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.