Certification, deschooling

To what extent does schooling prevent creative thinking?

Just yesterday I was in a workshop of a mining company.  The mining company is winding down because of a significant down turn in the Australian economy, and there are only a couple of men working in the huge shed.

We had been having coffee at an old office desk, and had to walk some distance to the ablutions block to get water for the hot water jug.  One of the workers decided that it would be far better to have the amenities better arranged, so he converted the office desk into a fully functioning sink, with an overhead shelf to store the coffee ingredients, with both hot and cold water running in the sink, in the workshop.  He did so after walking around the site, scrounging bits and pieces from this and that, installing an old hot water service that he found, diverting water from a distant external tap, diverting the grey water into a drain and decorating the whole arrangement with corrugated iron to give it a rustic look.

I looked at the bloke after he had finished installing everything, and asked if I could inquire of him a question.  He agreed.  I said, “Did you do well at school?”  His response, “I hated my teachers and they hated me.  I hated school, and did not do well at school.”  I then asked him, “So, what is your trade?”  His reply, “I don’t have a trade.”

This man had very little successful schooling, was not officially taught a trade, but was able to apply skills from plumbing, carpentry, boiler-making and diesel-mechanics.  He is holding a job in an industry that is laying off most of its higher-paid, highly qualified employees, and was able to come up with a solution to a complex practical problem by scrounging and using whatever tools were at hand.

Australia needs a lot more unschooled, creative thinking, practically-oriented blokes like this fellow I ran into the other day.  He grew up on a farm, as a kid, so that could explain his familiarity with such a range of skills.  However, he hasn’t been trained, and doesn’t hold any certificates – he simply thinks laterally, has a go, and accomplishes stuff.

Lots to think about.

Certification, deschooling, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 21: Schools militate against the reality that we are not all created equal

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

p. 92  “At their worst, schools gather classmates into the same room and subject them to the same sequence of treatment in math, citizenship and spelling.  At their best, they permit each student to choose one of a limited number of courses.  In any case, groups of peers form around the goals of teachers.  A desirable educational system would let each person specify the activity for which they sought a peer.”

In his essay, ‘Human Variation and Individuality’, from the book, The Twelve Year Sentence, H. George Resch (1974) argues that there is no such thing as equality in the universe.  At every level, every human being, and every other created thing, has stamped upon it individuality.  The modern mantra of equality spits in the face of reality.  We are not created equal.  We should not be treated equally.  The expectation of equal outcome from equal opportunity is a hollow expectation.  It is demanding greater and greater resources for lesser and lesser result.

Those who espouse equality despise the Sovereignty of God; they despise the idea that God has fore-ordained and pre-determined all things–including our roles and functions in society.  It is true that some have used the idea of ordained roles and functions to suppress others and appoint them to positions of slavery.  This is a perversion of the doctrine of Sovereignty.  “For freedom Christ has set us free, … do be not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 teaches us.  No, God is an infinite God, and He has created  an infinite variety in expression of the roles that He has ordained.  This means that individuality needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and allowed to become an expression of expertise.  This means that each person requires an intimately individualized education track.  Sure, there will be core skills that many will share.  However, not everyone will need all of those core skills to be the best that they can be in whatever it is that God has created them to be excellent in.  Mandating core skills will inhibit the growth and development of some for whom such skills are not appropriate.

The educational paths of individuals should touch and part, mingle and separate, and trace a learning dance across the community.  Some will learn some things from this person, but then learn different things from a range of other people, in totally different contexts.  This dance of learning will be encouraged and facilitated by parents, but be tempered with a consideration of the interests, gifts, passions, calling, abilities and other marks of individuality within the student.  It cannot be centrally predetermined.  It cannot be centrally administrated.  It cannot be centrally certificated, regulated, and controlled.  It is an expression of the creativity and providence of the Infinite Triune God.

Certification, Education, Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 20: We need to consider the wealth to be gained from deregulated teaching in the marketplace

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

p. 91  “To guarantee access to effective exchange of skills, we need legislation which generalizes academic freedom.  The right to teach any skill should come under the protection of freedom of speech.  Once restrictions on teaching are removed, they will quickly be removed from learning as well.”

Freedom can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ: “For freedom Christ has set us free; …” (Galatians 5:1).  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Law of God which provide the constraints around freedom that prevents it from becoming license.  To legislate for freedom, without first ensuring there is a change in heart of the majority in the community, is only to entrench greater and greater measures of license.  So-called academic freedom in the west has morphed into an unchecked attack on truth.  Academic freedom has come to mean the proclamation of anything, without accountability.  Being that, as it may, laws concerning libel and slander and inciting riot do place a measured check around license, therefore political censorship of all speech is contrary to the freedom that Christ has offered those who believe in Him.

Furthermore, the notion of rights under girds all kinds of aberrant lifestyles and behaviours.  The Bible knows nothing of rights.  The Bible teaches privileges and responsibilities.  Those who bear their responsibilities enjoy the privileges that come with them.  Those who shirk their responsibilities lose their privileges.  Without such a balance, the claim for rights, without a corresponding check, leads once again to unrestrained license.

Having said all this, the point that Illich makes concerning the deregulation of teaching is a valid one.  Teaching should not be limited to those who hold a state-issued license.  The issue of false and dangerous teachers can be addressed with laws that prohibit the propagation of ideas that incite violence, riot, and promote degenerate and immoral lifestyles.  The free exchange of ideas is an important part of community growth and development.  New ideas, that are tested and weighed against old values, when they survive the debate, and blossom out of the trials, can lead to better conditions and enjoyment of life.  New ideas should not be feared, simply because they are new.  Untested, and unchallenged ideas cannot be embraced without due diligence.  A free education market is the best place to ensure that such ideas do get considered, debated, trialed and either embraced or rejected by the community.

It is the narrowing of curriculum, through the centralization of curriculum choice, that does the most damage to education.  Centralized curriculum is indoctrination, not education.  A free education market will guarantee a much broader  curriculum in the marketplace.  Local decisions will adjust curriculum to local need, and the sharing of educational content between communities will ensure that the best of ideas are generally accessed.  This will allow individuals to follow their gifting, their passion and their interests more fully, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to become an expert in something.  This will result in a much wealthier community that is served by a plethora of experts in a hugely diverse range of knowledge sets, giftings and skills.

Certification, deschooling, Education, Funding, Ivan Illich, Schooling

Reflections on Illich 19: The radical heart of Ivan Illich’s proposal: a deschooled but educating society

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

p. 76  “A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.  Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education.  Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma.  Nor should the public be forced to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public’s chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market.  It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational.”

Of all the quotes from Ivan Illich’s book discussed thus far, this is the most important.  He is proposing a radically deregulated education system.  A schooled society will struggle with this proposal.  It is inconceivable that education can take place without centralized control, and lots and lots of public money being thrown at the bureaucracy.  In fact, as it is more and more evident that publicly-funded, centrally-controlled education does not work, there will be more and more calls for greater controls and vastly increased amounts of money to be chucked down the black hole of the failed secular, free and compulsory schooling experiment.

What Illich is proposing is that there be locally and privately owned educational portals, unfettered by government and other institutional interference through Constitutional guarantee.  These portals are to become educational markets, places of exchange where those who have expertise, and a passion to pass that expertise on to others, can meet up with those who have a passion to learn the knowledge and skills that are being offered.  These portals will assist with due diligence in checking the backgrounds of those presenting themselves as education providers, however, at the end of the day the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience will be a free-market contract, without compulsion and requirement for government approved certification or qualification.  Such markets will not necessarily provide enough remuneration for educators to survive without also having a real ‘job’.  It will require teachers to be grounded in reality, as they deal with the workplace as well as engage in educating others.  Very good teachers will be well patronized, but poor teachers will either have to improve their teaching skills, or go back to their day job.

As I said, a schooled society will find this a very difficult concept to think through.  However, until we take seriously Illich’s proposal, we will continue to subject children to the twelve year sentence*, and waste vast amounts of public funds, that could be spent elsewhere, on a failed educational concept.

* Rickenbacker, W. F. [Ed.]. (1974). The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Schooling. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

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.

Certification, deschooling, Education, Ivan Illich, Schooling, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 15: Being schooled, and as a result being credentialed, does not necessarily indicate an education

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

p. 40  “Once we have learned to need school, all our activities tend to take the shape of client relationships to other specialized institutions.  Once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all nonprofessional activity is rendered suspect.  In school we are taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance; that the value of learning increases with the amount of input; and, finally, that this value can be measured and documented by grades and certificates.”

One of the most significant indicators of someone having been schooled is a dependent mindset.  Schools breed dependence.  At the end of the schooling process it is commonly believed that only the credentialed, certified, registered and monitored person can make a valued contribution to society.  The schooled person, who does not hold the qualifications, believes that they could never understand the mysteries of the guild, and therefore becomes dependent upon institutionalized services: the institutionalization of health, the institutionalization of child-raising, the institutionalization of a plethora of life-skills that once most men and women knew from participating in activities around the home, as part of a family.

Grades and certificates, in many instances, are merely arbitrary benchmarks.  They indicate that someone has remembered what the examiner wanted to appear on the test, but they do not reveal what the holder of the certificate really knows, and whether what they know is relevant to the current state of knowledge in that specific field.  Schools are notorious for being behind the times in the knowledge that they teach.  Teachers go through school at the time textbooks are being written.  They then go through University, using the textbooks that were being written when they were are school, and then they teach the children in the classrooms the things that they learned at university, which were written in textbooks that were written when they were at school.

It is not attendance at school that ensures an education.  Attendance at school ensures that you are schooled.  Unschoolers, who are guided by parents who have been deschooled, are able to keep up with the cutting edge of knowledge in any field that they choose to become an expert in.  There are no limits, in this digital age, to accessing knowledge that is current, relevant to the moment, and oriented to the interests and passions of the child.  The self-taught unschooler is often the better educated person.

Certification, Ivan Illich

Reflections on Illich 05: What good do licenses and certificates really provide in the education market?

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

p. 16  “Skill teachers are made scarce by the belief in the value of licenses.  Certification constitutes a form of market manipulation and is plausible only to a schooled mind.”

This quote addresses a couple of issues. 

The first issue that it addresses is the issue of licensing the holders of marketable skills before teaching can take place.  Such licensing usually requires expensive, convoluted, and ever increasingly bureaucratic processes to procure the license.  This robs the education market of many people, who are highly skilled, from entering the market and passing their skills on to others.  The obtaining of a license does not necessarily mean that the holder of the license is the most qualified person to be engaged in the passing on of skills.  And, when you add government incentives to the mix, it almost guarantees that skills will not be passed on.

Let me provide an example.  To protect the identity of the parties, I will change some of the facts, but the story is a true story.  A very keen young man I knew desired to learn a trade.  At the time, the Federal and State governments were offering employers monetary incentives to train apprentices.  Employers took on more apprentices than they could properly supervise, and so the young man found that he was being paid apprentice wages (the lowest in the trade), to perform a labourer’s tasks (labourers being paid a significantly greater amount than apprentices).  The young man was not being taught the trade, but he did learn how to sweep floors, clean up after the tradesmen, and generally be used as a low-paid slave.  This happened throughout his apprenticeship, which was conducted under several employers.  The young man was made to work two years longer in his apprenticeship than formally required because the final employer said that he did not have enough trade knowledge and experience (despite working for three other employers prior to this), and needed more time (to sweep floors, clean up after the tradesmen, and generally work as a low-paid slave).  And this was despite the fact that the young man was awarded prizes for being the top student (year after year) in his trade school training. 

Now here is the question.  Were the licensed trade school instructors blinded by the fact that they were being paid according to the number of apprentices that they passed each year?  And therefore they awarded prizes to their top student falsely, because he was actually a retarded apprentice who needed an extra two years to be added to his apprenticeship to be skilled enough to graduate?  Or, were the employers so captivated by the free money that was given to them by the government, that they did not care to properly pass the trade skills on to the apprentice, just so long as they kept him busy enough so that they could collect the incentive money at the end of the apprenticeship?

Before government incentives, and before licensed trade schools, employers took on apprentices because they wanted to pass their skills on to someone else, and they did so as efficiently and meticulously as they could.  An apprentice who was trained under the older system graduated as a highly skilled tradesman.  The young man I spoke of is now a broken man.  He has a piece of paper that says he is a tradesman, but he has insufficient skills and experience to be able to practice his trade, despite have three awards for being the top apprentice each year in his trade school.  In his mind he has wasted five of the most important years of his life, and they were ruined by government intervention in the trade, and government-licensed teachers at the trade school.

The second point that is brought out in the quotation above is the issue of market manipulation by certification.  Only a schooled mind is blinded by the smoke-screen of required certification.  On p. 150 of my PhD dissertation I make reference to the fact that during the early stages of the so-called Global Financial Crisis, recent school and university graduates were either under-employed or unemployed.  Many young people were graduating with certificates that were useless in the process of obtaining a job, but they were also graduating with un-repayable education debts that could not be forgiven.  Entering school, it is not possible to know the employment market that will exist at graduation, and the certificates that students study for, may be for jobs that no longer exist when they graduate with their certificate of competence.

At the same time as this was happening to millions of students graduating from school with school certificates, unschooled teenagers, who had never obtained a certificate in their lives, had never darkened the door of a school, were pursuing their passion, privately accumulating marketable knowledge and skills and then making between $200,000 and “seven figure” annual profits from their internet-based businesses (during the Global Financial Crisis)–see pp. 149-150 of my PhD dissertation.

Certificates may be needed to get a job.  They may be needed to commence a career (which is New Speak for being locked into an institution, and working your way up the meaningless ladder of success).  However, certificates are not needed to become entrepreneurial, creative, passionate, and marketable.  What is needed for these things is an education, not a schooling.