Will they shake their heads?

“Knowledge is power” – Francis Bacon

I have always been a history buff. From a young age, I loved learning about the past, and particularly, the social and political movements of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that made way for the society in which we find ourselves today. Such times required people to stand up for what they believed in, because society, as it was, was unjust. People needed to protest, fight against all odds, and fight against a system that had been in place so long. Those times called for heroism, for the ‘small’ to fight the ‘big’, and they required people to believe so strongly in what they felt, that they would give up almost anything to see their goals accomplished.

Those times are not behind us.


Photo Credit: gianna omenetto via Compfight

There are still situations in our world that require us to fight for what we feel is right, and for movements that we feel are a necessity for a just society. That is why I started the Social Justice Club this year at my school. I knew that there were many of my students that felt as though changes needed to be made in our world, and they needed a platform to be able to share their beliefs and knowledge with the school. The Social Justice Club is slowly becoming their platform.

They are becoming inspired by those around them making a change for the better. We were fortunate enough to partake in We Day this year, just this past Wednesday. Hearing all the inspirational speakers with their stories of triumph and success, be it on a small or large scale, resonated with some of the students, and empowered them to make a change. The fact is, we can now have a more prominent voice than we could in the past thanks to social media. This was an obvious idea shared throughout We Day 2016. 

WE Day 2016 013.JPG

Picture taken during We Day Saskatchewan 2016

Ironic or not, many of my students want to speak to education rights across the world. They want to reference Malala, and how women in many developing countries do not have the same rights as they do in Canada. This, of course, is an important topic and one that should be addressed globally.

But they don’t need to look that far to find inconsistencies in educational rights and access. Something I didn’t even think of until this week, when I read our weekly readings and watched the incredible documentary: The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.

I am actually ashamed to say that I did not know this story before this week’s readings. Perhaps I was living under a rock in 2013, who knows, but this documentary made me think critically about our educational system, and the price we have attributed to it. Thanks to his blog, we got a brief glimpse into his mind and his thoughts. He openly shared his opinions through interviews, as well. His experience is yet another example of the  value and significance of online sharing; although it did, in the end, help lead his prosecutors down his path.

It’s interesting how sometimes you don’t question something until it is pointed out that it is wrong. Just as Chris Rock questioned why there are categories of male and female when it comes to best acting awards – an idea I never thought of before – Aaron Swartz questioned why we have to pay for educational materials or public documents. What should cost money, and what shouldn’t? How far can we push an unjust system without being pushed to the brink of our own sanity? 

Aaron Swartz outsmarted those in power by conceived “illegal” methods. He was branded a modern terrorist, to the likes of those committing identity theft and other types of computer crimes like Albert Gonzalez. They tried to scare him, force him into taking a felony charge, and push him away for the ways he tried to prove the inequalities that exist in relation to information and knowledge in our society. Although I would love to pursue the wrongdoings in modern-day justice systems, there are other parts of this documentary that I also need to explore.

“It is not enough to live in the world as it is” – Aaron Swartz. 

There are many elements of this documentary that I could speak to; I had to reflect upon my own feelings and ideas, and understand how I truly felt about the information I was presented with this week. I had to spend a lot of time reflecting, and reading some of my peers’ blogs such as Genna’s, Carla’s and Nathan’s (all great reads, noting the problems in our educational system and changes that need to be made in regard to information sharing) before coming to my own conclusions.

The cost of information and knowledge

5405109217_e2d5e0699dPhoto credit: J. Sibiga Photography via Compfight

As both Aaron Swartz and Danah Boyd noted, information costs money. To read scholarly articles in their entirety on websites such as JSTOR or SAGE, you have to either have an account – which costs money – or pay for the articles individually for prices such as 36 USD. This cost becomes a deterrent for the sharing of knowledge and information. It becomes limited to those who can afford to pay for the membership or the articles they wish to read, and marks a deep underlying line of who should be allowed to learn in our society. And who gets to decide the privileged that will have the opportunity to learn said information? Those who already have the information; those already in power.

I can’t help but think into the past of the time when education and literacy was a privilege, and not a deserved right (in reference to Canada only; many countries still have low literate populations). Only the rich would learn to read and only the privileged would have access to information. Are we any more evolved? Perhaps basic education has become a right in Canadian law, but access to all types of information is still not in effect. Our privilege is limited.

So really, the question is: what should cost money, and what should be given? We know that post-secondary education is expensive. We also know that it is practically a necessity. Even lower levels of education can be cost-heavy. Materials and resources cost money. So what can we do?

The importance of Open Education and Creative Commons

“Open education is a global movement that aims to bring quality education to teachers and students everywhere”. – Blink Tower

We can focus our attention on open education. We can contribute to this movement of bringing information to all for no cost whatsoever. We can share our knowledge, lessons, resources, and materials for free through the Internet with anyone who is in need. I know that I have taught many subjects about which I had little knowledge. It is thanks to the multitude of blogs, resources, and information that others have posted that I gained the knowledge I needed to teach my students what they needed to know.

We don’t need to share willingly without credit, either. Creative commons can be used to acquire free licenses that specify exactly what people can do with the information we are sharing with them, and how they can use it themselves. Lawrence Lessig speaks to this, and the idea that we need a balance between taking everything without credit, and sharing nothing.

“Creative commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and the use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools” – Creative Commons

The importance is to buy into this movement and take part. Our society can’t change unless we are willing to make changes ourselves. As teachers and educators, I think we can lead the way into a world of sharing of information; it is what we do on a daily basis. Not only do we share what we know with our students, but we share resources with each other, plan lessons together, and grow as a community of educators together. Twitter chats and google docs are just two examples of online sharing communities where teachers come together to expand their knowledge. We have to lead the way so others in different communities, where it may not be as easy (i.e. scholarly communities, where publication in one of those expensive journals is the only way to achieve recognition) to share, follow in our footsteps.

We can’t wait around for others to lead the change.

Information is currency

That being said, giving everything away for free is an optimistic – yet unrealistic – way of seeing the world. Karl Marx described a beautiful world of utopia when he noted the dire situation of his society, and yet even his views and ideas have been changed and manipulated to achieve different goals and dreams.

I understand that some make their livelihood off of their knowledge, and that information is our currency. What I hope, however, is that knowledge stop costing as much as it does. Exorbitant amounts of money should no longer be spent in trying to acquire knowledge. The cost should be simply to cover what is needed. What is needed, however, needs to be redefined in our society, and that is something for which I do not yet have an answer.

Is this just a Marxist-communal view of society? Or a possibility for the future?

What do you think knowledge should cost? For what should we pay, and how much should it cost? What should be free? How would we make this work in a capitalist society where knowledge and information are currency? 

Will our children shake their heads?  

I often look through Canada’s past and shake my head when thinking of past laws and rules. I don’t understand how any society could think it just to only allow those of certain gender, religion, race, or culture to vote (and I still don’t). I don’t understand why marriage was limited to heterosexuals (and I still don’t). I get frustrated just thinking of how society could be so unjust.

Yet will my children, and my grand-children, shake their heads when they read that information costs money? That only those with money could gain access to knowledge? Will our children look back at how we paid for education and tell us how ridiculous we were to not only live with these types of rules and laws, but to follow them without protesting?

I have always thought that if I were living in the past, I would have fought for the rights of women to get the right to vote. I would have fought for anyone to gave gotten the right to vote. I would have fought for French Canadians to have the right to a French education.

If that is the case, why am I not fighting now?


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One Response to Will they shake their heads?

  1. Pingback: Open the Web to Open Education | Ashley Murray

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