Quit complaining–it’s free!

Once again I’ve been astonished and overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers. The world is a marvelous, sharing community, via the Internet.

No, I don’t mean that sarcastically, even though my close friends know what a grumpy cynic I am. I mean it sincerely.

Yes, there are individuals who are greedy—hoaxsters, thievers of data and identities, takers of what they don’t create, manipulators of the trusting, purveyors of dubious knowledge, and creators of questionable websites—

But there’s enough written about them so I don’t need to add to the complaints. And we don’t need to spend any time describing how governments are selfish and greedy.

Because I’ve discovered that individuals are not.  

I want to praise the rest of the community: those who upload useful (and silly) videos to Youtube; those who explain difficult ideas in almost plain English on Wikipedia (and allow me to adjust the grammar of those explanations); those who write blogs that uplift, inform, that share successes and failures that the rest of us can use (occasionally in our own blogs).

It’s truly remarkable, this fantastic sharing of ideas, applications, programs—all for free. Never in the history of the world has so much richness been offered for nothing.

Don’t believe me? Tally in your head how many times you’ve benefitted from someone’s generosity. Honestly evaluate just how much you’ve taken from others via the Internet, and how much others have offered up freely. 

Here’s my list from just the past few weeks: 

    • Downloaded two programs for recording and manipulating audio;
    • watched hours of Youtube videos teaching how to record audiobooks;
    • copied links from a dozen websites for understanding grammar (for my online composition course);
    • gathered countless clever memes and quotes from additional websites to share with high school students to make the course more entertaining;
    • pinned recipes for gluten free cooking;
    • researched strategies for teaching autistic kids history;
    • sought advice on specifics of writing novels;
    • looked up dozens of details about things I don’t really know: from breeds of horses, to how sedation works, to how the ancients made black powder (writers have worrisome search histories);
    • read five newspapers and online magazines a day.

I also joined two online communities where I post naïve newbie questions and am given remarkably kind and helpful responses back.

In the past I’ve asked cooks, parents, writers, carpenters, decorators, and techie types for advice, and these people—who I’ve never met and never will—graciously take a few minutes to offer their ideas and solutions. It’s absolutely remarkable how we can enter nearly any online community or respond to a blog post and are treated like colleagues worthy of attention.

Twenty years ago none of this existed. We have a hard time remembering that.

I love that I found this on Google.
For free.

When I worked on my master’s thesis, I took up second residence in the library trying to track down obscure documents that some other grad student was hoarding.

Just today my daughter, herself in a graduate program, called to say she was doing background reading on Wikipedia to learn about an obscure concept, and found in the footnotes a link to a publication she’d been looking for for weeks.

It’s almost like cheating.

My teenage son, whose computer has developed some issues, chatted with more experienced programmers in various parts of the world, and is now fixing his computer. And none of these experts are charging for their expertise.

It’s almost like stealing.

But it isn’t. It’s offered in the pure spirit of cooperation.

Now, I’m not stupid. I know full well there are many out there not nearly so altruistic, but instead parasitic. But this post isn’t about them. 

It’s about the 99% who don’t fit that profile. I also refuse to listen to the cynics who may roll their eyes and offer me a lecture about how we’ve become a “detached society” more interested in our online relationships than we are our face-to-face ones.

I admit there’s a bit of a distraction there, but likely because we now have entered into a fascinating global community and have discovered that we are not alone in our worries and problems, and that there’s enormous satisfaction in helping someone else along with the solutions we’ve discovered.

With a little discipline we can bring back our awe-struck attention to those physically in front of us, but I think we can also be forgiven for being just a little amazed by it all.

It’s that ease of connection that’s so staggering. I’m tickled when someone messages me on Facebook or via my website asking for suggestions on something I know a little bit about. Quite often I’ve never met these people, or knew them once only a long time ago, but here we are–communicating. I feel an extraordinary sense of satisfaction by being able to help someone else, even if I barely know them.

Such a fluidic society of ideas and sharing has never before existed, although Plato and Sir Thomas Moore wrote about or imagined smaller, idyllic utopian societies where everything was shared communally. The scholar Hugh Nibley researched and wrote extensively about the ancient City of Enoch, and has described how beautifully such a society could function, eliminating the vast majority of problems we experience now.

I’ve also researched attempts of communal sharing and living in more modern times (Brigham Young tried to get 19th century Mormons to establish Zion, and in some ways it was quite successful, until the good old vices of jealousy and pride undermined it). Yet I believe we’re heading in the direction that Gene Roddenberry tried to demonstrate in Star Trek—a community that’s more concerned with sharing knowledge than it is in acquiring money for that knowledge.

Some time ago I read how programming junkies realized they produced better work when they weren’t given a paycheck for their efforts, but instead were going to make that work available for free on the Internet. Working under their own names, instead of a corporation, and knowing the project rested solely on them propelled them to generate far better applications.

I find it interesting that the current trend of so many books and movies is to show a dystopian society, while this utopia of sorts has developed on the web. More interestingly, this sharing movement has been individual-run, not government-inspired.

I’m being more optimistic than this today.
(And again I love that I found this on the Internet.
For free.)

Each person decides on his or her own to start a blog, become a mentor, contribute to a project, or make a video. In fact, it seems that all great social movements begin on a personal level, never a bureaucratic one.

Perhaps it’s fitting, though: this utopian nature on the web just may create a dystopia for government as we know it. (Hey, I can hope.)

The true beauty of this free-for-all attitude is that it’s infectious: I don’t see the trend reducing but growing. I don’t know if there’s any data on this, but I believe that creativity is exploding. More people develop, write, photograph, cook, renovate, recycle, and innovate than ever before. On the Internet we find a forum and a community that we can influence.

On second thought, it’s not infectious—it’s magic!

So much so freely shared encourages others to share as well. Because I’ve benefitted so much from others, I also offer what I have for free as well. While my books are for sale on Amazon, I will always have free downloads on my website, and hope to add free audiobooks via Podiobooks in the next few months as well.

This utopian-style of sharing is a marvelous notion, but certainly not without its drawbacks. Problems with these freebies exist. Directions aren’t always correct, products aren’t always the best, mistakes are made (see the various pinterest-fail sites for evidence) . . . But I think overwhelmingly people are sincerely just trying to help each other.

And they do, in far greater ways than any corporation, government, or agency could ever hope to accomplish.

So I’m disappointed when I hear people complain about changes on Pinterest, Facebook, and other social media sites, or when people whine (yes, whine!) that a program is occasionally glitchy or a download wasn’t quite what they expected. To hear them go on and on, you’d think they’d been bilked for thousands of dollars and then handed a flaming bag of excrement.

I want to shake them by the shoulders and ask, “And how much did you pay for that service? That product?”

Nothing.

That’s absolutely incredible.

Whose children are those?

“[T]he children belong to all of us.”
~Paul Reville, former Massachusetts secretary of education, Common Core enthusiast, and Harvard professor

Mr. Paul Reville.
(And some of the kids that apparently belong to him.)

Mr. Reville (and I’m trying very hard not pronounce his name as “revile” in my head) recently stated the above about who the children of America belong to (read an excellent discussion in Forbes about this here), and as a mother of nine, I’m baffled.

What, exactly, does this mean: my children belong to the country? The government?

So you will now change my toddler’s diapers? Drive my daughter to lacrosse practice? Take my son to his doctor appointments? Why, thank you!

Will you now make their meals, help with their school work, and take them shoe shopping, one of the most horrible experiences a mother and child can endure?

Yes, I’m being facetious; you—whoever this nebulous “you” is that constitutes “all of us”—certainly don’t want the daily grind of parenthood.

So why does Mr. Reville and others claim to have part possession of my children?

This question has weighed on me for years now, and I think I have a few answers.

The short answer is, because they want the capital my child may potentially make.

That’s all it is: money. How much might my child be worth someday. Yes, I realize this sounds crass and simplistic, but I’m afraid it’s true. As a citizen who’s watched the progress of education since I was an education major in college 25 years ago (I gave that up to become a college instructor instead, at the urging of some of my professors), I’ve tracked the changes in theories, especially as they applied to my children.

I’ve come away with one discouraging conclusion: Public education is not about improving the humanity of our citizens; public education is about producing the best workers to make the most money for our country and our leadership. You see, good workers make more money, which brings in higher taxes, which means those with a stake in product development (i.e. Bill Gates, et al.) and government (primarily the federal) make more money.

The children belong to “all of us” because the children are needed to make those in power more powerful.

The End.
Yeah, dismal story.

And while it’s a true story, I refuse to let it be the story my children will be forced into.

Mr. Reville, and Melissa Harris-Perry who also believes that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to their communities,” you’re wrong.

You see, we are faced with an ideological split, here; I believe in God (yes, here it comes—I already see you rolling your eyes, but there are still a few of us God-nuts around, so you better learn to deal with us civilly), and I believe that God has sent my children to my husband and I. And I also believe that He has given us responsibility to raise them.

As a bold proclamation on families states, “Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another.”

Ah, there’s a sticky word: responsibility. You see, Mr. Reville, children are not possessions, they are not future capital, and they certainly are not to use for your own means.

They are personalities, ancient and precious, sent here to embark on a most remarkable experience: mortality. The purpose of mortality is to test their will, develop their understanding, and see what choices they will make in the face of trials and temptations.

You happen to be in the exact same situation—you, too, are an old soul trying on a new body and seeing how well you do in this remarkable Test.

But Mr. Revill, you do not own my children. I don’t even own them. They are my stewardship, which is a very different thing than ownership.

Stewardship requires an accounting to be made to Him who gave you responsibility in the first place. Mr. Reville, I fear that the only person you and others with your mindset think you are accountable to are yourselves. That makes you akin to your own god, and I can’t think of a single human that was ever a worthy god.

You may claim that my children belong to you, to the state, but I will not give them up without a fight, I assure you. Already I’m showing these arguments and theories to my children and telling them how “all of us” is trying to control their education and futures.

Yes, everyone, I freely admit it: I’m indoctrinating my children to what I believe is most accurate and correct. I call that “teaching.”

And public education, especially the kind that Mr. Reville is promoting, is also its own brand of indoctrination.

So my friends, we have a battle brewing—one that’s actually been around for thousands of years. Education and who “owns” the children is just its front; the real battle is about who has the power, and how much we’re willing to let happen until we begin to fight back against that power.

“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands, and at whom it is aimed.” ~Joseph Stalin (Yes, the bad guy in the Soviet Union)

Every revolt, every revolution, every call to arms has always been about power. And this time, the battle is beginning in our very homes and schools, by those laying claim to our children, and those of us refusing to let them go.

Lew Rockwell, a politician with whom I don’t always agree (I’m currently a political agnostic: I don’t really believe in any political party) nevertheless makes this excellent point:

“It isn’t a coincidence that governments everywhere want to educate children. Government education, in turn, is supposed to be evidence of the state’s goodness and its concern for our well-being. The real explanation is less flattering. If the government’s propaganda can take root as children grow up, these kids will be no threat to the state apparatus. They’ll fasten the chains to their own ankles.”

No, Mr. Reville; my children do not belong to you. I hope that someday their humanity, knowledge, work ethic, and values will benefit you and their communities, but those benefits will come because their parents were concerned first with raising people who respect God and feel a sense of stewardship to take care of the world and each other. Their purpose in life is to become warm, thoughtful, loving humans, not obedient worker bees. And Mr. Reville, I’m sure that in your old age, you’ll hope you’re surrounded by the former and not the latter.

In the meantime, please leave my children out of whatever schemes you’re devising, because frankly, I have no faith in you or in others that clomp around to the same dull drummer.

Consider these two thoughts  from another celebrated university professor, C. S. Lewis:

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

Parents–hold tight to your children. I used to think I only had to worry about shady characters driving slowly down my street holding out candy to my kids. Now, we have all kinds of folks trying to take possession of something none of us truly own.

     Perrin turned to his wife. “This morning I told you our most precious possessions were safe with Zenos. But they aren’t—”
     “Our babies AREN’T safe?!” Mahrree squealed, twisting absurdly to look behind her as if she could see her children sobbing from miles away.
     “Mahrree, Mahrree,” he chuckled, “I mean, they aren’t our possessions.
       Mahrree breathed deeply and patted her chest to catch her breath.
      “Sorry,” he kissed her on the cheek. “Zenos is fine with them, I’m sure of it.” His face grew solemn. “But it’s been pressing deep into my mind, ever since I called them our possessions. It’s just that . . . Mahrree, we’re told in Command School about the duties of soldiers and citizens. One thing we had to recite was that sending children to school was the citizens’ responsibility to the government.”
      Mahrree blinked at the odd phrase. “Our duty to the government? To hand over our children to their care?”
     “That was one of King Querul the Second’s statements, and the Administrators never abolished it. After all, citizens earn money which is then taxed and given to the government. In a way, the government—and it doesn’t matter whose—sees themselves as owning the people. They don’t serve us,” he whispered harshly, “but instead, we work for them. Without our taxes, they’re nothing. They’re especially interested in the children, because if they’re successful, then so will be the government. Or perhaps I should say ‘wealthy,’ instead of ‘successful,’” he grumbled in annoyance. “It all comes down to riches and power.”

         ~Soldier at the Door, Book 2