Misquoting Adams on the UNESCO IIEP List

You may be somewhat surprised to hear that talk on the UNESCO IIEP list, set up for the discussion of open educational resources, has temporarily turned to the topic of open versus free versus libre again. 🙂 Here is my contribution to the conversation, in which I quote and than “adapt” John Adams…

I think the discussion about means and ends is the most important conversation we can have, and one we should probably schedule to have regularly (like once a month).

I believe the true end goal of everyone involved is to help people improve the quality of their lives. This goes beyond even education, because if we succeeded in helping people educate themselves, but they were still living in poverty, or fear, or malnutrition, or without basic political freedoms, civil rights, health care, etc., I don’t believe we would feel like we had succeeded.

Education is one (important) piece of a much broader patchwork of efforts we each make in order to try to improve our own lives and help our neighbors improve theirs. It’s part of a very dynamic ecosystem including political stability, economic stability, and access to a host of related “basic rights.” We need to keep this larger perspective in mind.

> Brendan said:
> Related to this, I worry that FORE, OER, OCW and Open Content are
> becoming the “end in itself”, rather than the “means to an end.”

I agree completely. Even though I coined the phrase “open content,” I would be more than happy to see the phrase disappear completely if it would advance our cause of helping our neighbors improve their lives.

While those of us on this list with academic inclinations may be interested in the subtle differences of definition and nuance between “OER” and “OCW,” or between “open content” and “free culture,” or between free, open, and libre, I can tell you first hand that our partners in Nepal don’t know the differences and don’t care to know the differences. They have infinitely more pressing needs. It reminds me of Maslow, or as it was much more eloquently put by Adams:

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

With apologies to Adams, we might rephrase:

“We must freely share and support basic educational materials and interactions, so that others may have the liberty to localize these or – inspired by our example – may freely share and support their own locally relevant materials and interactions, in order to give others a right to learn from these and leverage them in improving their own lives, so that yet others may enjoy the blessing and privilege of the freedom to argue the diction and semantics of the name of the movement.”

Brendan is right about why Creative Commons succeeds, though I might add a few items to his list of clear message, clear brand, single institution responsible, easy to implement, and everyone needs it. I would add clear and charismatic leadership in the person of Lessig and his books. But Creative Commons isn’t the only group that succeeds in this space; the FSF does as well.

It is important to note that the “providing a license” space is a competitive space. In other words, there are choices, people have options, and that’s a good thing. While we would love to see compatibility between licenses, none of us want to see CC or the GFDL or any other license go away. Choice is good because it creates competition and fosters responsiveness to what users want. Monopoly is bad because it takes those things away.

At the end of the day, the educational materials we create and share as open content / free culture / free content / libre content / OCW / OER / FORE / FLORE / other-labels-out-to-infinity will not be judged on their license or label. They will be judged on how effectively they teach, and how critical the content they teach is. Poor quality content about the childhood of David Wiley will be in low demand whether it is CC or GFDL licensed and no matter what it’s called. High quality content about purifying water or starting a small business will be in high demand whether it is CC or GFDL licensed and no matter what it’s called.

In other words, natural competitive forces will decide which of our content and services people choose. For 99.9999% of people in the world, neither the label nor the license is going to be the deciding factor. They simply want quality, relevant content.

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  • D'Arcy Norman June 11, 2007, 3:35 pm

    the constant bickering over free/open/libre is what made me sign off of the UNESCO OER listserv. more energy was spent defining every individual’s perspective of Free, than on anything actually productive. Felt an awful lot like the metadata specifications arguments from back in the learning object repository days. not only unhelpful, actively hurtful in that it distracts energy from the stuff that really matters (in this case, the ER, rather than the O/F/L).

  • Teemu June 11, 2007, 4:59 pm

    For me this sounds a bit patronizing.

    > “I must study politics and war that my sons may have
    > liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons
    > ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography,
    > natural history, naval architecture, navigation,
    > commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their
    > children a right to study painting, poetry, music,
    > architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”

    I have met many people whose aim of life is painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry or porcelain without “Adam’s basic liberties”. They never studies politics, war or commerce. They may not have “freedom” the way you and Adam define it – sometimes they may even suffer from relative poverty – but many of them are happy, anyway.

    I would claim that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is probably a better reference here than Adams. After the basic needs are fulfilled (physiological and safety) people should be “free” to fulfill their higher levels of needs (social, family, esteem by others, creativity) in their own way. And people are doing this (if the OER people are not forcing them to study “politics”, “war”, “natural science”, “philosophy” and “commerce”).

    I also have formulate a designers’ maslowian law. It goes like this:

    “Design solutions that are fulfilling some higher levels of human needs but same time violating people’s lower level of needs are unethical rubbish.â€?

    If putting children to school is a design solution to get them interested in politics, science of war or even poetry (higher levels of needs), will same time mean that they are not anymore contributing to the livelihood of their families (lower level of needs), school is unethical rubbish. If a laptop is giving child a chance to be “creative in a new way” (higher level of needs), but will same time cause problems in the family relations (lower level of needs) the laptop is unethical rubbish (in that context). Wars are most of the time fulfilling higher level of needs (self-esteem, power) and same time violating people’s lower levels of needs (safety). War is rubbish.

    > With apologies to Adams, we might rephrase:
    > “We must freely share and support basic educational
    > materials and interactions, so that others may have the
    > liberty to localize these or – inspired by our example –
    > may freely share and support their own locally relevant
    > materials and interactions, in order to give others aw
    > right to learn from these and leverage them in improving
    > their own lives, so that yet others may enjoy the
    > blessing and privilege of the freedom to argue the
    > diction and semantics of the name of the movement.”

    With apologies to Maslow we might rephrase:

    We must empower people to fulfill their and their communities basic needs, so that they may have the liberty to study and produce artefact which they’ll find relevant for their own life, in order to empower them to solve the further challenges they face in their life.

  • dnguyen February 14, 2013, 10:56 pm

    I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study paintings, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.

    It just means… do what you love…

    • dnguyen February 14, 2013, 10:56 pm

      You can be anything you want.