Brian Matney, Ph.D.


Brian Matney, Ph.D.

Occupation: Principal, Landstown High School: Governor’s STEM and Technology Academy, Virginia Beach, Va. Chapter: University of Virginia Field of Study: American government, American history, social foundations of education

What was the best advice you were ever given and who gave it to you?

One of the most powerful influences on my life was my father, who was an educator. He was in banking and left a financially rewarding career to go into a public school classroom to teach in the 1950s. He said he wanted to find something that was spiritually lucrative. Like him, I love trying to “pay it forward” and help young people understand the promise and power of an educated mind.

How do you balance liberal arts with the more technical focus of your high school? 

We try to make sure that the liberal arts continue to thrive, even during times of fiscal retrenchment, so that students don’t lose an appreciation for the Renaissance approach. There is a much greater push for developing skills in students like collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, and the liberal arts are essential to that. At one time, we educators had a more compartmentalized structure. Now, there is a great movement afoot to try to promote interdisciplinary approaches to the core areas of math, English, science and social studies. Wherever we can, we fuse them together. For example, we’ve had interesting interdisciplinary approaches as part of the curriculum, such as wedding physics and music.

What course in college made you think differently?

It was a class on campaigns and elections at the University of Virginia taught by [PBK member] political analyst Larry Sabato. It not only opened my eyes to the broader world and what is involved in the process of running for and securing political office, but also illustrated the variety of worldviews that come to the table and compete in the process of electing public officials. He made us take responsibility for our learning, was insistent on impeccable literary skills—and at 19 or 20 we had to get on the road and go to Capitol Hill and be bold and courageous in speaking to folks who had been chosen for elected office.

What keeps you up at night?

Unrealized potential. Seeing students who have so much to offer, who are such capable college and graduate-school timber, but perhaps come from a home where education may not be valued or is misunderstood. It’s difficult when you see some students who you know deep down could go onto higher education and thrive and contribute mightily to the world, but, for whatever reasons, they don’t see themselves doing so. Or they aren’t encouraged to do so. Nonetheless, I interact every day with some of the brightest, most passionate young people one could imagine and, while our challenges are great, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future.

What’s your favorite book?

My favorite book of all time is The Oxbow Incident. It made me appreciate the principles of our nation’s founding, the protections that are afforded by the Bill of Rights, and some of the dilemmas that we face when we’re called upon to adjudicate. We often criticize the judicial process for being far too slow, but I’d rather it be years too slow than a second too fast.

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