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.

5 comentarios:

  1. Hola Vero, está muy bien la entrada, interesante

  2. Verónica Vázquez Zentella you are right, schools are institutions for selecting and grading, and the teaching is not the primary task of the school once said an educational sociologist.

  3. Thank you for comments, Jaap. I'm glad we think the same way: the educational sociologist, you and I.

  4. I do think another role to add to what schools provide (or at least should provide) and that is curation. Information is plentiful, but who has the time to sift through it all to figure out what is useful and what is not. And especially as a novice, how would you know what is good and what is bad. Educators provide a service when they curate information - they select a few useful bits and provide annotations and commentary - suddenly, the novice is no longer lost in the sea of information, rather they are able to learn from the selections of an expert.

  5. What complicates matters is mobility of professionals. In order to write registration examinations and to be able to compare programs amongst different countries, there is a requirement for certain courses, course hours, labs and clinical hours as well as language proficiency testing. There has to be a certification process for public safety - to ensure practitioners are competent to practice. The free learning all around us is enrichment - it gives people more tools, a more unique knowledge base.


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