This is an idea I have visited before, but in a slightly different context, but it circles around the ideas of cost (of education) and value (in this case mine as an instructor). Many artists I “know” in the virtual world make a living selling their knowledge, many offer online courses. I have never taken one, but as I “travel” in cyber space, their clients seem pleased with what they are getting for their money.

When I raised this issue before it was because an online learner had shared something they had learned with (presumably) a friend, who was not paying for the course. At the time I observed that I assume people who take my classes will share what they are learning, so I wouldn’t have a problem with this kind of sharing. Lots of others were upset by this, they pointed out that students pay the college, who it turn pays me for my expertise and teaching. It would be like people taking my college class for free – or me not getting paid. This is true. But I also feel that I have no control over the knowledge/skills I share with my students, and I know they share skills and ideas with each other. In a creative field, we as faculty encourage them to do this, so in essence I am not paid by everyone who receives knowledge from me. Of course what is really at the heart of this whole thorny problem is that knowledge here is a commodity, sold to the student. In my case the student also gets the credentials from the school to “prove” that knowledge. You could make a strong argument that in fact it is the credential they are buying, not my skill at all.

My credentialed knowledge cost me a LOT of money, and while I learned some cool stuff in college, I think arguably I could have learned much of it on my own in libraries and in my studio, although it would have been less enjoyable that the very personable interactions I enjoyed with many of my professors. I am still paying for my degree, and the degrees of two of my three kids,( the third starts in the fall semester – so her bill is about to come due also). I have smart kids, they got some scholarship money, they work part time jobs, but educating my kids is threatening to send me careening out of the middle classes. I am not alone.

This is not to say that I believe paying for education is a bad thing, I don’t. I was happy to pay for mine, and for that of my kids. But once the cat is out of the bag, well the knowledge was never really all mine in the first place. Now I teach online versions of two of my classes there is nothing to stop my students downloading my lectures and sharing them, of course the recipient of their sharing won’t get the credential of my grade, but maybe they don’t care about that.

I was thinking about the Renaissance too, about an apprenticeship – which was paid for, and the transmission of credentialed (master craftsman) knowledge to an apprentice. So paying for knowledge has been around in my field for a very long time. Except I strongly feel that much of the real learning then and now has little to do with the official subject – say how to correctly gesso a panel, and more to do with that elusive personality factor, and to the chaos of a classroom. The payment of a fee doesn’t help me connect with my students, that’s mostly chemistry (and hopefully some great lesson planing on my part), it just allows them to claim the credit for their work at graduation.

I wish I lived in a world where money were a less pressing issue, I’d be happy to give away everything I knew for free, once you teach someone something it is addictive, the rewards for seeing someone learn don’t come in my paycheck – that paycheck just (barely) keeps the world off my back so I can keep on sharing what I know.