I was upset yesterday to learn of the suicide of Aaron Swartz, the founder of Reddit and RSS particularly so because it ties into society’s debate about internet freedom. Swartz had been charged by the US government essentially for stealing academic papers in an attempt to make them freely available.
I find this somewhat disturbing as for the most part the taxpayer pays for academics to conduct research which is then published in private journals for which the taxpayer must pay again for access.
Even worse, universities pay faculty to conduct and publish research which is given away to the private publishers for free, and then purchased back from them by the university to put in the library.
This is just perhaps one more facet of the education system that is desperately in need of innovation. While some attempts at innovations such as the flipped classroom model, massively open online courses, online textbook publishing, and open journals have been tried it is still a very closed system.
The system protects who gets in, who gets out, how they learn, how they teach, research and publish. Because it is publicly funded we should deserve more but the system is entirely closed, expensive at every entry point, and self protecting.
Aaron’s death is a pathetic reminder of how a closed system can bully those who try to innovate from within or without.