About Kathryn Hickok

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director, Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Oregon, and Development Coordinator at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon's free market public policy research organization.

Freedom_in_Film

Freedom in Fiction: Ida Elisabeth

Ida Elisabeth had every reason to leave her husband. He was foolish, immature, irresponsible, and unable to change. She couldn’t respect him. She had never really loved him. When he had an affair with another woman, it was her chance to leave and take the children―and no one blamed her.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Sigrid Undset placed Ida Elisabeth in her own contemporary 1930s Norway, a period of escalating social change prior to the Second World War. People spoke skeptically of the beliefs and assumptions of previous generations, doubting that conventional ethics would outlast their lifetime. Socialist-type welfare policies were becoming popular in noncommunist Western countries. Democratic governments, responding to the demands of the electorate, promised citizens more and more―and supplanted many social roles formerly played by spouses, families, local communities, and private charities. The modern world was unfolding―uneasily.

In a key conversation, Ida’s older mentor muses about the rise of the modern welfare state and Norway’s path to unsustainable public debt:

“…[T]he qualities which put a man in power and those which make him feel responsibility are not necessarily associated, nor do they necessarily exclude each other,” [he said.] “…We had an institution here in Norway in the saga times which was called debt-servitude. When a man had incurred more debts than he was able to pay, he could hand over his children to his creditors, and they had to work as thralls until they had earned enough to cover their father’s indebtedness. I don’t believe children are told anything about this debt-servitude in the schools nowadays. But they’re destined to experience it.”

Ida Elisabeth nodded: “They won’t have a good time, those who come after us.”

“No. And…[w]ill those who come after us be content to bear all the burdens which we still feel it our duty to shoulder? To help all that neither can nor will help themselves?…Especially when the young are aware that the old have taken upon themselves to determine, that they should come into the world, and when they should come, and how many should be put into the world to take over the burdens when they themselves are no longer able to bear them.”

In Ida’s time, the modern welfare state was already detaching individuals from reliance on those around them. While the state-run systems―“almshouses,” etc.—seemed streamlined, efficient, and economical ways of relieving people of the need to personally care for others, the underlying philosophy of utility was already becoming disturbing.

Ida’s friend wonders what will obligate future generations to honor the debts of their forebears, if people no longer believe that other human beings―just like themselves―possess innate and inalienable value? In the modern world, no one needs to be bothered with others any more than they think is reasonable, children come into the world solely at the convenience of adults, and family bonds may be broken at will. Who will decide what price is too high to meet the needs of the elderly, the sick and disabled, and those who cannot “pull their full weight” in society? (By the end of the decade in which Ida Elisabeth was published, these questions had begun to bear bitter fruit in Germany. In the novel, these musings were still largely theoretical.)

As the novel plays out, “big government” (or the welfare state) appears to be a symptom (or symbol) of another, more subtle disease: the human decision to put one’s own needs and desires ahead of the call to serve others, relinquishing individual responsibility to a nameless, faceless state. The genius of Ida Elisabeth is the connection made on the level of the heart between decisions made within personal relationships and a philosophy of self-centeredness that paves the way for far-reaching social change and loss of respect for human beings.

But the novel isn’t about government. It’s a love story of a mother and her children, her husband, and the man “who should have been.” When Ida Elisabeth falls in love with a man who shares her wishes and desires, she is forced to confront a struggle of conscience that is hard for the postmodern reader to accept. Ida tries to reconcile her mind and conscience with cutting herself off forever from family members from whom it once seemed right to separate.

While she is not a religious person and does not base her decisions on what is left of Norway’s conventional morality, Ida cannot fully agree with her secular friends that it is best to abandon those who couldn’t possibly make her feel fulfilled. “We at any rate can’t watch people drowning because they can’t swim, and not care,” she says. Her fundamental choice is between a “happy ending” and the needs of her family. Her choice determines their futures, her character, and her understanding of the meaning of life.

One of the lessons Sigrid Undset teaches so adeptly in her fiction is the step-by-step nature of discernment: Decisions made today may need to be adjusted tomorrow, because mercy has claims as well as justice. Undset deprives the reader of an easy ending because real life is often difficult. Happiness does not always appear in the form for which we wish. Deep human longings, passions, hopes, and personal needs may clash with what we know in our hearts must be done. The mysteries of life can’t be shoehorned into simplistic answers to complex problems. Codependence is not a virtue; “tough love” is a necessary, difficult road. But once Ida Elisabeth decides not to abandon the source of her sorrows to the public almshouse (so to speak), the way begins to become clear―a road of thorns for her at first, but a path of light, understanding, reconciliation, and peace.

Ida Elisabeth is a novel to be pondered with an open mind and heart―and more than a few good tears.

Freedom in Film: Follow That Dream (1962)

What may be the funniest movie about personal initiative and limited government? Look no further than Follow That Dream (1962), a rollicking pro-freedom comedy starring Arthur O’Connell and Elvis Presley.

Elvis plays Toby Kwimper, the young adult son in a family that gets just about every possible government entitlement benefit; and his dad (O’Connell) is proud of it. When overbearing bureaucrats make them angry, what does the Kwimper family do? They swear off their benefit checks, build a homestead on an empty beach in Florida, and start a small business. With several subplots, Follow That Dream shows off Elvis’s deadpan comic ability. He outwits the mafia, cunning social workers, and (most) adolescent girls with equal aplomb.

Suitable for family viewing, the movie delivers a victory for ordinary folks over the powers that be. It’s full of jokes about welfare-state attitudes, zoning laws, and government “looking out for you.” In the climactic courtroom scene, a judge praises the American spirit of enterprise, initiative, and voluntary community.

As Pop Kwimper puts it, sometimes there just gets to be too much government, and a person wants to move someplace without all those regulations. If you’ve ever felt that way after a frustrating encounter with bureaucracy, Follow That Dream will have you in stitches.

Oregon Teens Discover Their “Lightbulb Moment” at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week

Your average high school students may not be able to explain a fictional company’s dividends to a lecture hall full of adults from the business world. But after five days at Young Entrepreneurs Business Week, they could.

YEBW is a nonprofit annual summer camp founded in 2005 by young Oregon entrepreneurs Nick and Maurissa Fisher, hosted on the campuses of the University of Portland, Oregon State University, and University of Oregon. From 75 students on one campus during its first year, YEBW has grown to more than 400 participants on three campuses in 2016.

YEBW’s founders shared a concern that young people of all educational and economic backgrounds often leave high school with no practical business knowledge, hindering their ability to innovate, create, and produce the kinds of goods and services key to Oregon communities’ growth and success. They sought to fill the gap by drawing together curriculum developers, business professionals, educators, and successful youth-focused program leaders to launch an innovative educational program for high school students.

Participants spend one week on the UP, OSU, or UO campus and are exposed to a challenging curriculum designed to teach students that business can be fun and exciting, not to mention understandable and interesting. Students leave the camp possessing relevant, basic financial and business skills to apply to whatever goals they set for themselves. YEBW board chair Jeff Gaus says, “For some, YEBW is that lightbulb moment when they realize who they are and what they want to do in life.”

During the program, students are divided into student-led companies, guided by volunteers from the business community who share their knowledge and expertise throughout the week. The curriculum provides students with the financial literacy, business fundamentals, and confidence they need to be self-sufficient and successful.

During the first-year program, Business Week, students form mock companies where they create management teams, develop mission statements, invent a product, and conduct actual operation of their own business by competing in business simulations. Designed to broaden the practical skill sets of each student, the program incorporates professional speakers and other interactive learning exercises like mock interviews and networking events.

For returning students, Investing Week gives students the opportunity to learn about basic investment vehicles, the principles of evaluating a potential investment, and understanding the personal and business effects of the financial market system. Entrepreneur Week provides the chance to learn what it is like to start and run a business. Students prepare a full business plan, run an on-campus business as a team, and present their individual work to a panel of judges acting as potential company “investors.”

It’s not all “head knowledge,” either. YEBW fosters professional interpersonal skills. Students learn the art of the handshake, eye contact, introductions, proper business and evening attire, and table manners, so they can navigate job interviews and networking events with confidence.

Young Entrepreneurs Business Week teaches teens that “there is a business side to every occupation.” Likewise, every Oregon occupation would benefit from having more business-savvy graduates of YEBW. The young people who attend the first-year program mostly come with no prior business knowledge or experience, but they leave with well-earned confidence in their abilities and potential as tomorrow’s successful professional adults. A nonprofit program like YEBW, spearheaded by enthusiastic young business leaders, is truly a bright light for the future of the entrepreneurial spirit in Oregon.

Children’s Scholarship Fund Closes the Achievement Gap for Low-Income Kids

Since 1999, the nonprofit Children’s Scholarship Fund has empowered more than 152,000 low-income children nationwide to receive a quality education in private and parochial grade schools through privately funded partial-tuition scholarships.

Children’s Scholarship Fund parents value high-quality education as the way out of poverty for their children and sacrifice financially to give them that opportunity. It is a feature of the CSF program that all families pay part of their tuition bill themselves, ensuring a family commitment to education.

The investments of both parents and scholarship benefactors are reaping great rewards. Over time, studies of college enrollment and graduation rates of scholarship alumni are showing that, despite coming from socioeconomic backgrounds associated with lower rates of college enrollment, CSF alumni enroll in college at an average rate that is similar to or higher than the general population.

In other words, these students’ education in private and parochial grade schools, made possible by a relatively modest level of financial assistance, is closing the achievement gap for kids from less advantaged backgrounds.

Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland is a “hand up” here in our state that helps Oregon kids to reach for success in school and in life. If you would like to help a lower-income Oregon child to get a better education today, contact the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland at Cascade Policy Institute.

Freedom in Film: Ever After (1998)

If you are looking for an uplifting summer movie for the teenage girls in your life, Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) provides a thought-provoking twist on the classic fairytale. While director Andy Tennant’s plot follows the traditional story, Ever After also explores themes of family loyalty, economic interdependence, social justice, and the rewards of hard work.

In a refreshing departure from predictable Hollywood storylines, Drew Barrymore’s tough and brave Cinderella (“Danielle”) combines a loving respect for her family’s heritage with a can-do approach to solving problems. A hard-working, educated girl―homeschooled by her father―she wants more than anything to restore the just order of her “economy” (in the ancient Greek sense of “managing the home”).

Orphaned young, Danielle does not dream of escaping work. Rather, she defines “happily ever after” as the restoration of her family’s estate to the prosperity it enjoyed under her parents. Like them, she takes pride in the farm and regrets it can’t reach its potential under her stepmother (Anjelica Huston), who has no interest in running what is essentially the family business. Danielle tries to be a good steward of the patrimony she should have inherited, even though her freedom to act independently is limited.

In Danielle’s world, the feudal agrarian society of the Middle Ages begins to meet the mercantile economy of the Renaissance. Forward-thinking Danielle masters the business acumen needed to keep the estate financially afloat; but her primary motivations are rooted in the medieval values of family loyalty, mutual obligation to others, and fulfilling one’s duty. Danielle considers “family” to include servants with multigenerational ties to the household. She wants to succeed for the sake of those whose livelihoods depend on her, as well as for herself.

An admirer of the English humanist Sir Thomas More, Danielle’s father bequeathed to her an inquiring mind and a social conscience. While Danielle’s Utopia-inspired prescriptions for the improvement of society have a fairytale simplicity, her instincts are basically good. She lives the Golden Rule with humility and charm. Her interactions with others show she believes in behaving with dignity and respect toward all whose various roles in society together make the world go ’round.

Of course, Ever After is a fairytale, so while it’s set in 16th-century France, the film isn’t without anachronisms and fictionalized historical events. (Obviously, the son of King Francis I didn’t marry a girl named Danielle, sorry to say.) But if you are looking for a delightful story about filial love, the blessing of honest work, and the ability of virtue to attract the right man, Ever After offers positive lessons, while entertaining the whole family.

Freedom in Film: Gettysburg (1993)

“Up, men! And to your posts! And let no man forget today, that you are from Old Virginia!”

―Major General George Pickett

In Gone with the Wind, Rhett Butler grimly tells Scarlett O’Hara that a looming battle soon would “pretty well fix things, one way or the other.” It would take place in “some little town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.”

The 1993 film Gettysburg recreates the events surrounding July 1-3, 1863. Unlike many war movies, including Civil War films, Gettysburg doesn’t really “take sides.” Instead, the film delves into the minds and hearts of both Northern and Southern combatants, largely through the thoughts and decisions of General Robert E. Lee (Martin Sheen), Major General George Pickett (Stephen Lang), and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), among many others.

Gettysburg manages to convey understanding of, if not sympathy for, the wide range of motives and issues with which honest people grappled on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line in the 1860s. This approach makes the movie an excellent introduction to both the Civil War and the culture of the Old South for high school and college history students.

Because of the issue of slavery, it can be easy for many 21st-century Americans to relate immediately to the perspective of the North. However, the war was actually much more complicated than a conflict over slavery. The slavery issue brought deep-seated, decades-long tensions between the agrarian South and the industrial North to a head. The war was also about federalism, sectionalism, federal tax laws and their effects on state economies, and cultural differences between the North and the South.

Many Southerners were loyal to their home states in the same way their grandparents had been loyal to the colonies at the time of the American Revolution. They believed they had the right to declare independence if their states’ legitimate interests were no longer served (or their rights were being abused) by the federal government or by other states, just as the colonies had separated from Britain. As one Southern general put it while musing one evening in the camp, the federal government denying Southern states the right to secede from the Union seemed like a voluntary club refusing to permit people to resign their membership when aggrieved.

Countless surviving letters from Southern soldiers and their families show they believed they were fighting for their homes, freedom, rights, and the sovereignty of their states. On the other hand, the United States was becoming a world power. The Northern states feared that secession would result in numerous tiny, powerless, irrelevant countries. The United States as a nation―and its Constitution―would fail. After the Civil War, the phrase “these United States,” in common parlance in the 1800s, faded. It was replaced by “the United States,” a singular noun, as we say now.

The causes and the legacy of the Civil War are not intuitive for many Americans today, especially for those who live far from the South. Because Gettysburg is a long movie, there is enough time and thoughtful dialogue for viewers without much understanding of the history behind the battle to be pulled into the philosophical, moral, and cultural underpinnings of the events. Gorgeous cinematography and a soul-stirring musical score remind viewers that it’s possible to hold in one’s heart both Old Glory and Dixie, and still to miss Old Virginia, 150 years after the war.


This article was originally published June 22, 2013.

 

 

Freedom in Film: Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1957)

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is the longest running motion picture ever, watched by more than 30 million visitors to Colonial Williamsburg since 1957. One of the most technologically advanced films of its day, it was recently remastered and restored to its original vibrancy. For those who can’t retrace the birth of freedom in Virginia’s colonial capital this Independence Day, Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is available online.

A 2004 feature in Colonial Williamsburg magazine explains this film’s significance: “…[F]or forty-seven years The Patriot has introduced guests to Williamsburg and America on the eve of the Revolution. It shows the people of eighteenth-century Williamsburg as they might have been, introduces characters that made the nation, [and] helps audiences understand the issues that divided colonists from one another and from the mother country.”

In one memorable scene, Virginia colonist John Frye (Jack Lord) discusses the impending war with another landowner. His friend is disturbed by talk of independence and says he has decided to go “home,” meaning back to England. John’s reply reflects the shift in loyalty felt by Virginia’s patriots: “I am home.”

Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot is only about 40 minutes long, making it appropriate for young viewers and for classroom use. If you want to make America’s founding come alive for your family or students, Colonial Williamsburg’s website features extensive interactive history sections and multimedia presentations designed to make the people and issues of the 1770s accessible to children and teenagers.

Not everyone can experience the “Revolutionary City” in person, but through technology you can bring the characters of the American Revolution home.

Freedom: America’s Treasure

Three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush said in a speech, “…[A]dversity introduces us to ourselves.”

“America is a nation full of good fortune,” he said, “with so much to be grateful for, but we are not spared from suffering. In every generation, the world has produced enemies of human freedom. They have attacked America because we are freedom’s home and defender, and the commitment of our fathers is now the calling of our time.”

Freedom is America’s precious treasure―and never too far from being lost. Acts of war and terrorism can undermine a nation and its values; but as Russian thinker Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.”

On Independence Day 2016, it can be consoling to remember that character is the first defense against the loss of freedom, and that each of us still has the power to make it a force for good. Character under pressure built America, brought us through 240 years, and can keep our country “freedom’s home and defender”—if we want it to.

New Orleans’ Miracle School District

Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated the southeastern United States, displacing more than 372,000 school-aged children. Today, New Orleans’ school population has returned to more than two-thirds its pre-storm level, but a lot has changed for the better in the public school district.

Before Katrina, a Louisiana state legislator called New Orleans “one of the worst-run public school systems in America.” Almost two-thirds of students attended a “failing school.” After Katrina, the state legislature transferred more than 100 low-performing Orleans Parish schools to the Recovery School District. Now, the district has 57 charter schools operating under nonprofit charter management organizations.

According to The Washington Examiner, barely more than half of New Orleans public school students graduated before Katrina. Today, almost all New Orleans students attend charter schools. In the 2013-14 school year, three out of four students graduated on time, and fewer than seven percent attend a “failing school.”

This amazing turnaround is due to the hard work of teachers, administrators, local and state leaders, and parents who rebuilt New Orleans’ public school system from the ground-up, with the vision and determination to create “an all-choice school district with high-quality schools.” The unprecedented success of New Orleans’ Recovery School District serves as a model for education reform efforts across the country. Parental choice, flexibility for educators, and innovation in management really can achieve the impossible.


This article was originally published August 26, 2015.

 

Washington, D.C. Charters Called a Laboratory for Innovation in Public Education

Did you know that almost half of Washington, D.C.’s public school children attend charter schools? In fact, our nation’s capital now has 115 charters, run by 62 nonprofit organizations.

President Bill Clinton signed the legislation authorizing D.C.’s charter schools twenty years ago this spring. Since then, D.C. charter school students have made significant academic gains. A recent study on urban charter schools by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University found that D.C. charter students are learning the equivalent of 96 more days in math and 70 more days in reading than their peers in traditional public schools.

David Osborne, director of the project Reinventing America’s Schools at the Progressive Policy Institute, has called D.C. “the nation’s most interesting laboratory” for public education. In an article for U.S. News and World Report, Osborne compares the traditional public school system with a Model T trying to compete on a racetrack with 21st century cars. “…[F]or those with greater needs,” he writes, “schools need innovative designs and extraordinary commitment from theirs staffs.”

Charter schools’ entrepreneurial governance model allows them to innovate, adapt, and specialize to meet the particular needs of students. Their successes in educating children who face the greatest challenges to academic achievement is fueling an even greater demand for the kind of choice in education that charter schools have come to represent.

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