Saturday, June 09, 2007

Access to all the world's knowledge is a human right...

Here's a point of view I hold: Strictly in the context of the Internet age (and the promise of 21st century participatory cultures), our educational system is fatally flawed. (I'm really talking about the system that is in place from roughly the 4th grade through 12th grade.) Question: Can the "system" be fixed or is it doomed?

I believe our current K-12 system of education is doomed. I believe that, in the absence of the rise of a replacement system, the great "divides," starting with the digital and ending with the income, quality of life, and "creative" class, will be greatly exacerbated until society is heavily destabilized, risking the outcome of a ferocious 21st century version of fascism. The countervailing response to such an outcome requires an economic theory based on abundance (The Wealth of Networks), not scarcity.

As the internet has become widespread, growing numbers of people have seized the opportunity to increase their participation in education, entertainment, and volunteerism. The development of networked space brings society another step further away from the dark ages of Taylorism by increasing our faith that we can make something of our own volition that is valuable to society. (Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 5)

I believe that all human knowledge is rapidly aggregating on the Internet. This makes access to "the world's knowledge" and the means of social production an educational right, indeed a fundamental human right - available to every culture and individual, regardless of socio-economic status. Weighing the risks and opportunities should demonstrate that whatever perceived "risks" to learners (again, I'm speaking primarily about learners in the 10-18 age bracket), opportunities for self-determined learning through unfettered access to the Internet are far greater and more essential to human health, economic, and social progress.

The "free market" system is not to be trusted as an intermediary in this area. Our "free market" intermediaries remain bounded by fear and the threat of the shift of large segments of the population away from being manipulated "consumers" toward independent "producers."

The work I've been doing with students raises the following hypothesis: Access to the Internet is a human right, on par with the rights bestowed by the great Civil Rights Act and the rejection by civilized individuals of apartheid practices everywhere. Access should not be filtered or qualified, indeed it cannot be filtered and qualified by gatekeepers of a failed educational system. Removing all barriers to accessing knowledge and the means of social production in our educational system is the signal challenge of the next 5 years.

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