When you think about freedom, you’re likely to envision a picture of an individual in complete control of their own destiny. In reality, however, there are always constraints.
How much freedom we actually have depends on the nature of these constraints. They may be external, such as political systems that impose constraints on our choices; or internal, such as the way we discipline ourselves to act within those constraints.
The most important freedom, therefore, is probably the one that most people think about first when they hear the word: the right to do what they want with their own bodies. The other key freedoms are the freedom to think, the freedom to speak and the freedom to create.
To learn more about what we mean by these rights, here are some exercises you can use with your students.
Start by asking your students to take two minutes to write down the rights and freedoms that they believe are most important in our world today on slips of paper. Be sure to ask them to list them in a way that is understandable to everyone in the room, not just those with the most knowledge.
Explain that this exercise is to help the students see the ways in which their lives are connected to the freedoms of others. For example, if we are free to express our opinions, we must also be free to listen to those who disagree with us.
Once they’ve written down the rights and freedoms that are most important in their own lives, the next step is to ask them to make frozen representations (tableaus) with their bodies that represent a society practicing these freedoms, as well as a society that doesn’t.
The frozen representations should be at least a foot high and should include a person, a group of people or an animal. This is a great way to explore the relationships between individuals and their bodies as well as the power that they have over them.
After the tableaus have been created, the groups should discuss their thoughts and feelings about each of the freedoms they’ve listed. The discussion should focus on why each freedom is important and how it impacts them in their daily lives.
This is a great activity for introducing the idea of ‘freedom’ to students, especially those who are new to thinking about freedom in this way. It will also help students to appreciate the importance of understanding different points of view in order to be able to challenge and change those perspectives.
In the past few years, we’ve seen movements to demand a fundamental change in judicial, political and economic systems, the right to health care, safe affordable housing, clean air and water, self-expression and dignity. All of these are a direct manifestation of the ideals of freedom that are central to the American spirit and are in danger of being lost.