Sunday, August 27, 2006

#294 - Big Bad eBay?

I should know better, really. I'm on vacation, doggone it, and I should just know better than to visit email or blogs while I'm trying so hard to relax. (Relaxation, it turns out, is hard work. Go figure.)

Still, this item on ran me through the gamut of emotional responses, until my relaxation hormones kicked in and I was able to take a deep breath.

Seems the auction "behemoth" eBay (that's WND's description, not mine) has a policy that precludes the selling of teacher's texts, classifying them in the same category as drug paraphenalia and other such nonsense. This is, of course, of major concern to homeschoolers because many of them buy and sell curricula in order to keep their little home-based academies viable. So, on the surface, this policy smacks of prejudice against homeschoolers since most of them have no credentials or "proof of teaching employment."

Big deal.

eBay is, let's face it, a corporation. It has the same pressures to abide by certain rules and regulations as any other corporation, and because it has such high visibility throughout the community, those pressures are even higher than others may experience. In fact, it is widely known that eBay's policies have been modified from time to time precisely because their customer base complain - loudly - every time something questionable appears in an auction. And of course the definition of "questionable" changes every time this comes up.

So I was angry when I first read this article. How dare eBay dictate what we free-stylers can or cannot buy? What gives them the right to impede our God-given and constitution-guaranteed rights to educate our children however we darn well please?

Then I took the deep breath.

Of course eBay would have such a policy. Copyright laws are specific and dictate how certain materials may be transferred from one owner to another. But I don't really think copyright is the issue here. The issue here is guaranteeing that teacher materials - which contain answer keys and discussion texts that student materials don't - stay out of the hands of those students that are required to use their minds and study without such helps. It's really just that simple.

I certainly understand the concerns of homeschoolers who use eBay so widely to find those obscure hard-to-find texts, many of which are now out of print and unavailable elsewhere. The truth is, it would just be too hard for eBay to implement the kind of controls that would indicate who is buying what (privacy issues!), and whether the material is, in fact, sellable.

So homeschoolers must resort to other methods.

Mrs. Woody, for instance, has found many materials by dealing directly with other homeschoolers. Many of them advertise on their own personal websites and they assume responsibility for the appropriateness of their sales. Also, as the WND article pointed out, there are other sites that are more dedicated to curriculum sales that need - and deserve - homeschooler business. eBay is not going to lose sleep over a few thousand homeschoolers going elsewhere to find their textbooks.

What's needed here is a paradigm shift, and it doesn't need to be painful one. The homeschool community is not, by design, homogenous. We are joined only by our mutual desire to teach our children in ways that public schools either can't or won't. Otherwise, we tend to work alone or in very small groups. No one homeschool or group is exactly like another. There are as many ways to teach our children as there are children to teach, and no one method or curriculum is the most correct. What we need, as homeschoolers, is a better way of networking to keep our options open and available when it comes to keeping ourselves supplied with materials.

Such things have begun to take root. What's needed is better coordination, without the burdens of commercialism that inflict many of the bigger homeschool-themed organizations. Even the Homeschool Legal Defense Association suffers from this commercialism. Once you begin to act in behalf of the greater good, it seems, your altruism tends to disappear and you begin looking and acting like a corporation. "We are actively working on a solution," they say. Big hairy deal. Give me some detail, guys.

Anyway, I have no specific answers at the moment, but give me time. Paradigms don't shift overnight. Those texts are out there, begging to be used, and needed desperately by homeschoolers around the world. Let's get them into play as soon as possible.

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