The holiday season is here and I thought I’d take the opportunity to speak openly about something that has been bothering me for a long time – the selling of lessons/materials for teaching, online. I want to speak openly and strongly while reminding our community and teachers everywhere of the important “spirit” that runs through our profession as it does Christmas and the miraculous metaphor therein – giving without thought of receiving.

The last few months, there has been a lot of chatter about teachers selling lessons online. If interested, see this N.Y. Times article and this fine blog post and comments – for more details/background. Also, this radio show has some great interviews with teachers on the subject….

Selling lessons? I really don’t buy it. For many reasons I’ll outline but mostly from the standpoint that unless they are of AMAZING quality or offer something which is of “NEW” value – it is a rot that afflicts our fine profession – a profession that I care deeply about. So please forgive any harsh words I may utter. I have created thousands of lessons, materials for students/teachers. FREELY. I bring that perspective to the table. I may be an extreme example but I believe my opinion is in the light and will only benefit this world. Let me tell you why…..

First though, let’s talk about what education is. Let’s remind ourselves what the spirit of education is.

Education is not a possession or commodity.. It is a process and its meaning is in the etymology of the word “educare” – to draw out… It is about bringing to fruition the full potential and development of a person. This is done through awareness and knowledge.

There was a day when knowledge was kept in the bottle and this genie was a play thing of the rich and “noble” . However, slowly but surely, the spirit of this genie escaped from the bottle and spread around the world. Today, this spread of knowledge is gaining momentum. There is less “possession” and secret knowledge, less “pay or you don’t pass go” , less selling and more giving. This is only increasing with the internet and the power of social networking. Selling lessons by teachers eats at this spirit. It is not in the spirit of education and the hope that each child will be fed fruit from the tree of knowledge. Selling lessons is a sick way of trying to put the spirit of education back in the bottle – I reject that in the belief that education is a human right, for all beings. Enshrined in charters but most importantly, hidden and known in the heart of all humanity. It is the duty of every teacher to spread knowledge freely as a gift and not covet it.

Look around you! If you are like me, you will have books, food, toys, phones, TV, electricity, hot water…. Now ask yourself, how did this come to be? In a word – the free movement of ideas. I emphasize FREE.

Societies that allow for the free movement of knowledge and ideas flourish, those that don’t , rot (like the former USSR). Education is a vehicle for the transmission of ideas and knowledge. It is the main pipeline by which this happens. Selling lessons by teachers seems like a small thing but it leads to a slippery slope. We need to stop this and stop the clogging of this vital artery. I’d encourage all public boards of education to even persecute those teachers who sell knowledge as if water to a parched man in the desert. It is against the profession’s faith and the spirit of education.

But let me refine my microscope and be more specific about why I see “selling lessons” as an affront.

1. Teacher’s make the argument, “I don’t get paid enough” so this supplements my meager income. I politely suggest they look for a new line of work then. First, why cannibalize their profession? – aren’t they taking money from the same teachers that have the same “meager” incomes? Isn’t there a better way to go about getting a higher salary than the lowest denominator? Moreover, whose knowledge is it anyways? Teachers learn in their classrooms – the content/lessons they make are the sum total of their experiences. Are the teachers going to share some of the income with their students who contributed to this knowledge? Or the school board or their school? Who owns this knowledge? I’ll also add – if you feel you aren’t making enough teaching – look around the world and see how many are born into poverty and without an education – toiling for pennies a day. Your cries in this vein are to be mocked, I mock them and see the majority of teachers selling lessons as those not “in need” but who want a six slice toaster instead of a two slicer.

2. The best teachers make their own materials/content. This is a fact and conclusion I’ve arrived at after 18+ years of teaching. By making our own materials, we figure out the learner, we get into their shoes and see the learning process much more clearly. Selling lessons discourages others to make their own lessons. It really does and it makes and fosters a community of teachers that forsake sharing/giving and who harbor secrets like some “Masonic Lodge”.

Selling our lessons makes it less likely that others will share and create community and talk about resources. We need open doors to our classrooms and ideas, not a “pay and pass Go” system. How would all our wonderful workshops work if everyone just went there and auctioned off their ideas instead of sharing them?

3. Selling lessons is unethical. Yes, there I said it. It damn well is. Why? Well, especially in my field, TESOL, but also anywhere, there are millions of new teachers desperate for lessons and help in the classroom. Desperate! I was there and been there. So what do they do? They go online and buy, buy, buy…. There is no filter except the almighty dollar. Most get preyed upon and end up buying very poor resources that just keep students busy and not learning. The vicious cycle continues. Most who sell lessons — get income from desperate teachers who don’t know where to turn. It is as unethical to sell in this market as it is to charge $10 for a bottle of water after a hurricane (some tried during Katrina and were thrown in jail – why is it different in education?).

4. Selling lessons is plainly against the spirit of public education. If you want to sell, start your own store and take off the frock of “teacher”. Don’t be a Jekyll and Hyde. I firmly believe you can’t work for the benefit of just your own students – an educator is for all children/students. Our classroom no longer has 4 walls. The role of the public educator is to help those that need help. Truly, in our classrooms, our role is to help those who will have difficulty achieving. The high achievers in your class will succeed irregardless – our job is to help those who really need it. Selling lessons is against this spirit of giving and helping.

5. Time. Who are these lessons we sell for? How much time will we take away from our classroom while designing these lessons, tweaking them, styling/coloring them? Aren’t we forsaking our job by outsourcing in this fashion? I envision teachers being consumed with their “lesson selling returns” and less consumed by Johnny’s needs in the classroom.

6. Selling lessons eats away at the spirit of collaboration within education. It suggests we shouldn’t share and help. It spits at such fine endeavors as OER (Open Education Resources), Richard Baraniuk’s CNX (for low cost textbooks), Open Universities and so many other open source and educational sharing sites. I”ll return to my first thought – selling lessons clogs up the pipeline of knowledge. It shatters the view of a future where all students, all people will have access to knowledge and teachers will have access to the best of everything to help students. And at the end of this process, for the temporary pennies teachers gain, it undermines our own prosperity and future.

7. It isn’t necessary! There is plenty FREE out there and plenty of sites where you can get what you need for your teaching. Don’t feed this Moloch!

Wikipedia – Wow, what an idea! I’ll leave you with the message of its founder Jimmy Wales;

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet has free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s where we’re headed. And with your help, we will get there.