One of the saddest sights, to me, is to see photos of 20 or 30 kids sitting in a classroom, shut away from real learning, shut away from all meaningful resources, shut away from people who would show them how to do things, shut away from people who would explain things to them, shut away from personal interests, shut away from sunshine and wind and rain and snow and woods and meadows and mountains, shut away from older people and younger people, shut away from communities, shut away from opportunities and possibilities. Maybe some kids are happy that way, but for me it was a burden too heavy to bear, and I know many others who felt the same. I know many kids who feel that way today.
I found freedom as a child, though it was a risky freedom. I skipped school (three days a week every week one year), hid out in the woods reading books, wandered city streets and hung out in public libraries, sat at café counters hoping the police officer three stools down wouldn’t think I looked as young as I was. I spent cold, rainy and snowy days huddled in an old, abandoned house with a leather pouch full of books, shivering and happy to be free. I learned how to play the system to conceal my truancy (a valuable lesson in itself).
I learned that I could be free. I believed I had a right to be free. I was willing to take risks to be free. Freedom was more important to me than anything. Outrage roiled inside me when I thought about those I knew who wished to deny me my freedom. I walked my own path, breathed air I chose, read what I wanted, thought my own thoughts, recorded my own ideas on topics of my choice.
There are better ways to afford children freedom, I admit. I was often lucky that things went well for me. I had some close calls. I had no choice but to wrestle my freedom from the hands of authority. If I had grown up a generation later, my parents would have felt more freedom themselves and would have been aware of more options. They were fiercely independent folks and chose freer options for my younger siblings. To be sure, children should not have to skulk around like escaped convicts to secure some freedom, though I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Children need their parents in their lives, not as wardens making sure they serve their sentences, but as partners in education and life, even as fellow escapees, for there are many parents who have not experienced freedom themselves.
Freedom is exhilarating, heady stuff. Once you’ve experienced it, nothing else will do, and it’s what you hope for every other human being. Give the gift of freedom to your children — and yourself.