Ivan Illich, Literacy, Schooling, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 04: Why so long to do such simple stuff (and then get it wrong at the end of the process)

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

pp. 13-14  “There are very few skills that cannot be mastered by intensive drill over a relatively short time at a cost far less than the cost of 12 years of schooling.”

My initial training in schooling was as a Primary Teacher.  I have qualifications and experience at every level of schooling: Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (Leadership), Doctor of Philosophy (Education) and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Vocational Training of Adults).  I also have training in the teaching of reading and writing: a Certificate in the 4S Literacy Program, a Certificate in Spalding Phonics, and an Advanced Certificate in LEM Phonics.

I have taught at all age levels from Pre-school, through High School, vocational education for post secondary students, and have tutored a very large number of university students, helping them with their undergraduate studies.

I have taught in cross-cultural contexts people from a very large range of ethnic and language backgrounds: from China, Taiwan, Korea, Maldives, South Sudan, Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and other places.

I have worked with Australian Aboriginal students, particularly from the Warlpiri nation, both in and through English and in and through their native language, Warlpiri.

I think I know a little about what I am talking about when discussing education and schooling. 

Well, when I ran a small tutoring business, providing help to illiterate children and adults who had been going to school for many years, or who had left school after many years of attendance, it amazed me how very short a time it took to get the students to independently read and write using an Intensive Phonics method.  I had one student, who had been ascertained Level 7 Learning Disabled, who had an attention span of only 2-5 seconds in the classroom, who could not read and write by the end of primary (elementary) school. Over a four-week period he developed an attention span of up to 20 minutes a session, and wrote beautifully crafted words, correctly spelled, in properly formed sentences, and then was able to read them back to me accurately.

Why couldn’t seven years of primary schooling produce the result that I was able to produce in four weeks?  I have the dated befores and afters in my files, for anyone who wants evidence.  And yet, repeatedly, I have been persecuted, bullied, and forbidden to use in my school classrooms the techniques that I used successfully in my tutoring business.

Anyone can teach children to read and write.  It does not take a long time.  It does not require complex resources, and years of study and preparation.  I can teach anyone who wants to learn, how to teach their child to be an independent reader and writer in a matter of moths for a younger child, and in a few weeks for an older child.  It is not hard.  It is not a mystery, and it does not take four years teacher-training, and then 12 to 13 years of application in a school (and even then a very large number of school graduates cannot read and write) to produce the results.

There is something wrong with schools–no, there are lot of things wrong with schools–and one of those things is the length of time it takes to do badly what really only should take a short time to do well.

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