Liberty & Monarchy
“The Arab Spring must be accompanied by a spring of freedom for all Arabs.” His Highness the Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifia Al Thani of Qatar.
How is it that a monarchy in the Arab world is more supportive in developing the foundation of a free society than our own local school board?
Two weeks ago, just before leaving for Qatar’s Doha Forum (a political and economic forum like Davos for the Middle East), my dining room was full of Laguna Beach High School students who were frantically planning a peaceful protest threatened by student leadership.
What is a public American education for if not to develop our citizens’ engagement with American liberty and the political process?
From Doha, I reposted the Emir’s quote about the need for broader freedom throughout the Arab world on Facebook. Many commented about the irony of a monarch demanding more liberty.
My response described Alexis DeToqueville’s observation that a free society requires a fabric to support it. A benevolent dictator can be the best way forward to develop the foundations necessary for healthy liberty.
In modern times, Pinochet’s Chile is one stunning example of how a dictator can develop a fabric for a healthy and free society. While Pinochet was far from perfect, he is the only dictator who also chose to open free elections voluntarily and transitioned Chile to the healthiest economy in Latin America over the past three decades.
Qatar is similar to the best parts of Pinochet’s Chile, but with the benefit of nearly unlimited resources. The primary area of government investment in the country is education and new freedoms are emerging for the people of Qatar as the fabric grows to support it.
The opposite model of freedom without the fabric to support it would be the Bush doctrine in Iraq; if we eliminate the dictator, democracy will flourish. I prefer Qatar.
What struck me at the Doha Forum is how our liberty is eroding in Laguna as it expands in the Middle East.
My son and a number of students at Laguna Beach High School are opposed to the newly proposed social host ordinance (SHO) that city leaders are pushing, because it is not an effective way to deal with underage drinking.
The students have been researching the effects of similar SHO policies in other communities, and have found some serious ill effects. They have been working together to organize their thoughts and verbalize them in a coordinated and well-mannered fashion and were organizing a protest at school over the issue.
So two weeks ago, I was surprised at the heightened emotions in my dining room. According to the students, the school board and high school administration had threatened to suspend any students who organized and participated in the political protest for any disruptions.
Let’s not forget that, just a few years ago, our school board invited MTV into our town and high school. Administrators encouraged our students to participate in the “Real Laguna Beach” program. MTV regularly showcased irresponsible underage drinking and made a mockery of our town.
What does MTV have to do with education? Conversely, why wouldn’t a school jump at the chance to support student enthusiasm for debating local public policy?
Our school board seems to fundamentally misunderstand the role of governance in student education.
Thomas Jefferson developed a liberal arts education at the University of Virginia to help develop better citizens in America. His vision was to create a population that would engage in liberty responsibly.
Our school leadership is threatening to suspend students for peaceable association to discuss local policy. Their crime? Threatening to wear suits to school and talk about the problems of proposed policy.
We misunderstand the Arab world. We misunderstand the necessary foundation of freedom. We misunderstand the singular importance of a liberal arts education in maintaining the liberties that make technical professional skills valuable at all. We misunderstand the importance of supporting our youth when they want to engage public policy.
The biggest irony that I saw last week is how we attack freedom at home while the Arab world rushes towards it.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.