26 enero, 2011

The problem with "free"

It comes to my attention that nowadays, we often see the word “free” attached to courses, classes, lessons… in other words, learning… free learning…
First, I would like to point out that not every free thing is worthy, and not every free thing is actually free… in the US you can find couches, clothes, and all kinds of appliances with the tag FREE on it, that “free” stands for: Take this off my lawn/yard/garage, I do not want it or need it anymore… but there is a cost that comes with the freebie… yes, there is. Being an immigrant in the US, I did succumb to the idea of a promising free washer… so, I took it from my neighbor’s yard, pushing, pulling, carrying, and finally –exhausted- got it into my house… Surprise! It came with free –and unwanted- mice in it and… it didn’t work. I would have to declare myself as a (very) naive person because I fell twice for it: I was in need of a microwave oven and I took one from other neighbor’s yard only to find out that, besides its malfunction, it came filled with free roaches.
On the other hand, there are –of course- other free services that I found very handy: first of all, libraries; used to the (many) restrictions that libraries have in Mexico (you can only borrow three books for a week), I was overwhelmed with the service in the US, where you can borrow as many books as you want (wow!), and for three long weeks; in addition, you can also borrow cds, dvds, and magazines. Awesome, isn’t it? Well, American residents don’t seem to notice this benefit because libraries are noticeably empty. Furthermore, I had the (great) opportunity to attend Italian, sewing and painting lessons, and, guess what? They were practically free and with practically no students!
So, all these courses stressing and underlining the free part of it, as if money alone were the main problem, the issue to consider, or what kept people from learning, are, in my opinion, missing the point: free or non-free has never been the issue, or what stops people from learning, the issue has more to do with an open mind, willingness and hard work. Learning is and has always been free, what costs money (and most of the times a great deal out of it) is recognition, validation and status that come in the form of grades and titles… that is certainly not free… but, is it learning? Not necessarily.
For (too) many years, we have chosen to believe that we must attend a school, college, or university in order to learn, when we are –in fact and indeed- surrounded by knowledge (yes! free knowledge). Knowledge is everywhere and everybody is part of it. For that matter, we are all teachers and all students, and we all live in the most awesome an inexpensive school: the world.