integrated and causal and offers profoundly valuable moral lessons. So, the feeling of a VanDamme Academy graduate is, “How could anyone not know this?”
We do not teach an English class, cramming literature, writing, grammar, vocabulary and spelling into a single period and consequently doing a woefully inadequate job of all of them. Instead, we devote a significant portion of the day to these subjects—to ensure that students have ample time to discuss, digest, analyze, write about and enjoy the literature they read, to see to it that they have plenty of time to learn, practice, and master the art of essay writing, and to allow them the time necessary for developing the precision of expression that comes from a thorough study of grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
We do not, in place of a meaningful understanding of scientific truths, offer them abstract jargon to be memorized (“in protein synthesis… ribosomal subunits attach to the messenger RNA and amino acids are joined to form a polypeptide or a protein through a process called translation”), political propaganda (“evaluate the social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits arising from the methods of electrical energy production”), or purposeless “hands-on” activities designed to engage students by blurring the line between science class and recess playtime. We teach them scientific facts that are age-appropriate and accessible and that make real to them the order and intelligibility of the physical world.
Hearing this presentation, most parents sigh in a sort of melancholy recognition that this is what constitutes a real education and lamentation of their own and their children’s lost years. The majority then enroll their children, and ask with a smile (as if they are the first) whether we also enroll adults.
For now, VanDamme Academy offers an educational oasis to ninety Southern California students and a physics course for adults. In time, as the number of products grows, as the quality of the curriculum continues to improve, and as the school’s philosophy spreads, I hope we will help pave the way for an educational revolution.