Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!

Some describe four “Cs” of essential skills for this 21st century – traits such as: Critical thinking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity.

Some list five or six “Cs.” Five: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Character. Six: the list above plus cultural competency.

Other people and organizations talk about seven “Cs.” Here is one version of seven “Cs”:

  1. Communication
  2. Connection
  3. Collaboration/Cooperation
  4. Creation/Contribution
  5. Community
  6. Continual Learning
  7. Culture

All of those C-words are great. Definitely essential.

And I believe there is an underlying “C” that provides the necessary foundation for student learners to develop all of the above C traits.

CONTROL

Control in the sense of ownership, investment and engagement, degree of agency and autonomy. Control to exercise choice. Control to pursue curiosity.

For student learners to develop deep degrees of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, cross-cultural competency, computational capacity, etc., don’t we need to facilitate them having more control over their learning?

Less sitting and getting. More choosing and doing.

Don’t we know at least that much about motivation, relevancy, cognitive commitment, heartfelt conviction, grit, and perseverence?

If adults migrated their traditional varieties of control (content, curricular, lesson plans, demonstration, delivery, etc.) to reflect more coaching, then space and time and opportunity could be created for student learners to be more in control.

I am reminded of sports and arts. When student learners play a sport, they are more in control over what they do on the court, on the field, in the water, or on the course. When musicians and visual artists engage in their activities, there is also much doing – high degrees of control. Coaches and directors orchestrate and advise. But the athletes and players are much more in control than is the case with our stereotypical classrooms and curricula.

I am more and more convinced that a single “C” – CONTROL – may prove the bedrock for the development of all those other “Cs.” For in the giving of control, I believe we provide student learners with more opportunities to practice the skills organically and authentically than if we assign them work organized into the seven “Cs.” Through the autonomy of control – motivated by the control of choice – we naturally invest ourselves in those seven “Cs.” When we feel in control, we learn to take control, and we develop our capacities to maintain good control.

What does offering more control to student learners look like? Below I provide some examples – patches to a quilt of sorts. My examples are by no means exhaustive. But I think seeing examples helps.

I could continue this list indefinitely. There are virtually countless examples. What examples would you add?

But are there many schools – whole schools – where a core tenet of the school’s purpose, operations, and daily practices allow the students to be the primary controllers of their learning?

This morning, I asked my eight-year old son, “PJ, what are you looking forward to in school today?”

His first reply: “I don’t know dad. The teachers are in control and decide what we’re going to do and learn today. I won’t know until I get there.”

Hmmm.

What if school taught students how to learn from a position of personal and interpersonal control? What if school remodeled and renovated based on this premise of student “locus of control?”

Hmmm.

What if we controlled kids less and let kids control more of their learning?

My hypothesis: those children would develop all of those “Cs” more quickly, deeply, and meaningfully.

= = =

This post was cross-posted to Connected Principals and Inquire Within on 3.22.2013.

47 thoughts on “Could there actually be one “C” to rule them all?!

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  8. I found this site from Learning Pond and am glad that I did. Grant Lichtman says you are the best for systems thinking (and it seems Holly Chesser agrees). I am inspired by your discussion of pedagogical master plans and love your focus on control in its liberating and empowering meanings. But as I work to contribute to my high school’s efforts at defining a signature program, with the potential to move toward some version of the C’s, I am troubled by our area’s obsession with AP and SAT scores. How do you market radical change of curriculum and operations to stakeholders who are afraid to move away from mainstream markers of academic rigor and success?

    • Jason,

      I don’t know about being “the best” at systems thinking, but I certainly consider myself a member of the tribe of systems thinkers. All of that “the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone, the shin bone is connected to the knee bone,” etc. really resonates with me and leads to more connected communities and empathic/successful solutions implementations, if you ask me.

      I would love to talk with you about Pedagogical Master Planning, “control,” and any other educational pursuits you want to explore. I learn so much from every conversation with people who care deeply about learning, school efficacy, and the lives of learners.

      I’m fascinated by the bread crumbs you’ve left here and on Grant’s blog. I’m intrigued by your school, its apparent journey, and the abrasions of discussion that you name. Certainly your parts of the story shared here ring true with my experience in school change and transformation. I would truly love to talk and learn more.

      Your specific question here is a powerful one. I fear that any response I type with my fingers in this relatively brief space would not do justice to the full system of what you are asking. However, I can’t resist my human nature to say a bit…

      I’m struck by your use of the word “afraid.” When that word is used in school transformation, I think it often points to conditions in which the school community has not done yet the degree of work necessary to claim that it has a developing shared value system or collective understanding of the transformation that is being considered. In my experience, fear is often about that which cannot be seen. A “boogie man” of sorts. Resistance is often from lack of clarity more so than lack of agreement.

      What has your school done to engage in creating and developing shared understanding around its purpose? Its identity? The character and values of the school? In many cases, work spent focused on these core issues can result in “better” time later – making decisions that radiate from a core/corp of shared values and voice.

      I wonder what decisions would be made – perhaps a “both/and” possibility – when the school community worked together to study itself, understand who it is and who it wants to be. That may sound “touchy-feely” to some, but it is not. As dorky as this might sound, it’s about being a “school” – in the sense of fish who decide to work together as a true unit.

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  10. Russian youth motivated to be a leader in the blog-o-sphere. Yet, the work/experience seems to be in conflict with “school” in some ways. So, he moved “school” to the evenings. But if we asked a room of educators to name the traits/characteristics we want to see students develop, wouldn’t Sergei’s blogging show evidence of developing just such skills?

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2013/0322/Sergei-Abramov-s-goal-an-educational-blog-that-doesn-t-bore-his-fellow-Russian-teens?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Change_Agent&utm_campaign=20130325_Newsletter:Change%20Agent_Sailthru&cmpid=ema:nws:Change%2520Agent%2520Weekly%2520(03-25-2013)

    [HT @cannonball31]

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  13. While out for my Saturday morning walk I was listening to a talk on the state of the current search for expolanets and the speaker jokingly said, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pluto,” to the audience to remind them of the nine (she did clarify the status of Pluto) planets that we have in our local system. Trite, yes, but useful for an audience whose knowledge of our local area in space may not be the best. This, in turn, reminded me of my old colleague Leon’s attitude toward the ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, Evaluate) model of Instructional Design, “It’s useful for people who don’t really know the hell what they’re doing. Those of us who practice it see it as much more beautifully complex than that.” That, finally, beings me to the “C’s”, regardless of the number. As I see it, they serve a purpose, specifically, a useful, accessible way to help ‘noobs’ start to gain an understanding of to the wonderfully complex professional activity they will, hopefully, devote the rest of their lives to.

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  16. Why has no one here mentioned the Sudbury Schools and their approach to learning? It’s all about learner control.

    • We were waiting for you, Kathryn. Thank you so much for adding to the visual reality of this exploration about control and giving more of it to our student learners. We need the stories and images of how this is already happening, and powerfully so, to make school more relevant and meaningful for learners.

      I hope more people will add their examples!

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  19. Great riff on Lord of the Rings. To quote Gollum – “precious.” I love the idea of reduction, of narrowing the focus with the ultimate intent of magnifying it. Unfortunately, I’d wager that PJ’s comment is echoed every morning at breakfast tables all over America. School is a wait and see operation. Wait for the teacher to open the door, announce the lesson, explain the process, and assess whether you kept inside the lines. It’s a “see,” not do exercise. PJ isn’t expecting every moment of his day to be directed by his own interests, but a good chunk of it should and could be. He needs to feel like he is in control.I wonder if the prevalence of bullying isn’t both a recognition that control is the currency that dominates schools and a desire to operate in that exchange. “Control” or the lack of it appears to be the one “C” that binds us all. Giving it up is how we discover real power.

    • Holly,

      Thank you so much for your comment and riff! I think you are correct about PJ and many, many other students and young learners like him. Your connection to bullying is so compelling to me. As someone who has bullied and who was bullied in school, I do think that so much of that dynamic is about feelings of no control, wanting control, missing and feeling empty because of lack of control. I certainly believe that when children do more giving than getting in their education, when the learning is relevant to real issues and real people, when the heart of the matter is applied empathy, then students grow more deeply in those capacities. When the learning matters to the people, the people matter more to the learners, I think.

      Bo

  20. Another interesting example from The Summit Schools and Clever (San Francisco) – found thanks to EdSurge’s Wednesday newsletter.

    https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-03-13-what-a-startup-and-a-school-have-in-common/

    And BADGES from Mozilla – a potentially huge game changer for “learner-controlled” credentialing from multiple sources.

    https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-03-14-mozilla-s-debuts-open-badges-to-showcase-out-of-school-learning-and-skills/

  21. All points are good ones here, and I think the stumbling block for some may be with the implication that control has. Control connotes singular control or shifting full control from teacher to learner. Choice connotes that someone has to come up with the choices- teacher or learner? What speaks to me is that there should be shared control in the learning process among teachers and learners. We can recognize that as teachers we bring a deeper understanding of learning goals and outcomes in a broader sense that a child (of any age) may not/can not know. The locus of control concept, however, shifts the connotation to a meaningful level. Instead of internal or external locus of control from the psychological sense, perhaps we are beginning to define how shared locus of control can speak to our purpose. At times, one might have “more” control than the other, but it is the commitment to sharing the locus of control that is most meaningful– gives a new definition to one of the existing c’s– collaboration. What better venue for learners to learn how to collaborate than beginning the collaborating process not only with other learners, but with teachers!

    • Angel, I think you are correct – too many educators hear “control” and think it is an all or nothing proposition. The switch is either on or off. However, I think that is ridiculous, and you capture what I think is a truer, more realistic notion of control. It’s a shared spectrum. A slider scale with almost infinite points along the spectrum. The teacher and students are in partnership and togetherness and continuously slide the marker as one or the others take and exercise more control in certain situations.

      However, if we zoom out and think about an entire school or education at large, then I think we get closer to what I was trying to say. If we literally counted the minutes that students are “in control” in an aggregate count across the school system, I fear that the counter would represent too small a number. Students would have 10-20% “in control” time. So, how in the heck do we expect students to develop authentic communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, etc. if they steer the learning ship so infrequently.

      When do many (most?) people say that they learn most profoundly? When they exercise much of the control over their learning. When they decide what to pursue, how to commit time to the hobby or learning endeavor. When the learner feels a high degree of autonomy. That’s what I yearn for in more schools. And it exists in so many places – that’s why I shared so many examples. It’s not a foreign concept. We can see it in action in so many different shapes and forms. But more school folks need to be asking and looking, in my humble opinion.

      • Absolutely! We need to continue to shift our lens in our analysis and dreaming. There are the in-class lens and the whole-school lens that both need attention.

  22. Bo,
    I couldn’t agree more with what you are saying. Although I suspect that your post is more about “choice” than it is about “control”. Control implies a fixed outcome, set expectations and when we set learning outcomes in stone (expectations) there are always impending frustrations. Choice allows for unlimited possibilities, it immerses you in the present and it naturally triggers critical thinking; more importantly, it highlights your passions. Control projects you to the future and in most cases emerges out of a need for “safety”. Choice suggests autonomy and freedom to explore, freedom from worrying what the outcome is going to be. After all, it is in the process that we learn the most. Control rarely allows for relaxed learning.
    I imagine my children in the car. I don’t foresee giving them control over the car. They do not have the skills, knowledge or wisdom to manage that! I do provide them with developmentally appropriate choices that will make their experience fulfilling(hopefully) on all levels of their existence (mental, spiritual, physical and emotional).
    I also imagine a chauffeur who has complete control over the car he is driving but does not have a choice on where he is going. I wonder which he prefers?
    I hope to teach my children (both at school and at home) that life is about choices, not control. Making the best choices implies a thorough and precise knowledge the other “C”‘s. I think 20th century Education was about Control and 21st Century Education is about Choices. The good news is that they both start with C.
    Thanks for this thought provoking post. I always enjoy your thoughts.

    • Lisa,

      I so appreciate your challenge and pushback. THANK YOU! However, I definitely mean control. While I understand what you are saying, I think, I believe that “choice” resides in a circle surrounding a core of “control.” From this core of control (autonomy), the next circle is choice. Then, I believe the other Cs start to live and work in the next ring of concentric circles.

      In a typical classroom – one that many people would conjure in their minds just hearing the word – the teacher is “in control.” From such control the teacher decides, through choices made, how much control and choice to provide to the students. This is the underlying relationship in most places that people call “school.” My entire post is about teachers giving away more and more of that control to students. I believe that students must possess a much higher degree of control in their school lives so that they can have authentic choices and so that they can more genuinely develop and grow in the other Cs. The examples that I supply in that long bullet list are meant to illustrate that central point. All of those bullets show or argue for students being in more control of their learning. So that they are even in a position to make more choices.

      I hope you will find time to read my reply to Craig Lambert’s comment. While my comment is rough, I think the world of play provides so much context for what I mean about control. When children play and are allowed to play (imagine the playground or city park as just one example), they feel a level of control and autonomy that helps them develop communication, collaboration, creativity, character, etc. The children are more in charge in those settings. Typically, the adults sit at a perimeter or on benches (if they are not playing themselves) and supervise. They interject and coach when necessary, and they make suggestions to the children at times. But the kids are in so much more control. That’s one of the reasons kids LOVE to play! (Adults, too!) When they are in control of their play, children feel a sense of autonomy that resonates with them. This is the type of “control” that I believe with all my heart and mind that kids need more of in school. Project-based learning, design-thinking, the maker movement, etc. – ALL of those share a core of putting student learners in more of a student-centered control role.

      I love and appreciate your analogies. Of course, I don’t think my 6 year old should drive my Toyota Tacoma in the city of Atlanta. (I have let him drive in the country!) There are certainly appropriate levels of control to give children, and the development of the child and context of the situation are critically important. I agree and regret if I implied otherwise. However, at a developmentally appropriate time, what do we do with/for children who are 15-17 years old. WE PUT THEM IN THE DRIVERS SEAT! We let them practice being in control. We DO NOT sit them in desks and lecture to them for years about driving – how the accelerator and brakes work, how the mirrors work, how the steering works. We let them DO. Riffing on your metaphor, I think that we should be letting younger kids “drive” more in their schooling.

      Thank you so much for helping me think more deeply about this. Am I making sense?

      • It’s no wonder I cannot come to terms with your word-choice, some dictionaries have 12 entries for the word! If you add culture, context, experience and perspective; it is difficult to relinquish control (pun intended) over my understanding of the word. Essentially, I think we are saying the same thing. Where you say Control, I see autonomy, freedom, choice. There is a big difference, for me, in the phrases “control” and “in control”. “In control”, for me, is a reflexive state, where the subject performs and receives the action. “Control” has two agents, the subject who wants to control, and the subject/object who is being controlled (it doesn’t have to be a tangible object).

        Theoretically it is easy to pursue, but giving the students more “control” is a huge paradigm shift. Especially in a society that is so controlled by “reason”. The mind, in Western society is the main vehicle for receiving and processing information. Children, especially at the younger ages, do not exist solely on a rational level. They use their bodies, their emotions and their intuition (spirit) to process information and make decisions. Are we truly ready to be transformed?Are we ready to give up our notions of how we think the world works? Are we ready to give our minds a much needed rest? As George Bernard Shaw said “If you cannot change your mind, you cannot change anything.”

      • Lisa,

        I am so thankful for your comments! What a blessing it has been to interact with you and co-think with you (virtually) for the past few weeks. I am hoping we get to talk in person and work together in some capacity soon.

        I do think that you and I are largely saying the same thing – from the interactions here and before, I can see how we are exploring the same fundamental ideas, albeit with attempts to develop shared language. It’s in the nuances that all of the really interesting and deep thinking can happen. From this depth of exploration, I believe strong action can follow.

        When you say you see “autonomy, freedom, and choice” in my use of “Control,” you are correct. I am intentionally and pervasively pushing the word because I do think the core issue is a willingness to CHANGE practice and dance in partnership – teacher and student – with control. The scales are typically tipped way too far to teacher control. So, students lack some requisite and necessary autonomy, freedom, and choice (CONTROL) because they are not allowed to exercise such control. Again, I hope the examples in the bullet list help flesh that set of bones. I LOVE your phrases about “control” versus “in control.” One of my grad school professors used to engage my cohort in hours-long discussion around the myths of control, and we talked about this very distinction you raise. It’s interesting to contemplate this in the context of “the classroom,” isn’t it?!

        I am ready for the paradigm shift. I am ready largely because of my personal experience with this. For the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years, I co-facilitated a course called Synergy that I had designed and co-designed for three years prior. Synergy is a non-departmentalized, transdisciplinary, community-issues, problem-solving course for 8th graders. It was non-graded and heavily assessed. It was PBL to a very high degree. It was my experiment with putting all of this talk into practice. And it was life changing for me. It caused me to look for other examples and prototypes, and I don’t think I can ever be the same again. I believe that students must have more control over their daily learning in school. Too much is controlled and dictated by the teacher. I was one of them. If we really expect learners to develop those 7 Cs, they have to be practitioners, and that means allowing them more ownership, more autonomy, more freedom, more choice, more engagement, more investment, more self-motivation — more control.

        My research, practice, experience, and career move has changed my mind about the level of autonomy students should have in school. I think all of the major school reform efforts are working under this same large umbrella. And I love that.

        THANK YOU! I so appreciate the pushing and challenging and co-thinking.

        Bo

      • I wholeheartedly agree with you (even with the word control, ha!) and I am enthused by your passion and dedication. It is important to do the work we talk about, to put into practice our theories. I can imagine how life-changing your project was for you and your students. It also sounds like you are a parent who listens with a quiet mind. The wisdom your children give is unique and irreplaceable and full of guidance (I am sure you have already figured that out).
        I am happy that I have aligned with an environment that allows me to experiment and innovate daily with the students. Luckily, I do not feel controlled by external agents, and while it is very liberating and exciting and a dozen more positive adjectives, it is also a daily in depth exploration/analysis of how serious I really am about what I muse and theorize about. I must walk the talk! The hardest part? Overcoming my own mental paradigms of what is “acceptable” and what is not. Being “in control” in the most loving and accepting way of my humanity. I have to be very disciplined about choosing the right thoughts to guide my journey of innovation in the classroom. The current physical set up of classrooms demands teachers have a high emotional IQ, otherwise they will revert to control (and bullying tactics).
        The best part? The unexpected, uncontrollable twists that are overflowing with new information and ideas and the excited faces and bodies that run into my room every 40 minutes eager to spend time with me because they know I will not try to control them :)

      • What a beautiful continuation of a great conversation with you here today! Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate you sharing your “hardest parts” and “best parts.” Those are profound wisdoms and words to grow through. MVPS and the student learners in your care are so blessed to share time and opportunity with you to learn. I feel I can attest to that because of how much I enjoy learning from/with you in this virtual space.

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    • Yes. And I am hoping and praying that people will ADD other examples. This quilt should be crowd-sourced. We need to “play” with what this looks like, sounds like, feels like, so that we can further develop a shared understanding. I am so thankful and grateful for the responses here this morning.

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    • Rola,

      Thank you for your concise comment that is so full with rich thinking and wisdom. I completely agree. I think learning goals and reflection are essential in this learning work. I also believe that the control of which I speak is the source of that self-motivated responsibility and flow that you share in your second wonderful sentence.

      Bo

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  26. Bo, that quote from P.J. just kills me. Honestly, I am emotionally triggered. What I’m feeling is mad, sad, and scared. Marshall Rosenberg writes about basic needs that are universal to all humans (regardless of age). When these needs are not met, we feel unpleasant emotions. I’m guessing my need for equality is not getting met when I read your son’s quote. In a significant way, he is not being treated as my equal because his need for choice or autonomy is not getting met. And I suspect many of his other needs are not getting met.

    I think you’re right, Bo. I think there may be one “C” to rule them all and it’s control. What’s frustrating to me is that as a young person, I could sense that something was amiss, but I didn’t possess to awareness or knowledge to identify that my sense of control was absent. My need for autonomy was not getting met. I think most people, and especially young people, are unaware of their needs, so instead people feel miserable and they don’t even know why. Furthermore, most people don’t know how to make requests for what they need. I suspect many people have learned the hard way to shut down their request-making ability.

    Here’s the solution: Each individual develops the ability to identify their feelings and needs and express them without judging or evaluating others. In addition, we need to learn how to make specific requests that would contribute to our own well-being without it turning into a demand.

    For more about needs: http://www.cnvc.org/Training/needs-inventory

    For more about feelings, needs, and requests: http://www.amazon.com/Nonviolent-Communication-A-Language-Life/dp/1892005034/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363861249&sr=8-1&keywords=nonviolent+communication

    • Craig,

      I so appreciate your reblogging, retweeting, and commenting here. Through our regular get togethers, I have come to deeply respect and admire how much you read and think about this very issue and those related to this core issue.

      As my friend, I appreciate your empathy for me fathering the response that PJ gave me about how he has come to see school. Some who know of me might think that I rant and rave about “school” around the house, but I truly do not. I actually love “school,” but I think it is in serious need of some fundamental overhauls, innovations, and remodels. It does make me both sad and mad to think that my second-grade son has already formed a distinction in his mind that puts “school” in the “lacks-autonomy-and-control-for-me” category. School should be MORE a place and community that empowers learners to explore and discover. This role of explorer and discoverer necessitates more autonomy and control. I believe that’s why kids adore play so thoroughly. They possess a higher degree of control when they play. They are much more in charge.

      When I think of all the Fisher Price and Legos that I play with my sons, they love that sense of control and autonomy. They can build what they want. They can lead the action figures and toys in scenes and scenarios of their choosing. But that choice comes from a core of CONTROL. My boys feel in control of that play and role forwarding. From such control comes choice. From such control comes their spontaneous experimentation with communication (making the action figures talk, for example), their spontaneous prototyping of creativity and contribution to the collective (we are all playing together), etc.

      School could be much more like this. In fact, it’s not a novel idea at all, as you know as well as anybody. That’s why I tried to include a relatively big list of examples. There are countless school/learning programs that run from this core belief about control. But many of the schools in our country continue to operate at too large a percentage of teacher control. And yet we expect our learners to get the 7 Cs. HOW? To grow in those 7 Cs, we must transfer more of the control to students. Otherwise I think school will become more irrelevant to learners in this 21st C age.

      I love what you offered about NEEDS. To feel a certain degree of control over oneself and one’s learning is a primary and fundamental need. Teachers express their need for autonomy and control. It’s ironic to me that those who are most vocal about this need don’t realize that their students have the same passion for such a possession in their own lives and learning.

      If we all could develop that mutual dialogue you mention – expressing our needs without others taking defensive setback.

      Thank you!

      • One particular comment you made to Craig’s impassioned reply resonates: “But many of the schools in our country continue to operate at too large a percentage of teacher control. And yet we expect our learners to get the 7 Cs. HOW? To grow in those 7 Cs, we must transfer more of the control to students.”

        It makes me wonder if the issue of control extends beyond the classroom. Pat Bassett, who’s been such a forward leader for many of us, articulated the Cs that every learner needs to possess. Administrators latched on to them and asked teachers to help the students obtain these Cs. So we’ve got the operational definition now for what we what students to exhibit. And you rightly ask, “HOW?” If we (and by that I mean the whole school chain of being: leaders, administrators, teachers) model the Cs, we will by definition be forced to give up control. Curiosity cannot breathe without autonomy. Communication cannot grow without inquiry. Creativity cannot emerge without freedom.

        You (and Grant) have helped me to understand the necessity of systems thinking. To affect change in one area demands and implies change in another.

      • “Curiosity cannot breathe without autonomy. Communication cannot grow without inquiry. Creativity cannot emerge without freedom.” That is beautiful! Thank you! You have helped me think about this more deeply.

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