“Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought.”
--Thoreau, in Walden, “Conclusion”
There is one sense in which my students have total freedom in English class: they can think as they want without hindrance or restraint. They can’t always act or speak exactly as they want, but there are no restrictions on their thinking. Their minds are as free as the boundless air. They can think, ponder, reflect, imagine, and ruminate as unreservedly as breezes blow. Perhaps I should occasionally remind my students of this grand fact, for nothing is more precious to young people than their freedom, and a feeling of complete mental liberty might make English class seem more brisk and bracing than it ordinarily is. If I remind my students, every now and then, that their thoughts are free to fly wherever they wish during my class, perhaps they’ll feel that rush of looseness and openness we all feel when we’re set free. You may worry that this could create distracted and day-dreamy students, but I would say, rather, that it would simply create free-thinking students – kids who take pleasure in their minds’ ability to roam the universe of ideas. English class is concerned, above all, with words, and words are made of thoughts, so anything I can do to liberate the thoughts of my students will give a lift to my classes. Sure, there’s a chance their thoughts will float far away from the matter under discussion in class, but that’s a chance I’m happy to take. Give me -- any day -- uninhibited young thinkers who occasionally drift away from the lesson, over limited and locked-up thinkers who always follow the teacher’s line of thought like prisoners follow a guard.