Free Bodies. Enslaved Minds.

February 25, 2008

by Tammy Drennan

In 2004, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky wrote a book called The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

Sharansky writes, “Dissidents understood the power of freedom because it had already transformed their lives. It liberated us the day we stopped living in a world where “truth” and “falsehood” were, like everything else, the property of the state.”

He goes on to say, “Having already removed the shackles that imprisoned our minds, our physical confinement could not dull the sense of freedom that coursed through our veins.”

In the United States, education (and thus a large portion of truth and falsehood) is the property of the state.

But unlike dissidents of the old USSR, we are free to walk away from the state. Our problem is removing the shackles that imprison our minds. We walk away from the public school buildings but live in constant fear of violating the state’s definition of education.

There are some who plunge into full freedom, but most of our private and home schools adhere doggedly to the watered down, lifeless model of education the state has produced and scared everyone into accepting. They may wring better test scores out of the public school model, they may defiantly add some Bible verses or some supplementary materials, but the state still owns the ultimate definitions.

We are not producing great thinkers and writers and scientists and artists who will contribute to our understanding of ourselves and the world and liberty and tyranny. We are not producing statesmen who will guard our freedom. We are not producing fiercely independent citizens who will not be bullied by politicians and all the self-proclaimed experts who employ the power of the state to frighten and control us.

We are producing citizens who are afraid of their own minds, their own potential. To step out, to do life differently, to think outside the curriculum, to struggle to know and understand, to wrestle with the meaning of education and life – that’s not the state’s model. That doesn’t fit into neat chapters in textbooks; it’s not testable. How will we know that we know if someone doesn’t test and grade us? What if we make mistakes? Fear, always fear.

Frightened people are scary people. Frightened people give up their freedom at the slightest “boo.” Frightened people deny others their freedom.

Freedom is the power that will overcome our fear, but we must embrace it in all its forms. It is no good to be physically free and intellectually enslaved.

The physically enslaved but intellectually free are never at risk of losing their liberty – they can only move forward.

The physically free but intellectually enslaved are always at risk of losing the tiny bit of freedom they possess.

Forward movement comes with intellectual liberty, with the determination to define ourselves. That is the thing we’re after when we wrench ourselves free of state schools.

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