The Torch of Independence is an Alumni Op-Ed, written by Alan White, Class of 1953.
Sacrifices made by past generations enabled us to enjoy more and more of the benefits promised in the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal [. . .] Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. The promise was the Torch of Independence – the possibility that, one day, all men would mean all people, without regard for sex, country of origin, religion, or economic status. Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, only age is left as the last barrier to the ideals expressed in that Declaration. We can take pride in our accomplishments, but as long as our school age children are forced to spend their preparatory years in a subculture of dependency, “for their own good”, we will have a citizenship problem: it is no wonder that the Torch of Independence is currently being carried by too few of our citizens. Without each new generation being prepared to carry the torch, the rights that made our nation the beacon of liberty to the world will not be properly protected. We are in a Post Industrial Age and our dominant educational model is holding us back.
In the culture of our colonial past, the foundation was laid for the ideals that would establish our unique role as a nation. And it is the culture of our colonial past that should be guiding us now. Now is the time to complete our journey and make the ideals of the Declaration of Independence a reality for everyone.
The following is taken from The Rise and Fall of Constitutional Government in America, page 20, by Thomas G. West and Douglas A. Jeffery, Claremont Institute:
“From the early colonial days on, the Americans had strong town governments, especially in New England. . . . ‘The consequences of these institutions,’ wrote John Adams, ‘have been that the inhabitants [have] acquired from their infancy the habit of discussing, of deliberating, and of judging of public affairs.’ ”
That was the direction in which we were headed before we took a detour and initiated a new model for educating our youth in the 1840’s, when we were faced with an economic problem: How to train workers to meet the needs of industry then in its early stage of development. Because adults were too independent, we needed people who were trained from an early age to meet the needs of that technologically primitive industrial economy. Since basic literacy was part of what was needed, that was the part stressed, the three R’s. Nevertheless, the hidden basis of our current educational system, training people to accept external discipline, was the essential characteristic being taught. Unfortunately, that basis is alive and well in our mainstream educational model today – no longer so hidden!
It is personal experience of civic spiritedness and love of liberty that is most effective in training an independent citizenry. And it is the culture of freedom in which you are immersed that sets the parameters to the quality of your life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness.
So how should we prepare our school age youth to secure their rights as adults? Not by placing them in schools where they have no rights and are expected to do as they are told, “for their own good”. But, are there any alternatives? We cannot find out unless we experiment.
There is only one educational experiment of which I am aware: Sudbury Valley School, where students have equal rights with the staff. It is now in its 44th year. It is a New England school in the tradition of early colonial days and the students have “acquired from their infancy the habit of discussing, of deliberating, and of judging of public affairs” – the affairs of the entire school. These students are equal partners with the staff in running the school. What better way can you think of, to prepare children to pass on a torch of independence? At Sudbury Valley, it is part of their education and it results in a school that is economically much more efficient, at half the cost of adjacent public schools. While, at the same time, they have prepared themselves to successfully compete in the job market, or to continue to an institution of higher education.