Learning is not an opportunity for profit

Photo+illustration+of+a+textbook+covered+in+coins

Hannah Hoffmann

Photo illustration of a textbook covered in coins

Learning and cash. While no English class will ever teach you that these words are antonyms, it sure seems like they’re starting to be treated as the same thing. Apparently, it has become fair game to treat the pursuit of knowledge as a buying point, from completing assignments to simply reading some research—

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…thankfully, paywalls aren’t anywhere in the Pathfinder’s future. They also aren’t really a future prospect of how knowledge is shared, either. Because they’re already here.

You’re trying to access some satistics you really need for your English research paper. It pops up as you try to access the full text of the study: a nasty grey pop-up box covered in dollar signs. “You can’t access this text without a subscription,” it may say, “or a one-time payment of $39.95.”

While the paywall is different for each database and paper provider, the fundamentals are the same. An article, journal, paper or any other piece of information-sharing writing that had previously been peer-reviewed and edited completely for free is now only accessible by dealing out dollars. Often, paywall-blocked research is even publicly funded work. While open access journals certainly exist, a wealth of information still unfairly remains behind closed doors.

Humanity has come this far thanks to the fact that we, as a species, share. We share resources. We share experiences. We share the things that we’ve come to learn. I don’t understand why, in this period of human history where our advancements in the past couple of decades easily overshadow the advancement of past centuries, it seems like a good idea to keep potentially world-changing knowledge out of the hands of those who are genuinely interested.

We, as a species, share.”

Sure, writers and researchers deserve to be paid for their hard work. What we don’t need, on the other hand, is a research publication industry driven by a push for larger and larger profit margins on articles that were reviewed for free.

In another scenario, though, you don’t really feel like writing your English paper. You don’t hit the paywall, and you don’t have to deal with the fact that your ability to learn is then stuck behind a price tag. Something else, however, may quickly become more of an irritant: purchasable essays.

Ten dollars per page. Five bucks for an added bibliography in MLA. Want to have your sources cited in-text? Add another $2. The advertisements for such services are absolutely everywhere; amidst your social media feeds, in the spam folder of your school-provided email, on the sidebar of the websites you frequent. Thankfully, it’s blatant to the majority of students that buying a paper is a quick way to score a trip to the office of your grade level principal.

But even if your moral compass may be off-kilter compared to others, the prospect is still infuriating. An entire market based around the idea of playing off of the procrastination and laziness of full-time students, traits these assignments often help one come to deal with. The situation is worst when the student being advertised to is completely honest in their work: that even if you’re completely in it for the knowledge you’ll gain, a company would prefer to barrage you with reminders that you can throw any tiny bit of effort on your part out the window… for a price.

Even worse, perhaps you’re trying to figure out the correct way to complete, for instance, a certain type of math problem. You take to the internet to find the correct method of solving it, and your eyes catch the exact example you need. If you can see how this was worked out, you’ll be set!

Until you hit a different type of paywall.

What previously presented itself as the solution to your scholarly woes is now completely blurred out or obscured. “Sign up with [sketchy online education-related company name] today to see the full answer!” Evidently, that signup involves an exchange a currency, out of your hands and into the pockets of some digital company making bank off of student struggles. On further inspection, you’ll sometimes see that it isn’t even examples of schoolwork that’s being sold. Rather, many such sites are simply hotspots for the sales of already-completed worksheets, answer keys, and other easy outs.

And these are only three examples. Only three of the unending list of ways that education is being turned into even more an opportunity for profit than it was before. It shouldn’t be that anywhere an individual wishing to gain knowledge turns, it’s made exceedingly obvious that there’s an entire sector of business dedicated to asking how a quick buck can be made off of them.