Build Your Knowledge for Freedom Program

Knowledge for Freedom Programs

Ursinus College

Ursinus College

"The great value of liberal education should make those of us who teach at liberal arts colleges grateful to America, the political community that gives it a home."
Ursinus College

Freedom, Citizenship, and Equality

Paul Stern, Professor of Politics:
The great value of liberal education should make those of us who teach at liberal arts colleges grateful to America, the political community that gives it a home. To show this gratitude, we’ve long wanted to contribute, in a manner consistent with our mission, to America’s well-being.  The claim made in the Declaration of Independence that its principles express philosophical truths about humanity and the whole makes it possible to achieve this goal.  For this claim implies that American citizenship is perfectly compatible with reasoned reflection on these truths; to introduce students to this sort of reflection is the contribution we’re properly ready and best able to make.  Moreover, the widespread concern for the ever-diminishing reasonableness of our political discourse made last summer seem a particularly appropriate time to establish the Freedom, Citizenship, and Equality Seminar.  One reason for our degraded discourse is the paucity of opportunities for young people to learn to think and speak knowledgeably about American principles and their practical implications.  It’s all the more crucial, then, that we who can provide such opportunities respond to this need.
 
There were numerous highlights in our first year, but the one I’ll single out occurred on the program’s last day when students staged a re-trial of Socrates.  They served as prosecutors, defenders, and judges, developing on their own the most compelling arguments for Socrates’ guilt or innocence.  We were very impressed not only by the cogency and depth of the students’ arguments but by the energy and enthusiasm they brought to the task.  They left no doubt that the validity of the verdict mattered deeply to each of them.  It was also clear that the students thought that, through reason, they could know better which case, that of Socrates or Athens, comes closer to the truth.  This confidence in reason seems particularly important for citizens of a deliberative democracy.  To instill such confidence is one of our program’s main goals.
Yale University

Yale University

"Working with aspiring first-generation college students in New Haven has transformed my understanding of the potential in seminar discussions."
Yale University

Citizens Thinkers Writers

Bryan Garsten, Professor of Political Science and Humanities
Starting the Citizens Thinkers Writers program has been one of the highlights of my professional life. I had been working hard on helping to create Yale-NUS College in Singapore, an exciting initiative, but as my role in that project ended, I found myself wanting to focus much closer to home. I grew up in the New Haven area, and saw how scientists at Yale were encouraged to engage with the local community through the requirements of their NSF grants. Why didn't more humanists do the same? Inspired by Columbia's Freedom and Citizenship program, and lucky to find two fantastic partners on campus, I pitched the idea, found some resources, and we dove in. Working with aspiring first-generation college students in New Haven has transformed my understanding of the potential in seminar discussions. Such a simple activity -- reading fundamental texts and talking about them around a table -- brings shy, thoughtful students out of their shells. Many of our students come in thinking of their thoughtfulness mainly as a social liability. Our program teaches them to be proud of their reflective nature, and to take the risk of sharing their thoughts in conversation and in writing. And I have learned a lot from our conversations. I have grown more attuned to the presumptions of meritocracy and I have developed a better understanding of the intrinsic value of the humanities. I also feel my life has been enriched by the relationships we have formed with teachers, principals, police officers, artists, poets, local politicians, NGO leaders, and others in the community who have happily collaborated with us on programming for our students. I am more convinced than ever that universities have an obligation to develop substantive relationships with their home communities and to help create spaces for reflection and discussion, and that doing so will bring benefits to both the community and the university.
 
Columbia University

Columbia University

"Every summer, I see students waking up to a broader sense of themselves and of the world around them."
Columbia University

Freedom and Citizenship

Roosevelt Montás (Founder), Senior Lecturer in American Studies and English:
I helped start and continue to teach in the Freedom and Citizenship Program because I know first-hand how education can transform a life.  I identify strongly with the students who show up in my classroom every summer and love having the kinds of conversations with them that I would have found most illuminating and inspriing when I was a recent immigrant still struggling with English.  Every summer, I see students waking up to a broader sense of themselves and of the world around them.  But beyond these personal resonances, I teach in this program because I believe its mission is critical to the future of our democracy.  It is among the most significant things I can do as a citizen; it as a high-impact fertilizer to the soil of our democracy. 
University of Rochester

University of Rochester

"The decision to call the summer program for high school students at the University of Rochester 'Experiencing Civic Life' signals a central reason why I am committed to our Teagle Foundation-funded project." 
University of Rochester

Experiencing Civic Life

Joan Rubin, Professor in History:
The decision to call the summer program for high school students at the University of Rochester 'Experiencing Civic Life' signals a central reason why I am committed to our Teagle Foundation-funded project. Classic texts in the humanities raise vital questions about authority, freedom, citizenship, and social responsibility:  issues that have become especially pressing in the era of COVID-19.  The critical thinking that reading together promotes is essential for informed decision-making in a democracy.  I have also had an unusual career for an American academic because for more than forty years, at two different institutions, I have taught in the place where I grew up:  Rochester.  This circumstance has meant that I have deep knowledge about the local area and an equally deep conviction that the university must overcome its traditional isolation from its surrounding community—and particularly from high school students.  Our program enables me to act on that belief in an especially rewarding way.
 
At the same time, my hopes for ‘Experiencing Civic Life’ rest on the individual benefits the program promises as well as the communal ones.  In this respect, I am guided by a quotation that I discovered in the course of my research as an American cultural historian—one that I find that I rely on whenever I am asked why a university needs a Humanities Center, and why our Center is the home base for “Experiencing Civic Life.”  In 1925, a nineteen-year-old woman wrote a fan letter to the American novelist Edna Ferber explaining why she had dropped out of college.  Instead of delving deeply into the subject, she reported, her history instructor had merely skimmed the surface, telling students that he wanted them to be able to “look intelligent” in conversation.  “Oh, Edna Ferber,” the letter-writer exclaimed, “I didn’t want my outsides polished.  I wanted things done to the inside of me.”
 
The personally transformative potential of ‘Experiencing Civic Life—not only giving high school students the confidence that they can do college work, but also changing their ‘insides’ as they connect with other human beings past and present—is its most exciting feature.  It’s made my ‘insides’ different, too.
 

News & Resources

08.04.2014 | TEAGLE IN THE NEWS

Plato and the Promise of College

Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist of The New York Times, describes his visit to Columbia University’s “Freedom and Citizenship” program, a model Knowledge for Freedom program.
 
Plato and the Promise of College >
01.09.2015 | TEAGLE IN THE NEWS

An Intimate Education

Tamara Mann Tweel reflects on her experience teaching a summer course to low-income high school students on great books.
 
An Intimate Education >
04.03.2017 | TEAGLE IN THE NEWS

Democratizing the Great Books

Educators of whatever political disposition should introduce students to the history of ideas that have shaped our contemporary world, write Casey N. Blake, Roosevelt Montás and Tamara Mann Tweel
 
Democratizing the Great Books >