By WILLIAM GABRIELSON
The free and inquiring mind is the enemy of all totalitarian systems. Thomas Jefferson knew this when he said, “Follow the truth wherever it may lead.” The Apostle John knew it when he said, “The truth shall make you free.” Pope Leo XIII knew it when he said, “The first law of history is not to dare to utter falsehood; the second, not to fear to speak the truth.” Nazi leaders knew that they had to fear a free press, a free exchange of ideas, and the books that they ignited in a holocaust of free thought. In our own country, slave owners were well aware of the dangers of ideas and the liberating effects of education when they proposed laws that made it a criminal act to teach a slave to read and write. Ignorance is an ally of the slave master and all other totalitarians who seek to dominate, to shackle individuals or a whole society.
The liberating nature of learning, whether in the home, the church or the school, is well known. Our freedom is determined by the range of our choices. Our choices are expanded by our knowledge. The more we learn, the more we know. The more we know, the more we can do. The educated person is freer in both thought and actions than the uneducated. If I only know A and B, I am not free to explore the wonders of C and D and even the glories of R. If I know only blue and red, the beauty of green, violet and the many delicate shades of the artist’s palette are denied to me. Learning is the truest liberation.
Given the doors and windows that are opened to the educated person by the liberating and ennobling force of learning, one of the greatest frustrations of an educator is to see those young people who choose to enslave themselves. Many students, both black and white, have become their own slave masters. No whip bearing overseer could inflict more pain and damage than these young people inflict upon themselves. No jack booted Nazi could deprive an individual of freedom to any greater extent than those young people in our schools who choose not to learn.
The slaves, the peons, the permanent underclass of the 21st century will need no outside forces to impose their status; rather it is being chosen right now. When the poison of many of the lyrics of rap music evoking visions of misogyny, the hatred of women, or violence against those who serve and protect become the food for the mind of youth, there is no room for a Ralph Ellison or a John Steinbeck in the diet. When the violence that is viewed in theaters and homes become the violence that is spoken of and acted out in schools, we all become the victims both today and tomorrow.
By choosing not to read, not to inquire, not to explore, not to reason, young people choose to enslave themselves in a world of moral depravity and impoverishment of mind and soul. The leaders of tomorrow are in our schools. Young people do not need to be weighed down by the self-selected ignorant anchors of today or be saddled by their welfare payments tomorrow. Families, churches and schools must bond together to forcibly reject the self-imposed shackles that reside in those who willfully persist in ignorance. Those students and their families appear to be choosing slavery by the aversion to education and their unwillingness to say “no” to the short term desires of youth. They are assured that their future is being dictated by their actions today. The fulfillment of human potential will never be achieved if it is not actively fought for and won. God’s gifts are given freely. As freed people, we will be ready to accept them.
To what extent are we liberating children at St. Peter’s. A major element in freeing our children to grow and to be free is the Core Knowledge program. Our children are participants in a curriculum that is shared, solid, specific, sequenced and spiritual. The program provides students with a broad base of knowledge and motivates them to learn more while providing the knowledge necessary for higher levels of learning. By being successful in this challenging and liberating curriculum, our children grow in self-esteem. Without a foundation of successively challenging achievements, self-esteem is illusory and transient.
Our children, our staff and our parents form a kind of liberation army. Together we work to defeat ignorance, reinforce knowledge, resist evil and achieve victory by blending God’s gifts to us with our own energies to give to God and others the blessings that grow out of the education that is provided by St. Peter’s School. It is in St. Peter’s and other Catholic schools that we are developing emancipated youth ready to learn and to serve. God’s love, freely given, allows us to be unfettered seekers of wisdom, beauty and truth.
William Gabrielson is principal of St. Peter School in Beaufort.