The Best Way To Teach Our Children About Freedom

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There are a variety of definitions of freedom. Most often people confuse freedom with license, or more particularly licentiousness. They assume that their personal wants and desires can be pursued without boundary or at least as long as they are not infringing on someone else’s freedom to do whatever they desire.

The biblical concept of freedom, however, and the one our Founding Fathers understood so well, is not the untrammeled pursuit of pleasure or self-aggrandizement. Liberty, personal or political, is bounded by moral and judicial precepts — the law of God.

Although that law is transcendent and eternal, its definitions and applications appear in living color throughout the Bible. Christendom at its best applied the law of God to society also. When King Alfred the Great (849-899) embarked on kingdom building, he used Deuteronomy as the basis of the laws of the land, beginning with the Ten Commandments. In fact, English Common Law incorporates biblical precepts throughout history, affirmed by such diverse authorities as historian Edward Gibbon and United States Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Decentralized civil authority has been the best guarantor of individual freedom, leaving government closest to the people to apply the law in equitable and just ways.

We need to teach children the principles of freedom in the context of the boundaries of law. The Webster’s 1828 dictionary definition of government is a good place to begin. Through centuries of use, the term “government” began with the idea of self-government, without which, society sinks to barbarism. As Webster suggests in the first two definitions of government: “1. Direction; regulation. These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct. 2. Control, restraint. Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.” From self-government to the administration of society through laws, to family government and in the fifth definition, “the system of policy in a state,” which for most men today is the first thought when the term government is used. The boundaries of law are central to all forms of government.

Having laid the groundwork of the importance of personal self-control within the boundaries of law, and its application among families and societies, we can move to the larger application of what liberty implies for a people or a nation. Again, the best understood definition of liberty finds exposition in Webster:

Civil liberty “is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression. Civil liberty is an exemption from the arbitrary will of others, which exemption is secured by established laws, or controlling another. Hence, the restraints of law are essential to civil liberty.”

American children for generations have been taught about liberty and freedom through stories of men and women who were willing to resist arbitrary and unlawful rulers who would restrain, deny, or withdraw the “natural liberty” as well as its concomitant,  political liberty, with which God in his providence had blessed them. Thus, we learn of the resistance to English tyranny by our Founding Fathers and by others in history that did not stand idly by to witness the destruction of their constitutional freedoms.

Telling heroic stories that convey the idea of freedom in dramatic and imagination-capturing fashion have long been among the most useful ways of teaching such concepts. One of the most soul-stirring tales of men seeking to preserve their liberties occurred at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th centuries in Scotland. Having enjoyed hundreds of years of self-rule, though often contentious and not infrequently violent, for there were always those who would try to impose tyranny, “the whole history of Scotland prior to 1297 shows the Scots to have been a warlike and independent race, always ready to resort to arms in defense of what they deemed their freedom.” [1] Having been momentarily overcome by an invasion by Edward I of England in the disastrous battle of Dunbar and the capitulation of most of the barons of the land, several Scottish leaders carried on the fight against great odds and the indifference or armed resistance of their peers.

And thus came William Wallace and Robert the Bruce striding into history armed and determined to defend their age old liberties. Their stories have been told a million times, not without embellishment and speculation often, but with the certain knowledge of the outcome — of defying the odds and regaining their independence. Historian and novelist G.A. Henty told their story in a powerful book for boys and girls entitled In Freedom’s Cause more than a century ago. Today, that story has been retold in dramatic fashion in a new audio drama through the voices of some of England and Scotland’s greatest contemporary actors and actresses.

We teach our children through precept and example. The means we can use vary, from books to classrooms. We should master all the tools available to us to convey truth. Few are more memorable than audio dramas, such as captivated generations of young people in the previous century and are now recast in powerful ways through presentations like In Freedom’s Cause. What subject has more implications for our posterity should they never grasp the reality and the heavy price of liberty, nor picture themselves defending it at all costs?

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