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Liberty, Freedom and Responsibility

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.ED.
"Freedom is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented with a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast." — Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

Liberty. An intriguing word, coming from the Latin word "liber" which is the bark of a tree that was used for writing. The word for read in Latin is ‘liber;" the word for book is "libre." Liberty, library, literacy all connect back to the bark of a tree.

In ancient Rome, the test of whether a person was a free man or a slave, was determined if the person could read or write. In many cultures teaching a slave to read was punishable by death. Freedom from slavery and having the rights of a citizen depended on one’s ability to read and write.

Years ago, I worked on learning Russian for about six months. As it happens, life intervenes and when I came back to it, it all looked like funny Greek letters, again. It was a humbling experience. This voracious reader couldn’t remember the Russian alphabet.

Perusing National Geographic magazines, I notice signs in a multitude of languages, such as Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic. Unable to decipher a word, I realize that in those cultures, I am illiterate. There, I would be less than a first class citizen. I would be subject to being unemployed, or victimized due to my inability to use the language fluently. Unable to read and write, I would lose many freedoms. In a new culture it would be important to exercise my right to learn to read and write, and regain those freedoms.

Today in America, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are more than 90 million adults who cannot read well enough to understand this article, which measures at an 8.8 grade level on the Flesch-Kincaid Readability Index.

Today we celebrate our country’s Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

With these words, I believe our founding fathers saw every person as having a right to life, a right to learn how to read, which is liberty, and the right to pursue happiness; rights that we as responsible citizens should be constantly debating and protecting in order to safeguard our freedoms.

Liberty is a right. Liberty becomes freedom when we take the responsibility to learn to read and continue to read. Freedom comes from accepting responsibility for having a right. Freedom is earned by exercising a right. Freedom is earned by taking responsibility. There is no freedom until liberty is joined with responsibility. To remain free, we must read and ensure literacy for everyone. Then freedom can ring, from every mountainside, everywhere for everyone. Our children deserve no less.

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