Teaching and understanding freedom in our schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The cat is out of the bag!

Our students understand freedom and its exercise in our public schools!

Students now can walk out of class with impunity to protest laws being debated in the United States Senate.

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Students can be “mugged” via the internet and certain “chat rooms” encased therein and those doing the mugging are protected by interpretations of the First Amendment’s right to free speech!

O.K. I forgot the big one!

We cannot begin our athletic events or any other school associated events with prayer!

Welcome to Twenty First Century American “freedom” in our schools!

It’s not so much that I wish to reminisce about the “good ole days” in comparison to the perceived licentious and even anarchical behaviors exhibited by public personalities today, which give our young citizens notions of “freedom” which seem to stretch the historical intentions of our Nation’s founders.


I fully understand and appreciate the difficult balancing act we as citizens of the most freedom-conscious society yet evolved in the human condition.

It becomes particularly acute when those who wish to disagree with public policy or, and even more egregiously, disagree with established law.

Those who wish to cling to established law or custom feel that those who oppose their position are using our “freedoms” to undermine those very concepts which were intended to promote and protect those same “freedoms.”

And this is the problem I see facing us as a society, and by extension, as harbingers of educational institutions.

Freedom is not understood today as it was when that group of disenchanted Colonists met in the late 1700’s, first secretly, then in open forum to declare that there were, and, indeed, are, certain “freedoms” which every government of every society must guarantee and protect.

Most of the “freedoms” which are hailed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have their roots in our “Bill of Rights”, the first ten amendments to our Constitution.

However, the extension of the Bill of Rights into areas of human discourse which could never have been imagined by Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, seems to be the focus of such organizations as the ACLU.

I cannot conceive of Thomas Jefferson opposing a nativity scene on the lawn of some City Hall in some city in America.

I cannot comprehend the notion that Ben Franklin would tolerate some Internet “freedom” for the protection of sexual predators. And I certainly cannot imagine James Madison condoning school credit for attending an assembly opposing legislation seeking to refine and even to redefine our approaches to immigration requirements without supervision and objective understanding from educators.

And this seems to be the problem we face. People holding very influential positions with our youngsters do not seem to be able to present “facts as facts” without interjecting a personal position on the issue.

At the same time, there seems to be an unwritten practice which encourages our youth to oppose almost everything which served as a foundation for our “freedoms.”

Carried to the extreme, in some schools, some of our Nation’s Founders are reviled for having owned slaves, and as a consequence, all that they did to establish our nation is to be discounted.

While this does offer a “fair and balanced” view, it also opens the door to suspicions which diminish and reduce the greatness which is America.

And it breeds a kind of moral anarchy which ultimately victimizes all of us.

So what are we to do in our schools to promote our freedoms and to understand the intent of our Bill of Rights so that our students will appreciate them and will be able to apply them in a civil fashion?

There are at least four very practical approaches it would seem that we can take which will accomplish this:

1. Explain the notions of “freedom” our Founders espoused in separating themselves from England.

When we put the Bill of Rights in the context of what the British practiced in its treatment of its colonies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, a different perspective of “freedom” emerges in our contemporary climate.

2. Make certain that positions which are espoused in the classroom are presented in a “matter-of-fact” mode, that is, present them as they happened, rather than romanticizing their genesis and their results.

3. Leave the discussion open to dissenting opinions with as much respect as is attached to the original position.

4. Assure students that their positions on the issue are just as important as another’s position – but, what is more important is that we teach them how to clearly express their positions.

I profess no monopoly on just how to ensure that freedom as we know it today will exist in its present form half-a-century from now.

But I do know that explaining the derivation of freedom in the United States of America and how it has grown with the growth of our Country will lay a solid foundation which will promote civil understanding and will develop an informed electorate.

Of freedom, however, I know this for certain – it is not true, as Kris Kristofferson wrote in “Bobby McGee”, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”

For without freedom we lose everything, and too often it happens in the name of “freedom.”

-Dr. Arthur Ogden is the Campus Director for Alabama Southern’s Demopolis Campus and holds all his degrees in philosophy.

He can be reached at aogden@ascc.edu.