Freedom to Disagree

by Lorraine Esposito on May 26, 2012

in Peacemaker Parent,You as a parent,You as a person,Your kids

I sprinkled over 200 quotes throughout my book, The Peacemaker Parent, because I love the way a great quote can add humor or insight at just the right time.  Here’s one taken from Chapter 8, Bringing it all Together.

 “Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not offer much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”—Robert H. Jackson

 As families transition from dependence to independence, there will be trying times, especially during the Slipping/Testing Phase.  Kids are likely to flex their newly found independence muscles in ways that reach beyond their morning chores as they experience firsthand what it feels like to be accountable.  Jackson’s quote casts a light on those difficult times so that we may see them for the necessary steps that they are.

 Freedom is at the root of independence because it speaks to one’s ability to choose.

 More, More, More . . .

It is part of human nature always to want more. We seek more knowledge, more riches, more experience, more love, more comfort—just plain more. The need to have more has fueled all the advancements the human species has made since the dawn of time. There is never going to be enough, because “enough” eventually gets boring. When we think about this concept in the field of space exploration or computer technology, we applaud the results of wanting more. The scientists who develop new ways to know, have, see and do more are rewarded with our thanks—and our money. Society sends a loud message to them saying, “Keep going because we want more, too!”

In the course of any new venture, there will, however, be a time of resistance from the existing order. Fear is at the heart of this (and all) resistance. What we don’t understand, we fear. I’m just guessing here, but I can imagine the first cave person to have figured out how to intentionally create fire was feared for a time. We also often fear that with which we disagree and we can cite many tragic losses in the attempt to squelch ideas.

Book Burning

Book burning throughout history has robbed us of precious knowledge.

  • Qin Shi Huang ordered the work of scholars burned during the Qin Dynasty. The world lost forever the ideas and knowledge contained in books such as the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of History, and all the classic works of the Hundred Schools of Thought because Qin Shi Huang was afraid that the ideas undermined his legitimacy.
  • Bishop Diego de Landa Calderon burned all but three Mayan Codices, books that contained eight hundred years of recorded history of the Indian people. He did so because he considered the information contained in the Codices counter-productive in his quest to convert the natives to the Roman Catholic Church. He feared he would not succeed in his quest if native people had information supporting an opposing opinion.
  • Nazi Germany sought to “purify” its language and literature of Jewish intellectualism on May 10, 1933. Thirty-four university towns rallied together on this day in “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” and burned more than 25,000 books.

The First Amendment

The Constitution of the United States has wrestled with many issues that “touch the heart of the existing order.” We support the first amendment of the Constitution, protecting the freedom of expression, but then we seek to limit those who express their differing views or values. Two examples are the ability to burn an American flag and teaching evolution versus creation science in schools. What we sometimes forget is that each individual will interpret data according to his or her own perceptions—perceptions that are based on cultural background, life experiences, genetics and interests. And, more importantly, their views and values are constantly changing as they are constantly exposed to new information. I think of it as the evolution of perception, and it never ends.

Kids Rock the Boat

This is particularly true of young people. It is their duty to challenge the existing order. It is a law of nature; all things are either growing or dying. All things are constantly changing, and the energy of youth has the power to speed up change by rocking the boat. Schools are challenged with this youthful energy and find themselves caught between promoting free thinking and innovations, on the one hand, and the mandate to teach a structured curriculum and maintain a learning environment, on the other. There are many examples of legal battles over the right of a student to express his or her ideas. Battles have been fought over dress codes, independent student newsletters, school prayer and more. On such occasions the boat rocking caused ripples all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Take reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, for example. It took the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on the issue. The Court found that it’s as much a First Amendment violation to make you say something you don’t want to say as it is to not let you say something you want to say (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 1943). The Supreme Court went further (more boat rocking) to say that a student is not even required to stand while others recite the pledge (Goetz v. Ansell 1973). Certainly, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance struck at the heart of the existing order for many in our country.

Accountable Freedom

The challenge of a free nation is to allow all people to be free, and it starts by teaching children the responsibility that goes with freedom. We are responsible to maintain freedom by allowing differing ideas and values. The Supreme Court has recognized the importance of the free flow of ideas in schools: “The classroom is peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.’ The Nation’s future depends upon leaders trained through wide exposure to that robust exchange of ideas.” (Keyishian v. Board of Regents [385 US 589 {1967}]).

Support accountability and responsibility by honestly considering the challenges they will bring to the existing order. Open yourself to the possibility of compromise and embrace your child’s effort to become independent.

Related Articles:  We Can’t Be Trusted,

Related Tip of the Week:  Influence Backfire,

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