On Montesquieu and Florida Civics Standard SS.7.C.1.1

montesquieu-1Every month the Florida Department of Education publishes a memorandum to the various School District Superintendents with updates on the Florida Standards.  The Florida Standards is Florida’s version of Common Core which promises to impart high school graduates with the “knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, careers and life.”  This is a mighty promise indeed.

Every Florida Standards monthly update contains a section that highlights some of the specific Florida Standards.  The August 2016 memo highlights, in part, Florida Civics Standard SS.7.C.1.1 which states as follows:

Recognize how Enlightenment ideas including Montesquieu’s view of separation of power and John Locke’s theories related to natural law and how Locke’s social contract influenced the Founding Fathers.

For those who know little about these standards the sheer bureaucratic specificity may come as a great shock.  But this is the reality of our attempt to standardize the learning process.  This is the outcome of distilling humanity’s collected knowledge into standards that must be applied to millions.

One gets the impression, upon closer inspection, that the standards were written by a committee of experts who had in their minds’ eye a Platonic abstraction (i.e. the “student”) ready to be “filled” at the appropriate time with the information and concepts deemed by each expert important to their respective areas of expertise.  Young people seen as objects to be worked upon rather than dynamic subjects endowed with unique genius.  A complex recipe suited for programming a machine instead of stoking the fires of curiosity that burn naturally within every young person.

Nevertheless, this standard, identified with seemingly satirical precision, provides the perfect illustration of how an academic philosophy of freedom endows any school that adopts it with inexhaustible flexibility.  Individual students at Sudbury schools around the world are encouraged to try this and report back their findings.

Sudbury students who read this post (if they want, lol) will become aware that Florida Civics Standard SS.7.C.1.1 requires every Florida graduate to, in part, recognize how Montesquieu’s view of separation of power influenced the Founding Fathers of the United States.  Many of them might not care nor investigate further.  However, merely reading this post may trigger the question, “Who was Montesquieu?”  Or any number of questions we could not possibly imagine.

And so might begin a freely chosen path of inquiry that could lead in any number of directions.  Perhaps directly to his magnum opus The Spirit of the Laws or the vineyards of Bordeaux where this French nobelman was born or anywhere else makes no difference at Sudbury.  The importance is freedom.  And who would deny that such an endeavor freely undertaken results in greater learning, better understanding, and more joy than one forced upon the unwilling?

Could any standard adequately capture the path of a young person who starts with Montisquieu and ends up studying citrus greening disease?  Or describe what “subjects” they learned along the way?  These standards are wonderful springboards from which young people may launch themselves into an array of directions as unique as each of them.  But to do the reverse seems a fool’s errand.  For it is our uniqueness that binds us together.  And it is freedom that gives young people the chance to develop the individual uniqueness that supports our common humanity.


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