Freedom – Chapter 6




Liberty creates order.


Children should be convinced, not compelled.


An Authoritarian believes in suppression.


A Libertarian believes in expression.


If reason is a guide, then freedom is necessary to follow it.


It is servility and not ability that authority promotes.


The dead hand of authority is as paralyzing as the hand of a living tyrant.


Genius is highly individualized: authority is highly standardized.


Music is not made out of one unerring sound, but a number of different notes.


To enforce uniformity of ideas is as impossible as to compel uniformity of looks.


The common teacher believes in the commonplace things; genius means originality in thought and action.


To compel children to conform to the common opinion is to create intellectual dishonesty.


To be directed by reason is to act without compulsion; to be directed by compulsion is to act without reason.


The old method of education was one of authority, of tyranny. The favorite saying of ancient pedagogues was, “As the twig is bent the tree inclines,” so they bent the child with tyranny, and the more it was bent the more they thought it was educated. They taught what to believe, not how to think. They compelled it to learn things it did not want to know, and that it forgot as soon as the lesson was over.


The really great educators have seen the necessity for freedom in education. Men like Locke, Froebel, Spencer and Ferrer have written much to prove the necessity for liberal methods in education, and some of the last lived to see many steps taken in that direction.



Freedom as a method for the greater development of the child was advocated by that great philosopher of England, John Locke (1632-1704), two centuries ago. In his work, “Some Thoughts Concerning Education,” he taught that children should have freedom to show what sort of minds they had. He believed that they should have the same freedom as grown up folks. This was a startling statement for that day, and is still not endorsed by those who believe in authority rather than thoughts. Locke taught that children should be permitted to do the things they had the inclination towards, as that would teach them much quicker than to choose for them. He says: “For the child will learn three times as much when he is in tune as he will with double the time and pains when he goes awkwardly or is dragged unwillingly to it” ; and he believed that recreation played a large part in mental development.


The next great advocate of freedom in education mentioned above was Frederick W. A. Froebel (1782-1852). In “The Education of Man” he taught that children should be given the same amount of freedom and room to develop that is given to plants and animals, if they are to grow in accordance with the law of their natures. He warned against using children as you would a piece of wax, to be molded into shape as others desired. He says that “instruction and training ought to be passive and protective, not directive and interfering.” He was convinced that the function of education was to arouse voluntary activity. In accordance with his idea of play lessons he founded the kindergarten, a system of children employments that delighted as well as taught them to do things.


Possibly the greatest champion of freedom hi education up to his period was the great English philosopher, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). In his book on “Education” (1861) he makes it plain that he does not respect authority in intellectual matters. He was opposed to compulsory methods of all kinds and advocated non-coercive education. He believed in spontaneous activity and frowned on the old method of “You mustn’t do so.” He thought that most childish desires may rightly be gratified, and that the old blue laws, denying life and activity, should be relegated to the tomb, where they belonged. He believed in encouraging the tendency towards assertion of individuality in childhood as well as in manhood, and opposed forcing beliefs on the unfolding mind by dogmatic teaching.


On this subject he says: “The result is a tendency to accept without inquiry whatever is established. Quite opposed is the attitude of mind generated by cultivation of science. By science, constant appeal is made to individual reason. Its truths are not accepted upon authority alone, but all are at liberty to test them – nay, in many cases, the pupil is required to think out his own conclusions. Every step in a scientific investigation is submitted to his judgment. He is not asked to admit it without seeing it to be true. And the trust in his own powers thus produced is further increased by the constancy with which nature justifies his conclusions when they are correctly drawn. From all which there flows that independence which is a most valuable element in character.” He points out the value of independent research, and the necessity of acquiring the scientific method of inductive inquiry, which includes the willingness to abandon all preconceived notions found to contradict the truth. It takes a thorough training in science to overcome the natural deficiency of judgment,


The development and application of the free method in education was undertaken by Francisco Ferrer of Spain in our own day, and he is the latest martyr to freedom in teaching. This man taught that two things were essential to the correct development of the child – namely freedom and science. He wanted the children exempted from dogmatism and. to be taught only truths that could be demonstrated scientifically to be true. This, with the removal of constraint, will be the deliverance of the child.


In his work on the modern school, Ferrer says:


“All the value of education rests in respect for the physical, intellectual, and moral will of the child. Just as in science no demonstration is possible save by facts, just so there is no real education save that which is exempt from all dogmatism, which leaves to the child itself the direction of its effort, and confines itself to the seconding of that effort. Now there is nothing easier than to alter this purpose, and nothing harder than to respect it. Education is always imposing, violating, constraining; the real educator is he who can best protect the child against his (the teacher’s) own ideas, his peculiar whims; he who can best appeal to the child’s own energies.”


Further on in his book he tells us of his hopes of the future, and sets forth his method of teaching. He says:


“Weare convinced that the education of the future will be of an entirely spontaneous nature; certainly we cannot, as yet, realize it, but the evolution of methods in the direction of a wider comprehension of the phenomena of life, and the fact that all advances toward perfection mean the overcoming of some constraint – all this indicates that we are in the right when we hope for the deliverance of the child through science.


“We shall follow the labors of the scientists who study the child with the greatest attention, and we shall eagerly seek for means of applying their experience to the education we wish to build up, in the direction of an ever fuller liberation of the individual. But how can we attain our end?



Shall it not be by putting ourselves directly to the work favoring the foundation of new schools, which shall be ruled as much as possible by this spirit of liberty, which we forefeel will dominate the entire work of education in the future?”


Ferrer founded many modern schools in Spain in which his freedom in teaching methods were used, and the application of his theory resulted in a wonderful development of the child and a vindication of his method of teaching. But his demonstrations in developing the thinking capacity of the child alarmed those in authority, both in the church and state, who were opposed to real education, and they decided to put a stop to it by killing Ferrer, which they did in 1909. So the freedom to teach the new method, the new truth, is still denied in our own day. It is a live issue now, not only in Spain, but in the United States as well.


We must not only free the child, but we must free the teacher as well. The teacher cannot do his best without professional independence; he must be free from narrow regulations and enslaving programs. A teacher worthy of the name is impatient of restraint, of regulations, and strives to master his problems, not his pupils. He believes in the evolution of the school system as well as of animal life. The free thinking teacher finds himself hedged about by all sorts of restrictions in our public schools. Many of our schools are teaching religious dogmas. Weare supposed to be free from a union of church and state, and yet the church is forcing the Bible into many of our schools. Even where the state constitutions prohibit religious teachings and the use of sectarian books this is being done. These violators of the Constitution pretend that the Bible is not a sectarian book, but they on other occasions glory in the fact that this book belongs to the sect known as Christians.


Dr. Maria Montessori of Italy has become world famous as a champion of the freedom method in education. She has established many schools in which she has successfully demonstrated the value of the freedom of the child in its physical and mental development. Her attitude towards the child is one of the greatest reverence for its personality. She believes this valuable quality in the child can only be developed in an atmosphere of a complete freedom, which includes open spaces, sunshine, good food, and freedom from invasion by men and women.


This great teacher pleads for a favorable environment to aid in the child’s development. All that will awaken or stimulate its powers in creative effort is to be provided, and then this untrammeled individuality will show a marked improvement over the child miseducated by the authoritarian method of subduing, controlling, suppressing.


In her great book, “The Montessori Method,” she tells us that “An educational method that shall have liberty as its basis must intervene to help the child to a conquest of obstacles. In other words, his training must be such as shall help him to diminish, in a rational manner, the social bonds which limit his activity.


“Little by little, as the child grows in such an atmosphere, his spontaneous manifestations will become more and more clear, with the clearness of truth, revealing his nature. For all these reasons, the first form of educational intervention must tend to Iead the child toward independence.


“That we have not yet thoroughly assimilated the highest concept of the term independence is due to the fact that the social form in which we live is still servile. In an age of civilization where servants exist the concept of that form of life which is independence cannot take root or develop freely. Even so in the time of slavery, the concept of liberty was distorted and darkened. Our servants are not our dependents; rather it is we who are dependent upon them. It is not possible to accept universally as a part of our social structure such a deep human error without feeling the general effects of it in the form of moral inferiority. We often believe ourselves to be independent simply because no one commands us, and because we command others; but the nobleman who needs to call a servant to his aid is really a dependent through his own inferiority. The paralytic who cannot take off his boots because of a pathological fact, and the prince who dare not take them off because of a social fact, are in reality reduced to the same condition.


“Any nation that accepts the idea of servitude and believes that it is an advantage for man to be served by man, admits servility as an instinct, and indeed we all too easily lend ourselves to obsequious service, giving to it such complimentary names as courtesy, politeness, charity. In reality, he who is served is limited in his independence. This concept will be the foundation of the dignity of the man of the future: ‘I do not wish to be served, because I am not an impotent.’ And this idea must be gained before men can feel themselves to be really free.


“Any pedagogical action, if it is to be efficacious in the training of little children, must tend to help the children to advance upon this road of independence. We must help them to learn to walk without assistance, to run, to go up and down stairs, to lift up fallen objects, to dress and undress themselves, to bathe themselves, to speak distinctly, and to express their own needs clearly. We must give such help as shall make it possible for children to achieve the satisfaction of their own individual aims and desires. All this is a part of education for independence.”



In Italy, Dr. Montessori has been permitted to demonstrate the workability of the freedom method in education. She permitted the children to do just as they liked, with the limitation only that they should not interfere with the liberty of others to do as they liked. That is, they were given the liberty to do everything but to invade others. This is the equal freedom standard of social relationship. The result was most satisfactory. At first there was considerable disorder, but the children soon learned that disorder interfered with their pleasure and lessons. They had the freedom to choose the lessons and games they preferred, and could change to another when they liked. They could sit or stand or walk as they liked, with the freedom to do as they liked, and they choose to do the things that were most beneficial to their education. Their lessons, when chosen by themselves, were a pleasure to them. As soon as one was mastered they were eager for the next. The superiority of. this method over the old authoritarian method is apparent to thinkers, and the result was astonishing to the old school. To see children delighted with lessons was almost too much for the old “make-them-takeit” kind. With her plaything lessons Dr. Montessori developed a school composed of idiots so that they were able in the same time to pass the same examination that the normal children did who were taught by the old authoritarian methods. After this wonderful demonstration by Dr. Montessori, there is a hope that it will work among grown-up authoritarians.

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