Ingredients and Recipes

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Reading the President of Iran’s comments about how more than 150 years of academic freedom—or secular education—had poisoned Iranian youth, I’m reminded of a very basic fact: ingredients do not equal the recipe. For example, the tough lesson we see in practice in the Middle East and South America is that democracy does not ensure freedom. Indeed, democracy without quality education, freedom of the press, and stable civic institutions, is typically just mass manipulation–dashing demagogues dominate the ballot box and drag their societies through all sorts of nonsense. In short, democracy in and of itself is not a recipe for freedom. Education is not a recipe for freedom either. While I and others wax poetic about the power of education, the truth is that without true academic freedom, freedom of the press, broad access to public education, and more, teaching and learning can be terrible and lethal. Schools and universities can be used to inculcate the worst of values and the most dangerous of thinking—not to mention developing the most terrible of talents (e.g., think about building nuclear devices). Remember, education literally changes the brain (great book by the way). My worst fear is that millions of young people will live neither well nor free thanks to the “education” provided by some hateful regimes. They will be burdened with patterns of thoughts and constructions of reality so warped, that all of our cogent arguments, good intentions, and peaceful gestures will be hard pressed to make a dent in their version of reality. We’ve got to tackle this head on. Yes, democracy and education are deeply intertwined. However, they are only ingredients in the larger recipe of free societies; moreover, as the Iranian President makes clear, they can be used quite dangerously in isolation.

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