The word freedom has sparked many social changes. Take the Freedom Ride of 1965, when a group of Sydney University Students rode an old bus through western and coastal NSW towns to draw attention to the sub-standard state of Aboriginal health, education and housing. They opened people’s minds to what was going on away from the political heartland.
Then in 1968, the Human Rights Commission was officially adopted by an Act of the Australian Parliament, paving the way for further acts to end discrimination on the basis of race, disability, gender, age or sexual orientation. In fact, Australia played a leading role in the development of the international human rights system and is a party to seven major United Nations Human Rights Treaties. Central to these is the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief. (Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR))
Access to affordable education, has been big on Australia’s agenda for the last 50 years as we’ve grown to become a mature country that values skills, knowledge and innovation. So, just how closely is the concept of freedom related to education? Can you have true freedom without an affordable and accessible educational system at all levels – from pre-school to university?
Jesse Jackson, the legendary American civil rights activist who twice ran for the US Presidency and is best known as the disciple of Martin Luther King, likens the ideal form of education to soccer. "Both sides need an even-playing field. Unless you give equal opportunity to every kid to learn, your purpose will be defeated,” he said, referring to lack of opportunity in the Afro-American communities of the 50s, 60s and 70s.
According to Demetrius Amadeus (a regular blog contributor on Ted Talks), a level playing field requires four fundamentals to reach freedom. First of all, he says, you need a constant and secure supply of food. For without that freedom is simply not possible, no one can be free with an empty belly.
Second, you need knowledge, freedom without knowledge is just a fantasy, is just as trying to walk in a room full of stuff at night with the lights off. Third, you need a self-imposed discipline, freedom without self-discipline leads you to self-destruction, anything from obesity to drug abuse and everything in between, can happen, and will happen to you if you exercise your freedom without a self-imposed discipline.
And finally, there is responsibility. Freedom without responsibility is debauchery or criminal, it makes you harm others in all sorts of ways - from mental to physical.
So, when we are educated do we really attain true freedom – the possibility of shaping reality, or are we merely conforming to a social system that benefits and profits from our labour? According to well-known American social blogger, Yaacov Cohen, we have the power to initiate, create and change reality rather than only react and survive it.
Can we all educate our children to true freedom? He recommends teaching them not to look at reality as defining their acts but to look at their acts as defining reality. A bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - when you have reached self-actualisation and self-awareness, then you can truly meet your needs and the needs of others.
If you have freedom, Cohen says, you can radically change your life, if and, when you need to. “You don’t have to keep doing what you’ve been doing, just because you are in the habit of doing it.” For instance, he recommends leaving your home once in a while with no pre-conceived plan. See where your journey takes you. Sounds crazy, but try it some time.
Two of the more significant business figures of the 21st century, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – founders of Microsoft and Apple - have attained their own version of freedom by empowering everyday people to gain knowledge, to help the oppressed spread ideas and awareness and to challenge the notion that education is only for the privileged who can afford it.
Even though they may not have set out, as college drop-outs, to revolutionise education, but rather to put money in their pockets – revolutionising education is probably what they’ve done. They’ve built empires that have created technologies to put education on your desk in a personal computer or in the palm of your hand with an iPad or mobile phone.
Nigerian-born South African poet Feyisayo Anjorin sums it up this way;
“Freedom for me is knowing that you reap what you sow, and then sowing without the fear of the harvest.”
At TAFEnow we believe that you too can use education to unlock your abilities and potential, provide choice and freedom to yourself and your family and to make a contribution to a better Australia. In the end, we all hope to live without fear of the harvest …………..