Raise your hand and wait to be called on to speak. Ask permission to go to the bathroom. Get a hall pass. Surrender your electronic devices. Report to detention.
Let’s be honest: we would be insulted if we were asked to do these things in order to go about our daily lives. Yet this is often how young people live twelve of the first eighteen years of their lives. It’s no wonder that many recent high school graduates are looking forward to living without these limitations in college. No mandatory class attendance? Time among peers and away from authority figures? Yes, please.
While it’s true that the college experience is different from high school in many of these ways, it’s important to determine in what ways it is actually freer. Sure, curfews are gone and demerit marks are things of the past. For all of its cultural connotations of freedom, however, I would argue that college fails to provide an environment for self-direction. In fact, it is precisely these cultural connotations that corrupt our concept of freedom itself.
For many, the “freedom” of college life is synonymous with what the near-ubiquitous pop culture stereotypes would suggest. Students can skip class and slack off, indulge excessively in alcohol and drugs, and debase themselves for the sake of conformity to social groups like fraternities (or elite academic circles, or sports teams, etc.).
I don’t mean to argue over the meaning of the word, but I do know that this is not a kind of freedom that anyone chafing under a school experience would find empowering. Freedom of the kind that actually liberates does not involve waking up with hangovers on borrowed time, borrowed money, and borrowed purpose.
What is not always accomplished in primary and secondary schooling is completed in universities: the idea of freedom is made impotent and unimaginative. It’s disheartening that many people must look back at college as the “freest” time in their lives. Viewed this way, freedom becomes a “phase,” a past age in life and a set of memories to review, either with regret for the bad decisions made or with nostalgia for the fleeting and limited impact of the pleasurable ones.
The kind of freedom that is worth achieving and precious enough to keep is not a set of activities or a given time in life. Freedom is not a phase but a state of being and becoming sovereign over oneself. Is it possible to gain this in college? Absolutely. There are many good people who have achieved it in spite of a culture which does not always support it.
Are there better ways? I think that there are. Some of them are being created here. I have gained so much from my experience with Praxis, but I would not do it justice with anything less than an acknowledgement that it has helped me to find my own freedom.
Discovering what it’s like to live on my own terms with my own vision and direction has been deeply significant for me. Even so, I never want to look back on this time of growth with that longing or nostalgia. I have the sovereignty to create freer and better days ahead of me so that “the best days of my life” don’t have to be in my past.
I wish the same to anyone. Find a deeper kind of freedom than that which you’re allowed to imagine for yourself now, whether you are in school or not. Don’t accept counterfeits, and don’t accept expiration dates.
Get a freer education for a freer life. Take your chance to break the mold and apply for our Fall 2015 class.