The Freedom To Learn


This past week our grandson, Ben, graduated from Durant Middle School. Sitting amongst the crowd of proud parents, grandparents, relatives and friends, I watched as row after row of children from 6th to 8th grades rose to claim certificates and trophies: honors, high honors, awards of distinction. This beautiful grouping of young people made me think of one of our most precious freedoms: the freedom to learn.

At this time of year we are likely to think of Freedom, its implications, its precious legacy. Still, beyond those that are outlined in the constitution, beyond even the sacrifices that are made by dedicated men and women in the defense of our country, there are other freedoms which we as a democratic people too often take for granted. Education is one of them.

All right, I can hear the younger generation stirring. I can hear muttered protests that Grammy must finally have lost it. Since when has school equaled freedom? But though nowadays it is taken for granted, education wasn’t always available for all.  Who can forget that in the poisonous days of slavery those in bondage were forbidden to learn to read or write? Or the ‘separate but equal’ laws or the shameful, segregated schools?

In the world today there are many impoverished communities where education is an unaffordable luxury and other lands where girls are not allowed to go to school because men fear that knowledge will empower them. There are totalitarian regimes that only allow their twisted version of the truth to be taught and which ruthlessly suppress and punish any who think otherwise. Yet even in those repressive places there are groups of young women who teach other women no matter what the consequences, and there are educators  who speak out, students who dare to question, even though they lose their freedom…or worse. The thirst for knowledge is so strong, the need to learn so great, that it will not be denied.

Ben’s classmates wear their Freedom with ease. Why not? It is their birthright, after all. Theirs is a society in which all citizens are guaranteed the right to go to school. Granted, there have been agonizing cuts in education and the system of allocating schools is hardly perfect, but this is still a far cry from countries where the nearest school … if there is a school at all… is a five or ten mile walk away or where youngsters  drop out of school at age nine to help support their families. All that is asked of our children is that they learn. And learn they do, these beautiful young people, discovering facts that my generation could only imagine. At their fingertips lie worlds of knowledge yet undreamed, and from them one day will come amazing new achievements.

They come, smartly dressed

Hair combed, shirts pressed, bright-eyed…

Sunny day in June.

Not so long ago, many women, forbidden to become doctors, endured slights, insults and countless difficulties to become healers. Now, there are women in every field: medicine, engineering, the arts, the sciences, education, politics… the list goes on and on. Not very long ago enslaved African Americans secretly learned their letters. They braved brutal punishment in doing so because they knew that without learning there was no understanding and without understanding there could be no hope for dreams.

And the freedom to dream— the knowledge that any one of us can make those dreams a reality— has to be one of the sweetest gifts of freedom.

Photo by Lynn Wartski


About Maureen C. Wartski

I’m Maureen Wartski, writer, artist, wife, mother, grandmother; you can see that I have many of the bases covered. I was born in Ashiya, Japan, a (then) small town which lay cradled between sea and mountains. In the evenings, we would walk along the road that ran past Osaka Bay, and a great moon would rise out of the water to turn the world to silver. I’m told that my first words were, “Big moon!” All my life I have felt the tug to write something, draw something, put together something with fabric, string and color, and the urge to create has grown through the years. I suppose, then, that it’s a natural thing that this blog be full of the things that so many of you enjoy doing…drawing, making something with fabric, and writing. Yuri's Brush with Magic, my newest book for middle schoolers follows the adventures of a brother and sister, the magic of words, and the incredible magic of the natural world. I'd love to hear from you! You can send me a note at: My blog is here: Or friend me on Facebook!

4 responses »

  1. dearest maureen,
    Happy 4th. of july to you all too~!
    i recently finished the book A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. One of the characters she created was a servant, Anna, in that village of Ems in England in 1665.
    she too was not allowed to learn. but the minister’s wife who had had so many opportunities to learn in her birth family, she began to teach Anna. and she taught her about about the great authors across the centuries and about herbs from the books she had. the herbs and they discovered how to use the herbs to heal people. together . Later in the last part of the book , she landed in an Arab city and helped the doctor who had written the book they studied together on healing. Because of her learning, she was able to learn much more and to help the doctor and the community there in many ways.
    The recent crisis in Greece presents another problem though. Now many of those young people are educated in many fields of study. but there is no work for them. too many people but the opportunities are not there.. this seems to be happening in other countries as well.
    so now, we have another challenge to create more jobs and find the money to fund them.

  2. Maureen, you’re so right to count the freedom to learn as something to be thankful for. Often, we take learning for granted. We also have the freedom and privilege to continue our education, if we so choose. The school-system often speaks of “life-long learners.” The phrase has a good ring to it, just like freedom.

  3. As I grow older, I realize how little I really learn… my uncle took up astronomy when he was in his 80’s. What a wonderful thing it is to be able to learn freely!

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