Teachers requested more than 400,000 copies of the novelist Ayn Rand’s books through the Ayn Rand Institute’s Books to Teachers program in the 2011-12 school year, a 30 percent increase in requests from the previous year, according to the institute. Ayn Rand, the late author who wrote the popular novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and Anthem, has come up in the news recently because Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan at one time voiced an interest in Rand’s economic philosophy. Often labeled objectivism, Rand’s outlook centers on the idea that capitalism is the ideal economic system and that people should pursue their own rational self-interest in life. (Ryan recently disassociated himself from her ideals and called her philosophy “atheist.”)
The Ayn Rand Institute says it has given out more than 2.5 million copies of Rand’s novels and that an estimated 65,000 high school classrooms have taught Rand’s works since its Books to Teachers program began in 2002. Teachers receive the books for free if they agree to teach the novels in their classrooms. The institute also holds high school essay contests that challenge students to write about Rand’s philosophy and the themes in her novels. This past year, a record number of nearly 29,000 participated in the contests.
“We have found that the teachers enjoy teaching Rand’s ideas even though many of them don’t necessarily agree with all of her philosophy,” said Yaron Brook, executive director of the institute, according to a recent press release. “They find her ideas spark thought-provoking conversations in the classroom that excite students about her works.”
But introducing students to a politically divisive figure like Rand also clearly requires some pedagogical risk-tasking. Have you taught any of her novels in your classroom? How have you navigated the political terrain? What sorts of challenges have you encountered in teaching the themes in her books?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.