25 November 2008

The Four - or Six - Freedoms

My dad used to tell me about "The Four Freedoms" - Franklin Roosevelt's goal for a post-World War world and his reason to fight.

Freedom of Speech and Expression.
Freedom of Religion.
Freedom from Fear.
Freedom from Want.

"The Russians," my dad would say, "took the last two seriou
sly. Everybody ate and invading armies were kept away [not that fear was wiped out]. The Americans worried about only the first two - and even then - not if you wanted to say you were a communist. The Europeans," he argued, "tried to do it all." This is part of what made my dad a classic "Social Democrat," me too.

I think
we, especially we in America - even as we celebrate the iconic Thanksgiving holiday - often forget the whole of what FDR was suggesting. These were not independent ideas, these Four Freedoms. They are interlinked parts of what makes a society whole. A person who is hungry lacks the essential ability to be free in other ways. A person in fear lacks the same. A well fed person who cannot speak her mind is a prisoner.

"For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy. The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple." Roosevelt said, "They are:

"Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all."

We live in a world where too much fear, and too much want, are accepted. We also live in a world where expression of one's loves, thoughts, and intentions, are too quickly curtailed because they do not conform to some majority viewpoint. And we live in a world in which - in too many places - from Basra to American towns - systems of belief are imposed by those who believe that their religion is "the right one." And in every one of those cases, diminishing one freedom, diminishes them all.

But there are other freedoms, implied in Roosevelt's great address but not explicitly named, and I would like to name them.

Inherent in the Four Freedoms is freedom of opportunity. Not "Freedom of Opportunity" the way US Republicans would describe it - the right to be as rich and irresponsible as you want. But Freedom of Opportunity as the right to use your potential in a way that is yours. The right to make the most of yourself and be comfortable in your society. That implies freedom of human movement. It implies freedom live one's culture without intruding on others or being intruded on by others. And it implies two other things:

Freedom to Learn - this seems so essential. People must have, as a right, access to the tools and information they need for their own education - at every stage of their life. And the must have, again, as a right, access to environments which support their educational needs.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it this way, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit." and, "Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace."

I'll put it another: Education must meet the student, and the student's needs. It must be accessible in every way - physically, by proximity or transportation, technologically, emotionally, intellectually, and strategically. Students have a right to have their learning needs treated as at least as important as the school's needs or the teacher's needs. They have a right to learn in the way that is most effective for them. And a right to develop at their own rate. They have a right not to be labelled, and a right not to be abandoned.

Without that "Freedom to Learn" many of the other freedoms will remain permanently out of reach.

Freedom to be Other than "Normal" - Humans must have an inherent right to be who they are. To not be forced to undergo unwanted "cures" for societally-imagined "disorders." To not be drugged for anyone else's convenience. To not be forced to waste vast amounts of time working on skills which are not just impossible, but are avoidable. Humans have a right to be "disabled" if that is ok with them. The human race need not be entirely white, English-speaking, Protestant, conventionally literate, walking, driving, passive learning, long - single-strand - attentional, "emotionally balanced" for best consumption, and with an IQ of 100 (+/- 10).

"We" have a right to be a wheelchair user, and still move through our society. A right to be dyslexic, and still have information and communication available to us. A right to be deaf, without being forced to have implants in our brain. A right to have "an IQ of 70" and still be treated with respect - or the right to have "an IQ of 140" and not be bored to death and humiliated by school. A right to see differently, attend differently, learn differently without being separated from our peers and denied other basic rights and privileges. A right to be different and to not be treated as either a "nothing" or as an infant.

And (why I have my Toolbelt Theory), humans have a right to know which tools exist which might help them lead full lives, and the right to access those tools, and the right to choose their own tools, based on their own needs and preferences.

It is Thanksgiving (here in America) in a tough time (around the globe), and we might be tempted to lower our aspirations. But this Thanksgiving I'll remember that Franklin Roosevelt stood up - yes - he stood up, which wasn't easy - at a time when much of the world was shrouded in horror, and articulated a vision of a world, of a global society, that was worth fighting for. Let us do the same.

- Ira Socol

Most of FDR's speech in RealAudio (31 minutes)
Last part of FDR's speech - The Four Freedoms - in RealAudio (4

The first four images are Norman Rockwell's paintings of The Four Freedoms. The fifth is by William Ayton for the the United Nations. The sixth is from the Center on Human Policy, and is a T-shirt that Adam introduced me to.

Alert! Please Vote! I'm trying to make the case to President Obama regarding investing in educational technology and universal design as part of the economic stimulus. It's not just great for schools, but "broadbanding" our schools and making them ICT-accessible would provide jobs and opportunities in every corner of the United States. Go to ObamaCTO and vote for Universal Technology for Schools (make it "3 votes" - you're allowed to do that), and keep this issue on the front burner.

1 comment:

vera said...

the impulse to have everything 'neat' and 'orderly' is something i came up against a lot while i was campaigning for a town committee seat. a guy in my group called it the 'pretty police' impulse. a committee person who was campaigning with me saw a house that didn't fit in with his vision of what looks nice and said 'oh my god!' i saw the house of a neighbor who is a hard-working cleaning woman who has very bad allergies and who loves her grandchildren. my mom said if i was elected i should try to pass an ordinance requiring room air conditioners not to face the main street so it would look 'prettier'. it reminds me of shrek vs lord farquad. some people have an appetite for imposing their idea of order and normalcy instead of tolerating/enjoying difference/messiness/quirkiness.