To Restore American Liberty, We Need Colleges that Actually Teach the Liberal Arts

The following article was originally published by The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. View it here.

Collectivists of many stripes—but one aim—have been eating away at our free society for over one hundred years.

If we want to reverse America’s current slide into authoritarianism and actively move towards a fully free society, we need to be as clear about our goals as the collectivists have been about theirs. And theirs have always been power and control—to that end, ingeniously using indoctrination masquerading as education.

To counter this, our educational goal should be to vigorously nurture that autonomous, active minority in every profession who are capable of being society’s change agents and who are entrepreneurial. It is this active minority who change societies everywhere—the Medici in Renaissance Florence, the U.S. Founders, and Cobden and Bright in the U.K.

In that effort, the greatest guardian of liberty is autonomy because autonomous people do not tolerate being ruled. Free human beings recognize each other’s sovereignty and seek to persuade others and trade with others as equals, rejecting the force that collectivists use when they can’t persuade.

We need a college (colleges!) specifically dedicated to nurturing autonomous individuals who are well-schooled in the values of reason, individualism, and freedom. We have to keep in laser focus: What kind of education helps young people learn how to live in freedom? To develop autonomy? To discover how to be entrepreneurs of their own lives?

In other words, what is a truly liberating education?

This is why I’m working to open Reliance College in 2024. We want Reliance students to enter the world as self-reliant individuals. We’ll endow them with a rich portfolio of knowledge and skills, and build a portfolio of work, so they can plan and succeed in the lives they imagine for themselves, able to overcome any obstacles and adversities that stand in their way.

Reliance will be a residential college offering a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, with deep emphasis on reasoning well and objectively, complemented by a real-world problem-solving project in the student’s career interest.

The program will be a specially organized version of a classic Enlightenment liberal arts curriculum, dedicated to the free inquiry of free minds. The college will be entirely endowed by private funding to ensure utmost independence from governmental mandates. It incorporates:

1) Classic works from across the ideological spectrum, treating those of Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, Frederic Bastiat, and other free-society advocates in many fields as equal to other great and influential thinkers;

2) A special methodology which incorporates the study and practice of careful reasoning, concept formation, integration of knowledge across categories, and connecting ideas to their effects on life and the world;

3) Real-world problem projects (in the field of student professional interest) that will connect students to outstanding, accomplished professionals as mentors and create valuable experience and material for a professional portfolio. We’ll find extraordinary mentors, such as The American Optimist’s Joe LonsdaleUCG Group’s Jim KandracExplaining Post-Modernism’s Stephen Hicks, and Laitram’s Jay Lapeyre;

4) Special work on crucial skills such as writing, active listening and teamwork, personal finance and economics, and the role of art in a well-lived life.

Over many years, I have built my knowledge about human development, starting with my work at Council Oak Montessori School for students ages 3-15, which I founded and ran for 27 years. The Montessori educational philosophy has been ahead of its time for 100 years in understanding the importance of human development to optimal learning and growth. I have used the Montessori framework while honing my knowledge of what young adults need to grow into flourishing human beings. We have incorporated this knowledge into every aspect of our educational programs.

By developing their autonomy and self-reliant entrepreneurship, the program strongly influences students to grasp and accept the values and ideas of living as a free person in a free society. It does so by:

1) Helping them to develop an objective, reality-oriented way of thinking (and we know that a free society is, objectively, the best way for humans to thrive);

2) Providing a process by which students can deeply examine the meaning and consequences of ideas from all sides, collectivist to individualist, while treating the works of the freedom movement thinkers as equal to that of other great thinkers;

3) Offering a culture of inspiration, love of beauty and greatness, and deep community of shared ideas and values. Young people desperately need such a culture, especially when surrounded by as many postmodernist, nihilist intellectual and artistic influences as we find in contemporary America.

At Reliance, we will offer young people the vision of a life full of adventure and achievement.

We already have a successful track record with this program. For the past 13 years, we have implemented it in carefully crafted summer and weekend programs with remarkable results, and we’re running one this summer, July 23-30, in Chicago. (See The Great Connections for more information.)

Student after student has spontaneously reported to us that their approach to their lives has been transformed by these programs. To this day, we hear from them about their successes due to what they learned at The Great Connections. Students attending our full college program will have the opportunity to learn and develop far more.

Given the caliber of the students who have attended our summer program, Reliance will likely attract highly intelligent students who are dissatisfied with what’s available elsewhere. Reliance’s program will boost their functioning so they will be outstanding in their work performance. Their academic performance, combined with their real-world problem project work, will make us attractive to more and more employers, students, and parents. This will build the College’s reputation quickly.

The program will also achieve our end goal: to develop an active and self-confident minority who can defend their rights to their own lives and the free society. We’re aiming for a New American Revolution!

Our long-term plan is to:

1) Start with a small school in rented quarters where students get the individual attention and guidance they need;

2) Rapidly add a continuing education program for retired adults looking for their next path in life (and who will become great supporters and allies);

3) Build and facilitate a rich cultural community for free-society advocates, with events and discussions on movies, art, architecture, poetry, plays—you name it—emulating the vibrant salon community of the 19th century;

4) Expand our campus to hold multiple small colleges, similar to the Oxford University model.

We are growing a private scholarship fund and endowment for the program. Given the rigorous nature of the program, we don’t expect acquiring accreditation to be difficult.

There will be no faculty tenure. Teachers will be expected to uphold our values and follow our mission.

We seek teachers in love with our program and dedicated to our methods. Our teachers will attend a special training course in our methodology and approach. We also plan regular faculty sessions in which we’ll reflect on whether we’re following our mission and will strive for teaching improvement. Thus, we will avoid drifting into the “wokeness” that afflicts so many colleges.

We have created a comprehensive, well-funded, and expert marketing plan to get started. We have a business model that enables reasonable budgets with affordable tuition for the next seven years, created after years of research conducted on the administration and funding of colleges in the United States.

Reliance College will offer all this to people who expect to pay a reasonable price for a real education rather than a price inflated by no-longer-deserved prestige. We will look for students who want more than vocational training or ideological programming.

Given the current state of education, it’s an auspicious time to start a new, independent institution of higher learning.

Marsha Familaro Enright created the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute (RIFI), which runs The Great Connections Seminars. She is the co-founder of Council Oak Montessori Elementary School, one of the top private elementary schools in Chicago.

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