An essay on Freedom and the right to equal opportunity…

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We hold these truths to be self evident.

It is a great line. One that for a time changed the world. Of course the scope of that sentence was much different than we would read it today. In fact if you think about a lot of things time is the great equalizer.

The printing press was the first technological innovation that changed the world. Not that fire and other tools weren’t critical they were. But the printing press opened the concept of books existing outside of churches and great libraries. It changed education to be of and for most people rather than only for the wealthy. When you harvest what you plant it is hard to sit and read a book. But the printing press made that possible.

From there innovation changed farming. We could farm less land overall and feed many more people. Still not enough people being fed but the changes great rapidly from there. In each era the reality of that sentence I started with was viewed differently. It saddens me that Thomas Jefferson never released his servants. Even thought his dear friend Tadeusz Kościuszko left him more than enough money and asked Jefferson to specifically free his servants (the other word is too horrible to write). Jefferson failed. He failed because the truths he held so self evident were in fact different than what we hold today.

His good friend held truths that were much closer to what we believe today. He Tadeusz Kościuszko is a forgotten hero of the America Revolution. He returned to Poland after our war and fought for his native lands freedom. But he freed his servant before leaving America. He left all the money our country owed him for his service and heroics and left it to Jefferson with the promise that Jefferson would free his servants as well.

The truths we hold to be self evident are often simply what we are willing to accept at the place and time in question. The lines around this simple line , that all men are created equal. Sadly it should be all people, but it wasn’t written intending that all people were equal. It should be. Countless people have given everything that we could be free. All-of-us should have a chance to be free.

Freedom however requires opportunity. When people struggled to make ends meet and farm the land producing just enough food for their family and a little left over (or sometimes just a little short) or sometimes during droughts and famines less than enough they didn’t have the time to consider freedom. They lived on the land of nobleman or had a patch of ground that belonged to them. They really in the end were trapped.

We can’t free them. We can’t go back and consider what freedom really means. But we can provide freedoms today that would be greater if we simply changed the meaning of Freedom a little.

Freedom isn’t the right to say what is on your mind. People dive behind the first amendment of the constitution. IMHO Freedom is equal opportunity. Not separate but equal but equal opportunity. Where the median moves up not flattens. Where the average reading scores for people move beyond 7th grade to college reading being the average. You see opportunity knocks for everyone, but it certainly doesn’t pound the door. It only pounds the door when you have skills everyone else needs.

In the end the drive to equal opportunity becomes the great freedom so desired by those who found and died. Freedom must be defended there is no question of that. But we we should also defend the almost critical right to equal opportunity.

To quote the sad version of freedom from Janis Joplin “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.” In the end that great ballad was as much about lost love as about the actual reality of freedom. IMHO freedom means equal opportunity. A path where everyone has an equal chance.

Perhaps changing the song to “Freedom’s just another name for everybody’s equal.”

.doc

Scott Andersen

IASA Fellow.