Does Education Really Equal Freedom?

By Hema Mason

            Tavis Smiley interviewed Oprah Winfrey, who was named the winner of the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the Emmy Awards show.  The interview topic centered on reading and education and was a continuation of her acceptance speech given during the awards ceremony.  In the interview, Winfrey attributed much of her success to her grandmother, who taught her the importance of education.  Winfrey insisted that being educated and being able to read were tools for freedom and that it was this type of freedom that allowed her to see beyond her circumstances and life’s misfortune to become the person she is today. 

            Reading and writing are integral parts of learning.  Without the ability to read or write, there are several limitations to what you are able to do.  Reading and writing or being educated, however, isn’t the sole key to success, nor does it necessarily provide the freedom that Winfrey speaks about in the interview.  Therefore, I will extend upon what Winfrey says about education and reading to convey that there are other contributing factors to success than education or the ability to read.  Some of these include having opportunities, being motivated to succeed or having a desire and drive to succeed.  Finally, I will argue that education doesn’t ensure your freedom and that freedom is a matter of interpretation. 

            There are many people who possess the ability to read and write that are living at poverty or below poverty levels.  There are several factors attributable to this fact.  A lack of opportunities is one of them.  In the Smiley/Winfrey interview, Winfrey tells of how her grandmother taught her to read.  Before entering the school system, Winfrey was already quite advanced.  Then, she was moved from a poor southern town to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she began her formal education.  There were additional opportunities throughout her school career and beyond, which other people were not afforded.  Therefore, even if you’re armed with the necessary tools (education and reading in this case) there has to be an opportunity to use these tools. 

            Another key factor to success is motivation and drive.  There is a developmental trajectory in our learning that takes place.  At the age of three, most children are not reading.  Yet, Winfrey was reading at this age, which means that either she was highly motivated to do so or her grandmother was driven to want to see her granddaughter be armed with this knowledge at an early age.  It takes motivation, drive and determination to reach beyond the circumstances that one normally faces.  The key is that there are other factors at work besides being educated that determines success. 

            Finally the word “freedom” is open to interpretation.  Though reading was considered illegal in slavery, many slaves did in fact have the ability to read, yet they were slaves.  Being exposed to “a world beyond themselves” as Winfrey put it, did not allow them the opportunity to explore that world.  The term “freedom” is one that is open to interpretation because there are probably not a lot of people that would equate freedom with education. 

            In conclusion, education is an important factor to success and has many advantages.  In addition to education being a factor for success, having opportunities are equally as important.  Winfrey was afforded the opportunity to learn to read at a very early age from her grandmother.  She was also given the opportunity to be formally educated in another state.  All of these opportunities were essential to Winfrey’s success.  Next, what would a good education be without motivation and drive?  Winfrey stated that education was freedom and that it was a chance to see beyond yourself.  While Winfrey was certainly exposed to other things beyond her Mississippi roots, it took an incredible drive and motivation to realize her goals.  Knowing how to read in and of itself would not have gotten Winfrey where she is today.   

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