George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why do educators think they have to give everything away?

Why do educators think they have to give everything away?

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This morning, "Women Need to Stop Giving It Away For Free" ( came across my Facebook feed. The conversation (and the article) focused on business, but it raised some interesting questions for me as an educator, a coach, an author and a presenter. I'm often asked to do things for free--sometimes I even ask for the privilege of doing so because I support the cause and I believe in sharing good ideas. More and more, though, I'm wondering about this as a norm in our field. In education, nearly no one (other than a handful of big names) gets paid to present at conferences or to publish in the mainstream journals or blogs. (In fact, we often have to pay full registration fees to attend the conferences at which we present.) I wonder if this is because education is a female dominated field and we women are socialized to be “nice” above all else, and as a result we don’t demand that our work be valued at an appropriate level.

I mentioned this to a colleague online, who responded, "Education has been devalued for a long time and the profession has been disrespected entirely. Women (usually) give away their time and skill set as volunteers. Additionally, ed reform types make no bones about seeking free labor (TFA) and and/or people interested in "giving back". As if giving back pays the bills! They say they want to bring "best business practices" to the field, but what other industry relies on free labor, underpaid staff and volunteers?!"

So, on the one hand I want to make sure that everyone gets what they need. I’ve often bent over backwards to ensure that potential clients weren’t priced out of services they needed. On the other hand, I wonder if the whole "You'll do it for free if you really care about kids" meme plays on the expectation that women (and those who work in fields traditionally dominated by women) will put the needs of others above their own. In either case, the result is the same--we give away a great deal of valuable time, hard-won expertise, and resources.

What do you think? How would things change if everyone was paid for the expertise they share? Why do we still tolerate--even encourage--this practice as part of the culture in education?

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Laura!

I do see this all the time- and it throws a wrench into many conversations. On one hand, people will say they got into x job, all about y, in education or other fields, but once the talk of money and compensation comes up, people start to feel differently immediately. There's actually a great discussion about his in one of Dan Ariely's great books, Predictably Irrational. Part of it is that it takes the social obligations we have to one another- raise kids, volunteer, make the community livable- and makes it a colder, business like transaction. For example, if you had to pay everyone for the goods they gave you for a bake sale, there would never be a point to having one, and it neglects the factor of ownership and community that comes with contributing to a larger cause.

We just have to make sure that caring does not equal money in all sectors- you don't measure a Grandma's love by the size of her present or the quality of her cookies, and the same is true in any venture. Money is needed as an exchange of value, and if what you have is valuable, they should feel its worth paying for.

This does mean, though, we have to stop being afraid of valuing education. Sharing lesson plans for free is great, but is it reasonable to charge if it's saving someone else time and energy? Probably- people spend money to solve problems, save time, or support causes they believe in. What we have to be willing to do, across the board, is assign values, including monetary values to our sweat equity and not to be afraid of that. With friends, often this can be awkward, but if they respect your expertise, they should offer to pay as well, as a sign of respect at the very least.

I do think we undervalue experience and expertise in education, the same way everyone who went to school thinks they are an expert because they have a shared experience, not because they could actually teach in the classroom. This may be the biggest issue in education across the board- learning to value it for what it does for the students participating, and for expertise needed to do it well- but that also means educators have to be willing to show and demonstrate their value, which means the dreaded quality improvement measures and metrics.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Hi Whitney!
I agree that there are times we do things for free because it's a service choice- I've surely baked my share of cookies and was the social media/ communications coordinator for the PTA for a few years and I give away a lot of materials and resources to Critical Skills teachers who need them. I think there's something different between that and the manipulative "do this for me for free because it will give you 'exposure'" meme that I hear a lot. I guess it has to do with reciprocity. If I'm exchanging services with a colleague- presenting at one another's conferences, swapping links or shares via social media, then we're both getting a benefit. What I'm wondering about is the idea that educators should be satisfied with the privilege of giving away their work via conference presentations and publications in journals and blogs where there's no shared benefit.

It just sticks in my craw somehow.

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