Letters and Replies, Spring 2008 - The Objective Standard

To the Editor:

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Andrew Bernstein’s article “Transfiguring the Novel: The Literary Revolution in Atlas Shrugged” (TOS, Fall 2007), I am puzzled by his statement that “Francisco d’Anconia . . . is the man [whom] many . . .
—including this writer—believe Dagny [Taggart] should have chosen as her husband.” (p. 64) I find this remark baffling given that much of the article is dedicated to discussing the novel’s unprecedented literary integration. However much we may like Francisco, admire his intelligence and strength of character, and even empathize with his suffering at having lost Dagny, there is no question that John Galt was the man whom Dagny had to choose as her husband. It was Galt, the ideal man of unparalleled intellect, who started the strike, who brought the world to a halt, and who defeated Dagny, the strike’s greatest adversary. For Dagny to have chosen someone other than Galt would have undercut the novel’s theme—the role of the mind in man’s existence—by disintegrating its plot.

I am interested to hear why Dr. Bernstein believes that Dagny should have chosen Francisco over Galt.

Robb LeChevalier
Golden, Colorado

Andrew Bernstein replies:

Robb LeChevalier is absolutely correct in his assessment. For Atlas Shrugged to have remained fully integrated to its theme required that Dagny choose Galt; the entire novel would have suffered had she chosen otherwise. My remark was merely an expression of my preference for Francisco, despite Galt’s clear intellectual superiority.

There are at least two reasons why readers might choose Francisco as their favorite character while still admiring the peerless Galt. An obvious reason is that, because of the novel’s revolutionary plot structure, its hero—Galt—remains behind the scenes for a full two-thirds of the story, unobserved by the reader. Francisco, on the other hand, is front-and-center through some of the novel’s most compelling scenes, including his first meeting with Hank Rearden, his “sex” and “money” speeches, and his joint combat with Rearden of a furnace breakout at one of the industrialist’s steel mills. Because Francisco’s character is more fully developed than Galt’s, the reader gets to know him better and thus may feel a stronger affinity toward him.

Another reason why readers might favor Francisco is his sense of life. Galt, like most of Ayn Rand’s major heroes (e.g., Howard Roark and Hank Rearden) is serene and emotionally reserved, supremely and quietly confident of his superlative abilities. Francisco, however, projects a gaiety and a joie de vivre reminiscent of Cyrano de Bergerac and other great heroes of 19th-century swashbuckling literature. A reader whose own sense of life favors joyous spontaneity over calm tranquility will likely feel a greater affinity toward Francisco, even while acknowledging the unparalleled stature of Galt.

Andrew Bernstein
Marist College
Poughkeepsie, New York

To the Editor:

In “The False Promise of Classical Education” (TOS, Summer 2007), Lisa VanDamme criticizes current educational methods and correctly favors as an alternative a hierarchical approach to teaching. However, her educational method shares an error with nearly all of the other methods: curriculum-based teaching.

VanDamme’s mistaken assumption is that children need to be taught certain subjects in order to be “armed” for the world. She presumes that there are particular moments in a child’s life during which he should be taught certain information regardless of whether he is interested in that information. In other words, VanDamme joins other mistaken educators in the belief that a child’s knowledge pursuits should not be his to decide, that he should have no say concerning what information he will learn, when he will learn it, and from whom he will learn it. This belief springs from a misunderstanding of or disrespect for a child’s volition and his ability to be self-motivated from an early age to seek out the information that informs his burgeoning interests. This belief fails to recognize that a rationally raised child will pursue his values with vigor, that he will, on his own accord, seek information about his interests, whether those interests are books, bees, or bass fishing.

There is no universal curriculum that fits all personalities and that is appropriate to all children. Even if there were, it would not fit the educational timeline of every child. A given child may not show an interest in atoms or Jane Austen or grammar until he is fifteen—if ever. There is nothing wrong with a child lacking interest in these subjects if he plans to become a plumber or a saxophone player—or even a doctor. A “class” in which children are forced to absorb information plucked from the nearly infinite spectrum of reality—whether or not they wish to absorb it—is not a class at all. It is an indoctrination camp in which adults (“educators”) impose their values (“education”) upon children who might otherwise choose to seek information in subjects that better fit their interests and, later, careers.

There is obviously a place for classes and tutors that provide the specific information a child voluntarily seeks. But if a child cannot make his own choices regarding his education, all the coercive teaching in the most rational teaching environment will come to little. His preeminent lesson will be that his value pursuits and learning pace are of secondary importance to those of his educators.

David Elmore
Roswell, Georgia

Lisa VanDamme replies:

Mr. Elmore gives a quick nod to the importance of a pedagogical hierarchy and then proceeds to criticize my “curriculum-based” approach to education; his criticism, however, contradicts both the concept of hierarchy and the true purpose of education.

Rather than subjecting the child to a curriculum designed by educators and imposed on him independent of his will, Mr. Elmore would have the child decide what, when, and from whom to learn. But the fundamental question of education, the answer to which defines the requirements of a proper education, is: What is the nature of the child, and what must he learn in order to become a successful, flourishing, life-loving adult? The answer to this question comes as a result of the combined achievements of generations of scientists, mathematicians, artists, writers, epistemologists, educational philosophers, and so on. How is the child to answer it? And if he could answer it, why would he need an education at all?

This is the gross violation of hierarchy implicit in Mr. Elmore’s criticism: He would have the child make decisions about matters that are properly determined by reference to the accumulated wisdom of countless experts. It is the responsibility of educational philosophers to determine what in principle is essential to the child’s intellectual development and therefore to a proper curriculum. It is the job of curriculum writers in each field (history, literature, science, etc.) to take the knowledge that has been amassed over centuries of human development, distill it to that which is most crucial to the child’s development, and order it in an incremental, hierarchical progression that allows the child to acquire the knowledge step by step. It is the job of educators to carefully present the knowledge and vigilantly monitor the child’s acquisition of it to ensure that he grasps the simpler material before moving on to the more complex. But Mr. Elmore would fire the educational philosophers, fire the curriculum writers, and demote educators to servants of the student’s immature, uninformed, necessarily childish desires.

Mr. Elmore defends his position as respectful of the child’s “will” and “values,” but the fact that the child is a being with free will, capable of making choices and having values, is what gives rise to the necessity of a curriculum designed to help him make mature, thoughtful, informed, rational choices.

To that end, it is necessary that all children be taught the core curriculum. The core curriculum is so defined because it comprises the material that is essential for the child to grasp in order to develop into an informed and rational adult who can succeed and flourish throughout his life.

The subject of history demonstrates on a grand scale the consequences of men’s ideas and actions; literature concretizes highly abstract values; science shows the power of man’s mind to understand and harness the natural world; math provides tools for grasping science and developing logical acumen; the language arts help children to develop the capacity to express themselves with clarity and eloquence.

Rather than having an expert history teacher tell a child of the most world-changing events and how and why they occurred—rather than having an expert literature teacher guide a child through classic works that will expose him to compelling and important world-views—rather than having an expert science teacher explain the most crucial discoveries in science and show a child how they unlock the world’s treasures—rather than having professional educators help a child to develop the ability to think and express himself clearly—Mr. Elmore advocates letting a naturally and helplessly ignorant child spend his time studying “bees and bass fishing” if that is what his juvenile desires dictate. Such an “education” would not “respect” the child; it would tragically neglect him.

Lisa VanDamme
VanDamme Academy
Laguna Hills, California

Corrections to the Winter 2008 Issue

1. In “‘Gifts from Heaven,’” on page 83, in the sentence: “In July 1945, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin met at Potsdam, an area in Germany south of Berlin and inside the Soviet zone of occupation.”—“Roosevelt” should have read “Truman.”

2. In “Moral Health Care,” on page 45, in the sentence: “According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, in just four years, between 1996 and 2002, this ‘brain drain’ amounted to ‘a net migration of forty-nine neurosurgeons from Canada …’”—“four years” should have read “six years.”

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