Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 03: Teaching is not all there is to learning, and it is not restricted to schools and schooling

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html

p. 13  “A … major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.  Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of leaning under certain circumstances.  But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, … has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

In my dissertation (pp. 122 – 136) I argue that the office/ministry of teacher has a place in a society.  However, teachers must function in their teaching roles as marketplace entrepreneurs, under the instruction of church officers, and engaging parents directly with free-market contracts.  There must be no compulsion in the contractual relationship, no age or time restrictions and no restrictions to location. 

Teaching has a valid role to play in the education of a student, but there must not be a prescription around who is to be the teacher at what particular stage in the student’s educational journey.  This must be determined by the parent, in consultation with the child (in the case of older children).  But there should be no impediment to others being involved in the teaching events.

When the compulsion is taken out of the equation, then teaching events also become learning events.  When young people are engaged in things that they have a passion about, then they will be much more receptive to the teaching that is taking place — if teaching is what is needed for learning to occur.

It is true, most of the real learning that takes place is after the teaching has ceased.  I think of driving a car, for instance.  When I wanted to learn to drive a car, I sourced a driving instructor (a specialist teacher of a specific skill).  This was a family friend who was willing for me to learn to drive in his car.  He was not government trained, not government certified, not government supervised.  He simply had a skill that he was willing to share with me, and my parents contracted with him to teach me what he knew.  When he finished teaching me the basics, then I obtained my driver’s license, and then commenced to learn how to drive.  It wasn’t until I was allowed to put the basics to unsupervised practice, that I then learned about driving in various conditions, at various speeds, with various loads, sizes of cars, etc.  I enhanced my learning by adding personal experience and research to what I was taught.

Why does this have to be restricted to learning how to drive a car?  Could it not equally apply to learning how to read, learning how to numerate and apply arithmetic to real world applications (such as shopping, trading, designing, etc.)?

Teaching does not have to take place in a school to be teaching.  Teaching is not all there is to acquiring an education, but it is a valid part of the process.  However, the validity of teaching is not realized by restricting it to the location of a school and the schooling process.


3 thoughts on “Reflections on Illich 03: Teaching is not all there is to learning, and it is not restricted to schools and schooling

  1. ronald slyderink says:

    One does not need to be trained as a teacher to be a teacher. All of us, more so as we mature, teach or influence what others learn. We learn by imitation, exposure, repetition, practice, observation without necessarily being specifically taught by anyone. This often occurs unconsciously.

    The definition of a teacher? Here is my understanding and a somewhat less than formal description. A teacher is (formally or informally, consciously or not) someone who enables someone else to learn something. It could be a bit of information, an idea, a skill, a feeling, an attitude, a growing awareness. Parents are teachers, children can be teachers. You certainly don’t have to be in school to be a teacher, although that is the normal perception. Certainly in schools we have more of a conscious idea of teachers teaching particularly specialising in ‘subjects’ and what goes with that.

    Although ideally the object of teaching should be students, in reality what is taught in most cases is subject matter which entails teaching concepts and some peculiar skills associated with that subject. It is a body of knowledge summarised and to be presented and described for students to communicate understanding, which they show through various tests, usually written or orally and or visually. I have over many years seen the weakness or limitation in this kind of conceptual teaching and learning. We spend an inordinate amount of time and resources for students to learn concepts that have little or no connection and application to life and living for the majority of students. It can increase skills in communication but to what end? Big heads maybe. Applying knowledge to improve lives and living would be some justification but it is an added option not a major emphasis in most teaching and learning endeavours. And of course the question of God having any say in the body of knowledge and directing it, is not considered relevant at all. How foolish.

    There are different types of learning and teaching involving the ‘heart, mind and hand’ that resonate with people’s being and nature. There should be a balanced approach where possible for proper integration and assimilation. What learning experience would God think is important for us, and should we try and teach these? Would not the greatest thing for anyone to learn (how) to love and trust God and do his will? Is this not education supreme, to know God and experience his love and to love. If we do not give children and anyone the opportunities to show this then we are not educating, we are doing them a disservice especially if we insist on overloading them with concepts to learn and not even apply.

    What a waste of time, energy and resources is spent on things that don’t really matter. How irresponsible for ‘educators’ and leaders in education who follow this path. There will have to be a lot of shaking to expose what is wrong. We are as individuals and as a nation accountable to God. When will we learn?


  2. I am not sure of the source, but I once heard someone say, “We teach a little by what we way, more by what we do, but most of all by what we are.” A person’s character is the greatest teacher, and this is where schooling lets us down. In the state-funded, state-legislated, state-curriculumed, teacher training faculties of universities, personal character is not addressed in the courses. In the 33 units that I ‘studied’ to become a primary teacher, not one of them addressed the issues of my personal character–who I was as a person–and yet this is the most influential component of my teaching.

    I witnessed some pretty uncharactered behaviour amongst the students and staff of the tertiary institution that I attended, and such lack of character was then licensed to take a significant role in shaping the characters of cohorts of children, year, after year, after year. The Bible says, “Bad company corrupts good morals.”

    When parents are required, by law, to send their children to schools which are staffed by all kinds of people, with all kinds of moral dispositions, then the influence of school and schooling is a powerful one over and against the influence of the family.

    This is also a challenge to parents. Are your children rebels with a smelly character? How much are they mirroring your own attitudes and behaviours? Are your children coming home from school with ways of thinking and behaving that contravene the boundaries set by your family? What kind of people does the local school employ? Are the teachers in the school of a good character?

    Good teaching begins with a renewed heart, and a reformed lifestyle. Only those who have been radically changed by the Spirit and Word of the Living God, through faith in the atoning work of His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, can make truly good teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ronald slyderink says:

    Right on Lance. All good teaching has its roots in God who is good and as we relate to him and live in him we share and impart God’s character and ways to others. The reason why there is little emphasis on the character of people in teaching institutions is that it is wrongly assumed that it has little if anything to do with ‘teaching’. That may be partly right IF you are teaching subjects with ‘neutral’ ideas and concepts and skills which a person may assimilate. There may be a place for this kind of teaching BUT it neglects or belittles the important teaching of the person, their personalities, their character, who they are and how we can help them grow.

    Much of what children learn that counts is transferred by people and how they conduct themselves, apart from anything else.

    When you have a person who knows and loves God, knows his word and connects it to life, to what is known (including subject matter) and shares that so people know or begin to be aware of who God is and who they are or can be, then you have a powerful teaching base.

    The strength and effectiveness of any significant teaching endeavour including home based education is rooted in the character of its teachers who reflect God’s character.

    You are right, I like and agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph, “Good teaching begins with a renewed heart, and a reformed lifestyle. Only those who have been radically changed by the Spirit and Word of the Living God, through faith in the atoning work of His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, can make truly good teachers.” Amen.



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