How I stopped worrying and learned to love the market

Well, there's hardly been time to stop for breath since our launch last week. Thanks to Cory and all the others who blogged about us - and welcome to everyone who's joined the School of Everything community over the last few days!

Reading through the online conversations, one theme that came up concerns the ethics of creating a marketplace for learning. The argument was put succinctly by a couple of commenters on BoingBoing:

I think promotion of the idea that hobbyists and enthusiasts should charge for their services is very poor... I believe that education should be free and that knowledge should be shared freely. Having highly-developed skills and knowledge doesn't make a person a good teacher, especially if getting paid is a motivation. - Lukus

Most teachers aren't in it for the money, and money will taint the process. - Dejamuse

The first thing to say is, School of Everything isn't just about getting paid to teach. The eBay for learning tag seems to have stuck, but we also plan on being the Freecycle for education...! We want to see more people making a living by teaching something they enjoy and more people passing on what they know for the love of it. The question is, can we facilitate both? Or does money inevitably drive out good will?

I think the answer depends on what kind of marketplace we manage to build. A few years ago, the Indian activist and academic Vandana Shiva gave the BBC's Reith Lectures. When an audience member challenged her 'condemnation of the market system', she replied:

I love markets. I love my local market where local "subgees" are sold, and one can chat with the women. The tragedy really is that the Market is being turned into the only organising principle for life... and it's the disappearance of other markets, other values that I am condemning.

Shiva's local market is a place where buying and selling go on, mixed in with all kinds of other activities. Crucially, your right to be there does not depend on your being a paying customer. Such places are fewer and further between than they once were. (Starbucks may offer a third place to hang out, but you're only welcome if you look likely to order a coffee.)

When so many areas of life have suffered from the dominance of the Market over other kinds of value, some people are properly suspicious of anything that sounds like the further marketization of (for example) education. For me, the challenge is to ensure that School of Everything has the characteristics of the local marketplace, embedded within webs of economic and non-economic activity.

What that means in practice is not simple - but I hope the fact that we're thinking and talking about it will give confidence to people who share our concerns.

(BTW, thanks to Daniel Munro for a thoughtful post which gives another angle on all this - and which prompted the title of this post!)