Part 2: Human Freedom

By Kathleen Kesson, EdD

Kathleen Kesson – Author



Professor Emerita of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (LIU-Brooklyn)

Prout Perspective

Prout supports the idea of individual freedom to acquire and express ideas, creative potential and inner aspirations in the belief that such intellectual and spiritual freedom will strengthen the collectivity.

Neohumanist Education Perspective

Students are supported in their choices about what they wish to study and how they wish to learn. Creative thinking is taught and nurtured, as are the arts and aesthetic sensibilities. In the shift away from a standardized curriculum and rote learning, such freedom needs to be thoughtfully nourished in order to understand and maintain the welfare of all. 

The notion of “educational freedom” means many different things to people.  Western philosophers from Plato to Rousseau to Dewey have brought various conceptions to bear on the question of freedom in education. To some people educational freedom means that the child has the right to do whatever they might wish in school, obeying only an internal compass that leads them to what they need to know and be able to do. To others, the term implies that governments should provide funding to any parent who wishes to enroll their offspring in a school of their choice – private, public, or religious. Over the decades, experiments in educational freedom have come and gone, and these have been implemented with a variety of aims: to preserve an “essential child nature” despite the impositions of repressive culture, to cultivate critical consciousness and overcome oppression, to “deschool society” in the interest of defeating capitalism.

page6image27348224Educational freedom is at the core of Neohumanism and the pedagogical principles that follow from this philosophy.  It is a freedom, however, that is tempered by the understanding that the individual exists only in relation to other beings (human and non-human).  It rejects the old Humanist ideal of the individual “I” as a bounded entity, surrounded by stable substances and objects in space that constitute separate “others” to manipulate, utilize, and transact with. It recognizes that this sense of separation, mastery, and control in concert with an economic system predicated on resource extraction, endless growth, and needless consumption has led us to the ecological tipping point at which we find ourselves. It is therefore an ideal of freedom that is inseparable from a deep responsibility to respond to the needs of others, to ensure equality and social justice, to care for all life on earth, and to live lives of compassion and empathy.

Shrii Sarkar advocated unequivocally for freedom of thought, speech, and spiritual practice, but admonished that such freedom must not be allowed to surmount the common good.  It is here, I believe, where Neohumanist Education intersects most importantly with Prout and AMURT/EL, in the commitment to both honor the uniqueness of the person and their desire to express their “ideas, creative potential and inner aspirations” while at the same time cultivating the spirit of service in the interest of collective welfare. No society has yet achieved this harmonic potential.

How to facilitate the growth of young people in this “quest for liberation” from the limited sense of “I-ness” to an expanding circle of connection is illustrated in the graphic.

In the first phase of existence, there is the small self, the ego and its identification with the body and its needs and the growing awareness of the surrounding world. The individual’s sense of identity expands to their family, their sense of place (geo-sentiment) and ever outwards to include one’s social groups, clan, social class, race and ethnicity, religion, etc. (socio-sentiment) and ideally, to all of humanity. This is not a linear process and it is not a “stage theory” (an inevitable progression through identifiable stages of growth).

None of these phases of identity are problematic in themselves: one can hold a great love for the land on which they live, or one’s social identity can be a source of strength. Problems can arise when a person gets stuck on this identity “chain” – when they come to feel that their race is superior or that their religion is the only correct one. Their expansive flow is then blocked, or reversed. Neohumanism teaches that it is our destiny to remove all such limiting labels and continue to expand our consciousness into an identity of interconnectedness, of integral unity, rather than separation and superiority. When we remove all the labels we have affixed to ourselves, we find something that precedes all labels, and with that existential awareness lies the connection with the consciousness of everything, animate and inanimate, in the universe.  Only by overcoming all limiting sentiments can human beings realize the “liberation of intellect” in all of its fullness, and foster the positive evolution of society to become more just, more peaceful, more balanced, and more free.