What is the freedom we desire?

Bird Droppings February 9, 2023
What is the freedom we desire?

“Brute force, no matter how strongly applied, can never subdue the basic human desire for freedom and dignity. It is not enough, as communist systems have assumed, merely to provide people with food, shelter, and clothing. Human nature needs to breathe the precious air of liberty.” His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In life, as I look back, humans also, while seeking freedom, seem to have the urge to subjugate others. When I was riding down to Emory University’s Oxford campus a few years back to drop my youngest son off for a summer workshop, we talked about people who need to feel in control, in power, to be in charge. So often, people take teaching jobs subconsciously for that reason, I have found over the years as I observe teachers. In talking with my wife about the same topic, she looked from a medical standpoint and, as I often look, from a psychological view.

A few weeks back, I ran into a former student while taking grandkids to McDonald’s. The only time I go is with grandkids, and what’s funny is it’s the playground at a specific Mcdonald’s they like. Suppose they want food, only several other places they want to visit first. My former student back in the day was a fan of anarchy and had the anarchy logo emblazoned on his backpack. I had forgotten about this episode from ten years ago when I ran into him at a local BBQ joint where he was cooking. I had saved his backpack in my jumble of boxes from school after he got kicked out and eventually quit high school. It dawned on me when we met up all those years later, and I recalled just seeing this backpack and taking it by to him the next day. He always reminded me of the story as we talked at McDonald’s of all places’ synchronicity. He was with his fiancée and their kids. The funny thing adding to this story was running into his former roommate, another of my former students, two nights back at Publix. As I think of freedom and these two individuals, my former students never succumbed to the rigors of public education, straight rows of desks, and such. Freedom was not “just another word” but a point of life for them, even at a young age.

We each, in our way, see the idea of freedom perhaps in differing lights and lenses. While attending a wedding shower recently in a subdivision in another part of the local community, I was not a free person. In my existence, I tend to be somewhat monastic, picking and choosing times to be social and spending much of my day reading, writing, and pondering uninterrupted by the wheres and whys of social interaction.

However, I watched an old rerun of a favorite show on Netflix last night. The show’s premise was a blogger who laid her life out in minute detail in her blog while living in somewhat isolation, only communicating and interacting on a very social level in many psychological terms while never coming into contact with a living person. I went to a wedding shower with my wife. At that shower, I was lost in a crowd of people I did not know or care to be among and eventually walked outside after sitting for nearly an hour and a half talking to my cousin, the groom-to-be’s father. But as I look at my first paragraph, I had no control over the situation.

Does this apply to learning and education most assuredly, as we often place children in places where they have no control and few liberties? Often the response is one of flight or harmful behavior as we define the norm and allow only what we, as teachers deem appropriate. Freedom is another word from the early 1970s and mid-1960s written by Kris Kristofferson. Working with children with emotional problems and whose affect is impacted for whatever reason has me looking at the kids I worked with differently than most teachers may even attempt. A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my room with no phone zone signs ready to go up in my classroom at Alcovy High School. I have never felt it necessary to compete with an electronic device until this year. When kids are glued to phones 24/7, they have little desire to hear or see anything else. “I can google it.”

But in my research over the past few months, I found that in the early 1950s, a group of educational psychologists developed several learning domains. One of these aspects or domains is the affective domain.

“Receiving, willing to listen, Responding, willing to participate, Valuing, willing to be involved, Organizing, willing to be an advocate and Characterization, willing to change one’s behavior, lifestyle or way of life” Cindy Vinson Ed.D.

These are the five areas of that domain outlined above, so what does an affective domain have to do with freedom? What do bossy people have to do with either? We set ourselves up for failure so often in life. Internally, a desire for liberty is confounded by structure in societal entities, schools, work, and social organizations, where a teacher, boss, or president tells us what to do. So many years ago, I recalled listening to someone discussing business and management; my son would say, back in the day. I had dinner with my father and the great management guru Peter Drucker at a management meeting in Chicago.

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.” Peter Drucker

Reading the great business author Peter Drucker’s thoughts, I pondered how often some teachers can be much the same. I reworded the statement a bit with, could it be then that so much of what we call teaching consists in making it difficult for students to learn? But later, when discussing this thought, I remembered another quote from a book my father wrote a number of years ago.

“It is not about telling workers (students) what to do, it is about asking them to do it and further if they believe it is their idea and they take ownership of that idea far more will be accomplished” Frank E. Bird Jr., Practical Loss Control Management

In educational research, students’ empowerment and ownership significantly increase the level to achieve. I have often seen this premise work as workers take ownership of an idea and turn a company around through safety programs. I have seen students with input in a classroom light up and move forward more than when manacled by a dictator-like teacher. In my research and studies, as I work on my dissertation on The Foxfire Approach to teaching, the number one Core Practice states the following.

“From the beginning, learner choice, design, and revision infuse the work teachers and learners do together.” Foxfire Core Practice one

I have been directly or indirectly involved in training and teaching for nearly fifty-two years. Much more is accomplished when a learner, an adult or child, owns the idea. Work goes from tedious to enjoyable, and success becomes the norm rather than failure. As teachers, how do we give ownership to students of material such as Algebra or US History? How can we take student ideas and intertwine them with the mandated curriculum? These are not simple questions, and there are no simple answers. It takes effort and work and often not being totally in control to allow this to happen and flow.

As I thought a bit more, I wondered if by accepting an inherent desire to be free, as stated by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Vinson’s idea of an affective domain and building upon that, we might have successful students and workers. Imagine building upon this in schools and improving schools because kids want to and not because of federal standards and demands. This concept is essentially the premise behind democracy in the classroom and much of John Dewey’s work on education and democracy in our country. Every prominent politician is now for or against specific policies, and each has a different reason. However, I find it necessary to end as I have for nearly twenty years. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts. For so many years, as I look back and each day find in harm’s way goes so far beyond the wars and tribulations of man. Several friends have battled cancer and won, and as I look even at my own family over the past few years, the emotions and heart-wrenching in harm’s way is a rather broad term. We need to be looking behind each corner and searching our hearts and keep as humans uplifting rather than tearing each other down. The potential for man is so great, but we continually allow ourselves to be sucked into the vacuums of greed and denial. How do we rise and offer a hand? How do we become a nation of people rather than of profit? It takes understanding, and as Dr. Vinson provides, we need to be in the affective domain.

“Receiving, willing to listen, Responding, willing to participate, Valuing, willing to be involved, Organizing, willing to be an advocate and Characterization, willing to change one’s behavior, lifestyle or way of life” Cindy Vinson Ed.D.

So, another week ahead, I ponder what I might bring today as a teacher. Hopefully, something that will impact students positively and close as I have for nearly fifteen years; please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

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