Education, Education Delivery Programs, Home Schools, Home-Based Education, Ivan Illich, Life Learning

Reflections on Illich 01: Home-based education is education in community, not in isolation

The 1970s work of Ivan Illich has been an important point of reference in my PhD dissertation.  In many respects, Illich understood a Biblical Christian approach to the education process.  I am hoping to comment on a series of quotes that are recorded elsewhere in this blog (Illich quotes) .  This is the first of the quotes.  The full text can be obtained:

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. xix  “Universal education through schooling is not feasible.  It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools.  Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.  The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

Here, as in other parts of Deschooling Society, Illich identifies that schools and schooling, because of their very essence, are unable to deliver true education.  Reformation of schools will not bring about the changes that are necessary to enable education to be accomplished.  Schools are, fundamentally, anti-education.  The thing that schools do best is school its attendees.

No amount of reformation, according to Illich — adjustments to the ways schools are constructed and run, changes in teachers’ attitudes to students, the use of technology in the classroom, and even a change in how students are engaged — will alter the outcomes of schooling.  Schools can only school.  And they can only school, and not educate, because they are total institutions that are designed to control every participant and process within them towards a stated end: egalitarianism and unquestioning submission to the state or some other dominating institution, i.e. an organized religion.  This is not an education, it is indoctrination.  It breeds narrow-mindedness, and an incapacity to think independently.

Schools are not to be reformed, they are to be abandoned altogether, and the vast resources that are taken from families and businesses (through taxation) to fund the schooling industry, should remain with the families and the businesses to fund home-based education and more financially viable private enterprise.

The proper context for education to take place, according to Illich, is living life: “the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”  And the support structures for a thorough education are “educational webs.”  Education must be in a context greater than the family.  The family is an essential base from which children move in and out.  Parents are important gate-keepers, who must vet and monitor the kinds of influences that their children are exposed to in the marketplace.  However, no parent is able to provide everything that the child needs for a well-rounded, reality-grounded education. 

There are three essential agents in an education, from a Biblical perspective.  The three agents are: the family, the church and the marketplace.  And the family needs to engage both the church and the marketplace as important sources of educational moments and experiences, not just lock their children away in a family fortress, as some (a small minority) home schooling families do.


4 thoughts on “Reflections on Illich 01: Home-based education is education in community, not in isolation

  1. ronald slyderink says:

    Thank you Lance for sharing your experiences, work and insights and inviting us to comment and discuss ways of enhancing the education of our children.

    I concede in principle with Illich that ‘universal education through schooling is not feasible’- not in its present form at least. Unfortunately, we use words loosely or in hidden senses where interpretation is open to misunderstanding and misuse. ‘Education’, ‘schooling’, ‘learning’, ‘teaching’ …can mean different things to people, and hence there is an essential need to define and clarify these concepts so we know what values, qualities or characteristics are emphasised. Even ‘home-based education’ needs a clear exposition of what is meant and a revelation of its ethical/moral/spiritual as well as pedagogical framework. ‘Education’ from a Biblical perspective is quite different from that of the world. ‘Schooling’ and ‘schools’ in the modern era is foreign to Biblical times. Even ‘unschooling’ and ‘deschooling’ schools and applied to its former students to think and teach differently from the school setting today, does not automatically lead to authentic education or biblical education.
    What we find and this is fundamental and highly significant I believe is that modern education and educational systems today in principle and practice are contrary and indifferent to GOD, they do not acknowledge him, his words and ways in principle and practice, in vision(in itself insufficient), in praxis, in life and living. When God is substituted and ignored or reduced to lip service, idolatry along with its cohort of sins is demonstrated which is highly offensive to God, and only harm and destruction can be expected to follow this path.

    So, although I agree with Ilich’s prognosis, whatever Illich proposes to replace it, it will not work either, as it substitutes or ignores or undermines God, the ‘fear of the Lord’ being the source of true knowledge, truth and wisdom, vital elements without which any ‘education’ will flounder and sink. Having educational webs and a philosophy of ‘learning, sharing, and caring’, noble and good as these sound (similar to the many ‘good’ vision statements of most institutions) they lack a vital ingredient – the power to implement and to do it, which comes from God the Holy Spirit indwelling humble, obedient, God fearing leaders, administrators, parents, teachers and children. It is God’s presence, the Holy Spirit that is the key to us becoming and being truly educated, and becoming what we were meant to be, to grow into the character of Jesus, to be and do what is for God’s glory and benefit to all, to use whatever skills and resources we have and given the opportunity to learn or be blessed with, to serve with. We serve and love just as Jesus did and showed us to redeem and restore us in union with the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit.

    For home based education to be successful in its primary task of Christian discipling, there has to be a courageous faithful leadership exercised under Jesus Christ, even apart from any organisational conceptually administrative structure overlying it (this is also necessary and to be developed). We need a Godly Spirit filled leadership (starting at home and connecting to the Body/believers and the marketplace) to help disciple children, to grow to Christ and grow in Christ, to care, share, learn, give, forgive, serve, save, invest, love, to bear fruit and do good. The context and outreach is the world, the home, community, church, the market place. Parents have a key role as they work and witness with and to their children. Can schools do this? Not if they persist in following the world and leave God out (and parents out as well). It would take a mighty change in the way schools operate and function at present, but God can still use them, if hearts are turned to him. Can homes do this? Potentially more so, but most likely not if parents are not led and empowered by God to lead their children in God’s ways. Although I agree that home based education would be a good model to develop and can be used to disciple children, its real success depends on to put it concisely, the Holy Spirit being active in the home with parents being subservient to Jesus Christ and loving him. Will that ensure children will love and faithfully follow and experience the love and grace of God to love and serve (primary goals of discipleship and education)? No, not necessarily as any person has to individually respond to Jesus by faith apart from any outside influences and they may not in spite of all the good of parents etc, but they will be given the best start possible by responsible and caring parents and projects and learning experiences that give opportunities to utilize and develop gifts and resources to serve with.

    Many children, under whichever educational system, will still to a degree be able to learn (albeit disjointed, fractured and stunted) various ideas, communication skills, other skills, that may help them ‘progress’ and function in society and give them opportunities to improve their lives, and they can learn this to varying extent in schools or the home, but it comes at a cost. The greatest blight against schooling, as I have experienced it as a teacher, Head of Science and Principal in state, private and Christian schools is the almost wholesale imposition and indoctrination of humanistic thinking imposed on teachers and students and restricting authentic learning to academic conceptual learning to be learning and the way it is. This devalues the whole child and diminishes their ability to contribute meaningfully and restricts personal and social, spiritual growth and making a difference. It can also be dangerous in giving the false impression that the ‘education’ they have received is what life is all about, when in fact it is far removed from reality and living, especially as God has ordained it, which regulates everything. Home based education has the opportunity to address many issues like this and develop sound principles of teaching and learning taking into account unique individual differences within a Biblical framework where love for God and people and God’s creation are highlighted focusing on teaching and learning actions that engage and make a difference to the quality of life for all, in the present and future.

    I pray that we have the conviction and wisdom of God to know his mind what is important and what he has planned for education in his Kingdom and what role his people can play today to align with it. Let us be true to the Lord and give him thanks for all he has done and will do. He is a faithful merciful God and even if clouds and thunder appear ominous and threatening let us remain faithful. The Lord will have his way and all creation will sing his praises.


  2. Now that is a whole lot of material to process and respond to. So much appreciate your eagerness to participate in the discussion, Ron.

    God bless you richly.


  3. You actually make it seem so easy along with your presentation however I in finding this topic to be actually something which I feel
    I might never understand. It seems too complicated and very vast for
    me. I’m taking a look forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the cling of


  4. Akash, the point is that schools were developed in the West for a purpose, and the purpose was not primarily to educate; the primary purpose for schools is to control. Think of a school of fish. If you watch them in the ocean, when one turns, the whole school follows it. Schools teach us to think like someone else wants us to think. When a whole society passes through schooling, then the whole society is schooled – it thinks in unison with the school programming.

    When people are truly educated, they learn to think for themselves. They learn to think outside the mental restrictions that schools place on their minds. We are able to see things from different perspectives, and not be enslaved to a mastermind.

    Ivan Illich (1970) pointed out the dangers of schooling, and advocated that society “deschool”. His proposal was that education take place in the marketplace, and be delivered by passionate experts, not by centrally trained teachers. I happen to agree with Illich, because I believe that it is closer to what the Bible teaches about education.

    Parents are the ones who are primarily responsible for the children’s education. They are the ones who should have the primary responsibility for educational decisions for their children, not some politically motivated autocrat in a centrally located bureaucracy. This is why I advocate home-based education. My experience of schools has been that they are places where young people get hurt, through bullying, shame, exclusion, and other things. I long for the day when we can live as if schools do not exist.

    Please, wrestle with the ideas at this blog site. Ask questions and suggest some alternate ways of seeing the issue. That is good for developing independent and clear thinking.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s