Teaching Freedom

Courtesy: Wikimedia foundation, Creative commons attribution, Toby Hudson

Teaching an abstract idea is always daunting in a classroom. I have experienced this year after year. Two years back something similar happened when I took the assignment to teach Political theory to the students of Grade XI. The topic was Freedom.

My first question in the classroom was What is freedom? And the students were tongue-tied. The expression on their faces said — if not asked, I know; but if asked, I know not.

In order to break the ice, I turned to a few questions related to their life. Do they have complete freedom at home to eat whenever they like? And if not, then what restricts that freedom. The answers were the availability of the foods or the schedules of time etc. Similarly I asked if they have the freedom to do what they like in the school. Could they move around the corridors, playgrounds according to their choice? If not, then why not?

Soon the concept of freedom started sinking in their minds. The ice had been broken. We then started discussing how absolute freedom is a myth, what were the restrictions on freedom and why some of these were necessary.

Interestingly many grey areas emerged for intense debate. The students got polarised on topics like the freedom of choosing the subjects for study or the parents’ role in limiting such choices. We also discussed various types of restrictions put by family, friends, society, nation etc.

The discussion got intense when the question came to the freedom of the boys and girls in choosing their partners, particularly in an Indian setting. We discussed how the degree of this freedom is increasing and the so called ‘love-marriages’ are not so uncommon these days. By now the students had become partners in learning of this concept called Freedom.

My own horizon broadened while exploring the concept in books like Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography.

In the following days I had to teach the concepts like Equality, Social Justice which were as abstract and challenging.

©arun jee, 29.10.20

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