EDUCATION FOR FREEDOM
By Erica Carle
Whenever people get together peaceably to do anything there is a process of agreement involved. The activity may depend on a set of mutually agreed-upon rules; it may depend on someone with superior knowledge or skill coordinating the various contributions; or it may depend on what seems to be 'intuitive' understanding of what one expects of another.
The games we played as kids are good examples. Sometimes we played the formalized games requiring special equipment with a written set of rules: Parcheesi, Monopoly, Old maid, etc. The printed rules were very specific. Everyone agreed that if they were not followed the game was not being played properly.
Then there were the games we learned from the older kids or from parents and teachers: Kick the Can, King of the Hill, Hop Scotch, Dodge Ball, Red Rover, etc. . . While there may have been written rules and reasons for them at one time we were never aware of them. We just played as we were taught and took any questions or disagreements to those who had played more than we.
Other activities were made up as we went along. Often we took turns making suggestions. When good friends were together playing informally there were seldom arguments. Agreements could even be reached without conversation. There seemed to be an 'intuitive' understanding.
All three types of 'games': 1) those with strict rules, 2) those which seem to depend more on authority than on rules, and 3) those which seem almost completely informal and spontaneous, play a part in our adult daily lives. The third: random activities enjoyed without perceptible rules, would represent to most people the ideal of freedom. Sentimental cards in gift shops may depict this type of freedom with a picture of two young people strolling on a sandy beach, or a drawing of little children playing on a grassy meadow. Such peaceful representations sometimes incline one to ask why we bother with all the rules and restrictions on personal behavior and with all the drill and discipline that was forced on us. Why can't we all just get along in beautiful simplicity?
Actually such pictures are not that simple. But how does one put in the picture the values that are necessary for a young couple to stroll contentedly on the beach with perfect trust? How many people looking at the picture of children playing on a grassy meadow consider the amount of training necessary before happy children can be trusted to play peacefully. One need only imagine what would happen to the tranquility if the neighborhood brat were suddenly dropped into the scene.
Young people today are often taught that the peaceful scenes represent the way life might be if their parents, teachers, and 'society' didn't continually hassle them. Millions are being told they have a RIGHT to make their own personal rules, to claim personal freedom--that nobody has a right to interfere. It is not explained to them that the peace and contentment they seek is not accidental, but the result of rules and strict training drilled into the young until doing what is right becomes a part of their personalities. If rules of consideration and constructive behavior become part of their personalities those who are so trained are not consciously aware that any rules exist. These are the truly liberated children. They can trust one another knowing that lying, cheating, or stealing are not an option or a temptation. They would not consider hitting, hurting, embarrassing or envying one another.
The peaceful picture was begun long before the friends met. Individually they had been impressed with the necessity of self control and consideration. By the time they found each other they were ready to enjoy the freedom of trust and real understanding.
In 1901 J. L. Spalding captured the spirit of this type of training for freedom when he wrote:
"The child is bound by the double chain of ignorance and helplessness. He is a prisoner, and it is the educator's business to unbar the doors and set him free; and he can do this only by teaching him to reflect, to obey, to act in accordance with what good sense and just laws command. His emancipation must be a gradual and slow process; for he can become free only through habits of self-control and industry. He is the slave of ignorance, and knowledge can be acquired only by long and patient labor; he is the bond-servant of his helpless condition, and this helplessness is good for him, because it forces him to learn obedience and self-denial, and thus acquire the moral strength which liberates. The sense of his obligations to others must be awakened in him, or he will not gain self-respect; the spirit of reverence must be cultivated; he must be taught to lift his soul to the Heavenly Father and to walk in His presence, or the sacredness and worth of life will not be revealed to him. He must be taught to admire those whose superiority is founded on wisdom and virtue, or the ideal of human perfection shall be hidden from him. In looking up to such men and women a sense of his own dignity is brought home to him, and in following their teaching and example he feels himself purified and exalted. Thus little by little the meaning of freedom dawns upon him, and he at the same time acquires the virtues which alone can prevent its becoming a curse."
Contrast Spalding's type of education with that promoted by advocates of values clarification, moral reasoning, and libertarian philosophy and you may begin to understand why many people today are so unhappy, lost, and easily manipulated.
© 2002 Erica Carle - All Rights Reserved
Erica Carle is an independent researcher and writer. She has a B.S. degree from the University of Wisconsin. She has been involved in radio and television writing and production, and has also taught math and composition at the private school her children attended in Brookfield, Wisconsin. For ten years she wrote a weekly column, "Truth In Education" for WISCONSIN REPORT, and served as Education Editor for that publication. Her books are available through Education Service Council, P. O. Box 271, Elm Grove, Wisconsin 53122.
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"Young people today are often taught that the peaceful scenes represent the way life might be if their parents, teachers, and 'society' didn't continually hassle them. Millions are being told they have a RIGHT to make their own personal rules, to claim personal freedom--that nobody has a right to interfere."
[Meaning Parents, State OK]