Arguing with 5-year-olds – "It’s a Free Country"

Back when I was in the service (First Lieutenant, Safety Patrol, 6th grade), I would sometimes have to help watch over the kindergartners to make sure they didn’t hurt themselves. Sometimes, I would get into arguments with them. Their arguments would always be somewhat compelling, and as a 12-year-old, though I felt that I was on the right side of the arguments, I could never quite put together a counter-argument. Now, 10 years later, I’m ready.

One day, I was trying to get the kindergartners to line up in front of their class room as class was about to begin. One kid refused. When I said, “hey, let’s get in a straight line for Mrs. So-and-so” (her name really was Mrs. So and So), he replied, “it’s a free country” and refused to get in line.

That didn’t seem right! But aren’t we in a free country? What does that even mean? And how could I respond to that in such a way that would convince the student to get in line? I didn’t have an answer at the time. Once Mrs. So and So arrived, he got scared and just got in line, but the question haunted me until this day.

Today, I realize that the idea of the United States being a “free country” really refers to the spirit on which the United States was founded. As opposed to many other nations in which the “contract” between the governing and the governed is, “maintain or improve our quality of life and we won’t revolt,” the “contract” between the US government and its citizens is explicitly spelled out in the Constitution with a series of amendments protecting various freedoms such as speech, religion, self-incrimination, gay marriage, etc.

Relevant to the case with the 5-year-old is that the freedoms protected are finite and explicitly enumerated. There is no absolute individual freedom, and specifically, the Constitution does not guarantee the freedom to be a dick. So get in line and shut up.



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