Schools, Freedom, and Obligation in Society

America and the idea of Freedom in Schools

Freedom versus obligation. I was in a discussion on Friday with my friend Duff Rearick when the topic of freedom came up. Now, there have been books, dissertations, and entire careers in academia dedicated to defining freedom. This short blog post is not going to try to answer the question, “What is freedom”.

What I am going to do (hopefully) is cause you to think about how schools can help students experience the ideals of freedom.


Oftentimes we hear people say something like “With freedom comes responsibility.” I can understand that. Freedom is not something that just happens around an individual. Freedom’s meaning is built in interactions between people and society. I do, however, believe we need to add something to the statement. We need to add the concept of obligation.


The sentence should read, “With freedom comes the obligation for responsibility.” Freedom can not mean that one can do whatever one wants. There is also an obligation on all of us to be responsible for our own, and other’s freedom. Pretty simple if you ask me.

Education and Freedom

Let’s not get too carried away and think that we should “teach” freedom in schools. Rather, we can study history, particularly American history, and celebrate the times when we were the beacon of freedom’s light for the world. We can also learn from the times when we stumbled with our own high expectations of freedom. It seems to me there is no harm in studying American history in this way.

The best way in which schools can help students think about freedom is in the actions of the adults in our school system. How do adults interact with students? How do School Boards interact with their communities? Setting an example of freedom does not have to be an explicitly political, teaching act. Let’s just try setting a good example in all that we do for our schools. I suspect a natural definition of freedom will result from our actions. Schools can be good stewards of our country’s legacy for encouraging freedom.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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