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Education and Freedom

I was a middle school math and science teacher for 15 years. During that time, I experienced the “new math” phenomenon. For years, I answered phone calls from frustrated parents who were trying to help their child learn a mathematical concept. I reassured parents and students that there are multiple ways of getting you from point A to point B. There are direct routes and ‘scenic routes.’ More importantly, students and parents must understand that the larger goal in math, as with any other subject, is to become critical consumers of diverse processes and circumstances so that the student can independently develop reliable, accurate, and efficient pathways to get to point B. In essence, a quality education develops knowledge, skills, and wisdom to discern: better from the lessor, good from the bad, or right from wrong. Education is entirely about developing a higher understanding and practice of freedom within a universal moral framework.

The Oxford Dictionary defines freedom as “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants; the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity.” In short, freedom contains two distinct parts: 1) an individual’s willful act to 2) choose between at least two options. Freedom requires an independent will and choice. Freedom’s biggest role and challenge exists within diverse people, ideas, and things. To independently navigate through diverse options is the mission of education and why education is imminently critical in promoting and also maintaining freedom.

Counter to this idea of freedom is the mindless or lazy approach of telling someone what they ‘need to know’ thereby removing critical thought, debate, and censoring information. To counterbalance the extreme assumption of ‘anything goes’ approach, freedom requires a universal moral compass (see my prior editorial on this subject).

Therefore, public education’s role in establishing and maintaining freedom is to provide the setting and culture within which students critically process information to make informed choices (aka freedom). Informed choices are absolutely dependent on the fact that at least two sides of an issue are present. As an educator, I would go so far as to say we have an obligation to showcase bad ideas and answer ridiculous questions alongside good ideas even though we know the futility of bad ideas. The freedom to willfully choose within a universal moral compass requires us to compare and contrast ideas. Therefore, debate is necessary and in fact a healthy process for promoting and protecting freedom. Today more than ever, bad ideas are more often than not defended and elevated by emotionally hollow defenses best summed up as being offended. The ‘I’m offended defense’ is simply not a defense but rather an emotional reaction.

Education and certainly public education, is in the freedom business. As educators (private, public, parents, coaches, mentors), we are ethically obligated to engage and enlighten our youth to be thoughtful, independent agents who respond to diverse ideas (freedom). To this end, education is founded and should never waiver no matter the sentiment or opinion.