Certification, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 16: The best learning takes place when contextualed, not from instruction in a hot-house

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

p. 40  “Most learning is not the result of instruction.  It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.”

This comment by Illich does not negate instruction.  Clearly, instruction is an important part of the learning process.  I am a teacher, and instruction is one of the things that I do.  I cannot help myself.  It is how I am wired.  However, it is the insistence that all instruction must be conducted by a state-trained, state-certified, state-registered and state-monitored teacher that is the issue in question.  Classroom teachers are not the best people to instruct children.  Parents are.  Second to parents are the experienced custodians of relevant knowledge.  And these are often not the state-trained teachers, they are the practitioners in the field who have years and years of practical experience.

Just recently I heard a story from a friend who is a qualified Engineer.  He holds a Masters degree in Engineering.  However, he has discovered that in his field, the best custodians of relevant knowledge are the long-term tradesmen.  He told me the following story:

A newly graduated Engineer (not the one telling the story) was put in charge of a project.  The Engineer instructed a tradesman to implement a course of action.  The tradesman said to the Engineer, “It will not work.”  The Engineer over-ruled the tradesman, because of his qualification.  The tradesman then did what the Engineer told him to do.  The project completely failed and wasted a large amount of money and resources.  The tradesman was asked, “Why did you think it would not work?”  The tradesman replied, “Because I have been working in this field for a very long time, and I just knew it would not work.”  The Engineer’s mathematics, calculations, book learning, examination passing, and credentialing was no match for the knowledge gained from practical experience gained by working in a field for an extended period.

Yes, there are things that we would like people to have theoretical knowledge about before they start practicing: vital organ surgery, for example.  However, simply being instructed in a field, and being exposed to a lot of theories, does not replace hard-earned, long-term practical experience.  Credentialing often creates a pride that blocks learning from those who have worked in the field, but who do not have the pieces of paper hanging on the wall.

Being exposed to a relevant environment, where real work is being conducted, is often the best context for receiving instruction, especially when that instruction is being delivered by someone who has mastered his field over a long period of time working in the industry.

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One thought on “Reflections on Illich 16: The best learning takes place when contextualed, not from instruction in a hot-house

  1. ronald slyderink says:

    Well said. Learning of what, how, by whom and why should help us determine where we want to go or are going. On all fronts our state schooling educational systems flounders on all fronts. Irrelevancy, highly theoretical and conceptual, limiting experiential teaching and learning with no particular underlying moral structure shows an impoverished system neglecting to meet the real needs of students and the society they are part of.

    Like

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