Understanding education as a declaration of independence from the absence of freedom.

Independence Day Udacity

Countries all across the globe celebrate versions of an Independence Day. These are powerful holidays, with many layers of meaning written into their origins and histories. At the center of the concept of an “independence” celebration sits a fundamental question—independence from what? It’s an exceedingly important question, as it lends foundational meaning to the very idea of independence.

Put another way, “independence” is essentially a relational term; it depends on an “other” for its definition.

Here in the United States, we set aside the 4th of July each year to commemorate declaring ourselves a new nation separate from the British Empire. India celebrates their independence from the British Empire on the 15th of August. In Brazil, the 7th of September is celebrated to mark independence from Portugal.

With each of the above examples, the “other” is clear, but this is not always the case when it comes to “Independence Day”-type holidays.

In Saudi Arabia there is a “National Day” celebrated on September 23rd each year; it commemorates the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s not exactly an “Independence Day” in the same way it is here in the United States, but there are certainly similarities. Saudi National Day celebrates unification of the kingdom, and unification can be understood as independence from the disunity that preceded it.

A similar holiday is celebrated in Germany on October 3rd. German Unity Day (or, The Day of German Unity) commemorates the reunification of 1990, and as such, it too is a way of celebrating independence from a preceding disunity.

Here in the United States, I am of course thinking about our Independence Day, and as a member of Udacity’s global community, I am thinking about what independence means on a personal level, and in relationship to education.

As an educator, I believe in the power of higher learning. I believe in the self-empowerment that higher learning makes possible. I believe that the act of committing to higher learning can be understood as self-determination at a personal level. I believe that higher learning represents a kind of personal declaration of independence.

Consider these words from the conclusion of The United States Declaration of Independence:

“… as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

Modulate these ideas to where they become a personal statement, and you have:

As a free and independent person, I have the full power to do the things which independent people may do.

This may sound like circular reasoning, but in fact, it’s an expression of self-empowerment.

As all across this country parades are held, flags are waved, and fireworks are set off, it is worth taking a moment to think about the personal side of independence. To remember that what independence means at the individual level is the freedom to pursue and achieve the things that the independent are free to pursue and achieve.

If embracing self-empowerment through learning is an act of independence, then it must be asked—who or what is the “other” we declare ourselves free of? Our un-empowered selves? Our less educated selves? It was George Washington Carver who said that, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” This powerful observation gives us our answer to what the “other” is then—it is the absence of freedom.

Happy Independence Day!