My high school social studies class in Elmwood Park, Illinois, that’s where I found liberty. My teacher, Mr. Woll, was an old-line, intellectual Democrat. He believed in free speech, healthy debate, and that each person should make up his or her own mind. It was 1969 and Mr. Woll had already somehow gotten ahold of what we now call the Nolan Chart – a simple political quiz that expands upon the traditional left-right political spectrum, and aims to help people better place their views on a diamond-shaped chart with four quadrants.
Mr. Woll assigned us reading from two novels from different quadrants. assignment of reading one novel from each of two quadrants. I read Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West from the progressive quadrant and The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand from the libertarian quadrant.
While I honestly have almost no memory of West’s story but The Fountainhead changed my life forever. I especially identified with Rand’s vision of the autonomous person, and then I was hooked. Next came Atlas Shrugged and the rest of Rand’s corpus, and there’s been no turning back. I studied everything I could about the philosophy, economics, history, and politics of free societies—and unfree ones, too, so that I would have the entire picture.
Once I felt knowledgeable enough about the topic of liberty, I became passionate about teaching others, specifically young people. As a student and then a parent, I learned how the modern classroom, from grade school to graduate school, relies heavily on a top-down structure of a single arbiter of knowledge. The position of lecturer and discussion leader has also become one of moral authority. This structure embodies collectivist ideals of social control and strongly helps to foist their ideas and values onto students, including what we have all seen more recently with students supporting the limiting of free speech.
Because so many teachers are also collectivists, they are particularly well-positioned to have a major influence on our culture.
This educational structure needs to be examined, questioned—and overthrown.
In the early part of the 19th century, French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville traveled throughout the United States, observing the new republic and how different it was from the Old World. His incisive analysis, Democracy in America, represents one of the deepest and most enduring studies of the United States, and the causes of freedom. He observed:
“Genuine enlightenment arises principally from experience, and if one had not habituated the Americans little by little to govern themselves, the literary knowledge that they possess would not greatly help them today to succeed in it…[This is how they developed] a taste for freedom and the art of being free.”
The free future demands more than the dissemination of information; we must teach individuals how to live autonomously and apply that information to their lives.
When we libertarians think of free societies, we often think of industry, free markets, and minimal government. But real freedom starts within, with self-understanding, self-responsibility, self-direction, determination, and a nimble ability to adapt to life’s challenges. Autonomous people do not easily tolerate being ruled.
That’s why I began developing educational programs that propagate these ideas. I formulated them for a Montessori school for children 3 to 15 years old, a summer camp using Montessori-style activities for 9-16 year olds, The New Intellectual Forum, an adult discussion club in Chicago, and weekend programs for adults through The Fountainhead Institute. The latter name I now use for a website containing my writing.
More recently, in 2009, I built a seminar for college-aged adults called The Great Connections. This program helps young people develop into free and autonomous individuals.
To achieve this, I designed a program that uses content, structure, and method to develop crucial cognitive, emotional, and social skills for living as free persons.
Reason, individualism, and freedom are embedded in the very fabric of how our students learn.
Our studies draw from the great books classics—the works of the greatest and most influential thinkers whose ideas shape our civilization to this day, such as Aristotle, Newton, Montesquieu, and Blake, and we always include the usually neglected thinkers of the liberty movement such as Madison, Menger, and Rand.
By using the “great books,” students become aware of great ideas, often ones which have influenced them or events around them without their knowledge. They thereby become more conscious of how their thoughts, values, and choices are affected by ideas, and are able to take more control.
That is what my organization, the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI) has developed and implemented through our Great Connections one-week and weekend programs so far. Now we’re preparing for a year-long program that will prepare students to find, choose and succeed in a career path for the future economy.
The Great Connections Gap Year program will offer a more thorough, developmentally based, psychologically and educationally complete plan for growing students’ powers and clarity of purpose than any other—therefore providing us with a highly competitive advantage to other gap year programs.
It will combine deep study and guided self-reflection with practical work experience, networking with accomplished professionals, and critical knowledge about economics, personal finance, technology, and the market.
By the end of the year, they’ll be powerfully prepared to energetically embrace whatever productive future they choose, whether in college or not—and to efficiently take advantage of a college program.
Imagine how helpful this could be to students and their parents before investing tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in college?
Our plan celebrates individual achievement and strongly develops their independent reasoning powers, while educating them in the full range of ideas, including those of the freedom movement—not just the collectivist theories rampant in Academia.
For more information about anything in Marsha’s story, contact by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.