Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Winnie Hu on Selling Lesson Plans Online

The New York Times had an article on Sunday about the growing number of teachers who sell their lesson plans online. The article, by Winnie Hu, is here.

According to Hu, some school districts are pushing back on the practice -- or at least arguing that the district should share in any revenues that are generated:
"'To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it’s fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds,' said Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents."

Whenever teachers can share ideas and techniques with each other, it is incredibly valuable. It's great that teachers are sharing their lesson plans online (this was just starting to happen when I was at Robinson; it sounds as though it's totally exploded now). To the extent that there's a market for the plans, I say by all means teachers should be allowed to reap the benefit of their hard work. I guess there's the potential problem of teachers selling plans that aren't in fact theirs, but that's a legal question as opposed to an educational one.

One of the difficulties/frustrations with teaching is the lock-step compensation -- working ten times harder than the teacher next door who's relying on fill-in-the-blank worksheets, but getting no validation for your efforts (at least no financial validation -- there is of course the intrinsic reward). If selling lesson plans rewards the teachers who put time and energy into making great plans, then I think that's a nice subtle pinch of capitalism that could have a positive effect.

There is, I realize, a comeback to my argument: the educational setting should not be corrupted by the profit motive; Hu's article cites to Joseph McDonald to articulate the problem with selling lesson plans:
"Beyond the unresolved legal questions, there are philosophical ones. Joseph McDonald, a professor at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University, said the online selling cheapens what teachers do and undermines efforts to build sites where educators freely exchange ideas and lesson plans.

'Teachers swapping ideas with one another, that’s a great thing,' he said. 'But somebody asking 75 cents for a word puzzle reduces the power of the learning community and is ultimately destructive to the profession.'"
And yet, aren't college professors rewarded for their individual contributions to scholarship and learning? Does it corrupt their profession?

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