Oh the wonders of technology. I can grab my tablet, order a new book or curriculum, and have it on my doorstep next week, or sooner! If it’s a digital download, I don’t even have to wait for shipping because I have instant access to my purchase. The internet has truly revolutionized how we purchase our homeschooling materials. It’s also made it easier than ever to be less-than-honest in how we obtain them.
That "Free" Copy
It’s not exactly a new thing to pirate curriculum. There have always been some homeschoolers who would get together, purchase just one copy of a workbook, and then make multiple photocopies to save money. Everyone did that sometimes, right? It’s even easier with digital media. Whether it’s a song, movie, e-book, or digital textbook, there are usually pirated copies floating around somewhere online. What’s the real harm in saving some money by finding a free copy of your curriculum?
We may think that it’s not hurting anyone as long as we’re not outright stealing a physical item from a company or person. How does this fit in with Scriptures like 1 Timothy 5:18? “The laborer deserves his wages.” Creating media, whether it’s a book, workbook, teacher’s guide, film, or other resource, takes hard work. It’s often the result of more than one person’s efforts, and there is typically some cost incurred in the production of the resource. Specialized software or tools, research materials, graphic design, editing, the costs of maintaining a website, and so on, are all very real expenses that even digital content creators have to pay for. They invest their time and money into developing their product, counting on sales of the item to help them recoup that investment and pay the wages for the time they have put into it.
We’d like to think that authors, producers, and curriculum creators are wealthy enough that a few pirated copies of their work won’t hurt them financially. The reality is that most of these content creators rely on income from their products to pay the grocery bill or the mortgage. When it comes to homeschooling resources or curriculum, many times the people who create the product are themselves homeschooling parents. The business of producing and selling their resources is what allows them to pay their bills and homeschool their own kids. Stealing copies of their products doesn’t hurt a faceless millionaire, it hurts a family that’s a lot like yours.
I get it, really I do. We’ve been through some very lean years when coming up with curriculum was hard. It took a lot more time and effort to put together a curriculum plan for those years, and there were a number of items I would have liked to have that we simply had to do without. It can be so tempting to find a “free” copy of something online, even if we know it’s a pirated copy. If you and two other friends are all planning to use the same curriculum this year, it’s easy to justify pooling your money to buy just one and then making copies for each of you. After all, we want our kids to have the best possible education.
What message does it send to our kids when they see us ignoring copyright law and downloading pirated media? We’ve told them over and over that stealing is wrong, but our actions do not always reinforce that lesson. Our children are far more likely to learn from our example than they are from our lectures. Why should they respect other people’s hard work if we don’t? Can we really be surprised if they plagiarize a website for their research paper when our copy of the writing curriculum wasn’t exactly obtained ethically?
It is important for us to give our kids the very best education that we can. That’s often one of the big reasons behind why many of us chose to homeschool! Consider this, though: what have we gained if we used the very best curriculum for homeschooling, yet our children have learned unbiblical character traits in the process because of our example?
We do need to be mindful of the kind of education we give them, but our job as parents goes beyond academics. Our choices, our actions, our attitudes, all of these will help shape our children into the adults that they become. Certainly, God can help anyone overcome the challenge of a parent who set a poor example, but do we honestly want our example to be a challenge that our kids have to overcome? Wouldn’t we rather be a good example for them?
We have access to a wider variety of media than any other generation in history. It’s a tremendous gift, but it requires wisdom too. Setting an example of wise and ethical usage is important because it’s the right thing to do. Beyond that, it’s important because there are children that are watching us who will follow in our footsteps in this area, for good or bad.