Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC. Downloadable from: http://www.preservenet.com/theory/Illich/Deschooling/intro.html
p. 28 “The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces.”
School as we know it in our era has only appeared once before in history, and that was in the Ancient community of Sparta. According to Flaceliere (1965) at the age of 7 a young boy was taken from his family, schooled in a state-controlled total institution, where he was indoctrinated to give allegiance and unquestioning obedience to the state until his death. Spartan girls were raised to be on equal footing with the boys, but the objective was with a militaristic end in view – breeders of strong Spartan boys for the Army. Schools and schooling were designed to create total dependence upon the state, and to form the citizens into military units that responded to the states martial objectives.
In the case of modern schools, their original raison d’etre was also militaristic. The German Kaisers wanted to created a powerful war machine in Europe, and saw state-compulsory schooling as a means of achieving this objective. When the concept of state-controlled education reached England, America and Australia, it was seen as a means of creating a large workforce of factory workers. In the words of Reynolds (2014):
“… the traditional public school: like a factory, … runs by a bell. Like machines in a factory, desks and students are lined up in orderly rows. When shifts (classes) change, the bell rings again, and students go on to the next class. And within each class, the subjects are the same, the assignments are the same, and the examinations are the same, regardless of the characteristics of individual students. … A teacher in a modern industiral-era school was like a factory worker, performing standardized operations on standardized parts. And the standardized parts–the students–were taught along the way how to fit into a larger machine. … the modern school system provided far less scope for individuality on the part of both its producers and its products. But the trade-off was seen as worthwhile: the modern assembly-line approach, in both settings, produced more of what society wanted, and it did so at a lower cost. If standard parts are what you want, an assembly line is better than a blacksmith” (Reynolds, 2014, Standardized Parts and Mass Production).
So, the 19th Century objects of schooling were to create a ready supply of “punctual, obedient factory workers; orderly citizens; and loyal soldiers” (Reynolds, 2014).
Between Sparta and the experiment of the German Kaisers, education was a family and marketplace activity, and was not delivered in schools as we know them today. In that sense, the school system is a modern phenomenon. And since factories have shifted from the West to Asia, at least some of the reasons for schools and schooling have disappeared–training of piece-workers with no jobs at the end of the training process.
I remember the first thing that I was told by my platoon sergeant, when I got off the bus and commenced my military training: “Don’t think, soldier! You are not paid to think, that is what officers are paid to do. You are paid to do as you are told.” Military training militates against maturity and responsibility. As a soldier, others make decisions about what you will wear, where you will live, what you will eat, whether you will sleep (or not), how you will behave, and so forth. Schooling that is based on a militaristic and factory model prevents responsible thinking, the essential prerequisite to maturity. Growing up requires real opportunities to make significant decisions, with actual consequences. Schools perpetuate childhood; particularly in the context of age-segregated cohorts, with age-oriented learning materials.
Education for maturity, education for responsibility and productivity in life requires education in life under the guidance of loving parents, and in the company of supportive siblings. True education orients a child to the twin objectives: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself. This cannot be achieved in the context of a school, and is not the by-product of schooling; it is the fruit of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.
One thought on “Reflections on Illich 11: Schools are ancient and modern, and perpetuate childhood”
Interesting and I agree. I wonder where the education for the elite fit into this picture. Any thoughts?