When a people find themselves more fully possessed of opportunities to exercise their rights as human beings than another; when a society becomes aware that it is in possession of greater comforts and enjoyments than another; and when at this same moment these prospered people come to understand that it is within their power to extend these same opportunities to those who have before been without them, a solemn responsibility comes to rest upon those more empowered.
This solemn responsibility is the context in which we work.
How are we to fulfill our duty to humanity? Many suggestions have been made. As have many others, Truman simply and concisely expressed the two most important characteristics of any such effort:
“Only by helping the least fortunate of its members to help themselves can the human family achieve the decent, satisfying life that is the right of all people.”
“The material resources which we can afford to use for the assistance of other peoples are limited. But our imponderable resources in technical knowledge are constantly growing and are inexhaustible.” Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Address
We first affirm that the exercise of force or compulsion will find no home within our efforts. We have neither the moral authority to compel anyone, nor the practical capacity to compel everyone. We believe that when met by genuine opportunities to improve their own lives, many people will respond by seeking to exercise those opportunities.
Our work, then, is to do our part to create these opportunities.
We second recognize that the nature of knowledge is unique in that one need not discard an idea to share it. Unlike material goods that must leave the custody of one to enter the custody of another, when knowledge is shared from one to another, both end the conversation in full possession of that which was given.
Unfortunately, the simple existence of educational opportunity alone will not improve the lives of many. There must also be freedom to exercise one’s right to education and incentives to exercise that right. This may require many social, economic, and political changes that will likely interact with each other in complex ways. But the existence of these interdependencies does not require us to slow our efforts in sharing what we know. Indeed, now is the time, instead, to accelerate them.
The most sustainable work we can do to create these opportunities is to work to freely share what we know. And the most sustainable and appropriate way to do this is to first share how to share. This will enable those who choose to do so to be equal participants in a community of sharing rather than relegating them to the status of receivers and consumers.
Those of us currently engaged in the field we call open educational resources are not so important because of the content or software we freely share as we are because of the example we might set for others. In a time of almost unimaginable greed, we have an opportunity to show that helping your neighbor is still the right thing to do.
Our efforts will neither scale nor succeed until “freely sharing what you know” becomes common practice among common people, until common tools allow this common activity to reach into and out of every corner of the earth, until common sense prevails over common selfishness, and until the opportunities to exercise common rights and enjoy common freedoms displace needlessly common ignorance, poverty, fear, and hunger.
Though very ordinary in itself, this work will bear extraordinary fruit if we will take it up. The work is ours to do – let us do it!