deschooling, Ivan Illich

Reflections on Illich 12: The anti-dote to perpetuated immaturity is to get rid of compulsory, age-segregatated schooling

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

p. 29  “If there were no age-specific and obligatory learning institutions, ‘childhood’ would go out of production.”

It is real responsibility, in real life situations, with real consequences that enables maturity to develop.  Continuing to shelter young people beyond their childhood is to perpetuate childhood.  This is what compulsory, age-segregated schooling does; it perpetuates childhood into ever extending age groups.  And how can this be measured?  It is measured by the level of Social Welfare dependence.  Children depend upon others to care for them.  Adults take responsibility for their own lives.

Institutionalized children, become dependent upon the institutions of the culture, the major one being the Social Welfare System, and an example of others would include the hospital system.

This is why Illich insisted that there needed to be a deschooling of society.  It is not just the institutionalizing of education that is the problem, it is the institutionalizing of everything in society.  It all leads to dependence, which is a manifestation of immaturity at a whole range of ages beyond childhood.

Maturity is taking responsibility for your own affairs, and not depending upon others or an institution to look after you.

“Therefore let us … go on to maturity [taking on the responsibility for your own affairs] …” wrote the Apostle Paul (Hebrews 6:1).

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Ivan Illich, Schools, State Schools

Reflections on Illich 11: Schools are ancient and modern, and perpetuate childhood

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.

 

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Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Schools

Reflections on Illich 10: The characteristics of schools

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

pp. 26-27  “… I shall define ‘school’ as the age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum.”

The characteristics that Illich refers to as being defining characteristics of schools are:

1.   age-specific (and age-segregated) learning contexts;

2.   teacher-related (teacher-centred) processes;

3.   full-time attendance (compulsory attendance); and

4.   obligatory curriculum (centrally determined, and obligatory for all to complete).

Each of these characteristics militates against efficient and effective learning on the part of the students. 

Firstly, age-specific and age-segregated learning ensures that learning will be pitched at the mediocre, with very little attention to the needs of those students at either extreme of learning capacity.  Age-specific and age-segregated cohorts are created on the assumption that all children pass through the same stages of development at the same times, which is not true in all areas for all children.  There are developmental differences that enable many children to be at different stages at different times in different areas of their lives.  This assumption of equal development suppresses individuality, and creativity, and ultimately prevents most children from becoming excellent at anything.

Secondly, teacher-related/teacher-centred processes focus on the interests, strengths and abilities of the teacher.  Effective learning takes place when the student has a particular interest or passion that is being catered for.  Learning should not be totally child-centred and child-focused, however, the individuality of the student needs to be taken into consideration, including favoured learning styles, previous learning, orientation, interests and passion of the child.  All these need to be taken into consideration when facilitating learning opportunities.

Thirdly, full-time, compulsory attendance does not take into consideration the powerful learning that takes place when spontaneous opportunities in the context of living life present themselves.  It is important to have the time and the flexibility to respond to these learning opportunities.

Finally, a centrally determined, obligatory curriculum does not take into consideration the myriad of variations of learning needs that are spread across families, communities, regions and so forth.  No one person can learn everything there is to learn.  And no one person or group of people can choose from the full range of possible things that can be learned, which are to be the universally required core learnings.  These are local decisions.

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Discipleship, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 09: Learning in life ensures that education is relevent and real

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

p. 23  “A deschooled society implies a new approach to incidental or informal education.”

In a formal schooling situation, learning is standardized and presented as a curriculum.  However, much of the learning that takes place is learning for examinations, not learning for life.  Very little of what is learned for examinations is retained beyond the examination.  In fact, a whole lot of self-learning usually needs to take place, after schooling has finished, for young people to become useful in a vocation.

On the other hand, learning in life (expanding knowledge from the events, situations and opportunities that present themselves as you go about daily routines) ensures that learning is anchored in reality.  This incidental and oftentimes informal learning is usually the learning that remains.

At this time, society tends to give more value to formalized school learning.  However, those who have been unschooled, and especially those who have been unschooled with a discipleship emphasis, will prove to be the most useful and adaptive participants in the broader society, because their learning is relevant, and much more anchored in reality.

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Education Delivery Programs, Home-Based Education, Ivan Illich, Schooling

Reflections on Illich 08: Floating the idea of Flexi-Learning Centres

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

p. 20  “The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern.”

As I continue to argue, from my perspective, the best form of foundational education is unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.  However, no family is able to pass on to the children everything that needs to be learned for the child to become a mature contributor to the welfare of the community.  There comes a time (sometimes earlier, and sometimes later in the child’s education) where there must be recourse to learned and skilled others in the community.

The question is, how is the access obtained?  Illich’s suggestion is that there be networks or services that provided a clearing-house for those with passionate concerns to meet with those with the same passion and desire to learn.  A forum for connecting those in the community who are experts in a field of knowledge or skills-set, with those who want to acquire that knowledge and/or skills-set.

This should not be institutionalized, where the financial remuneration for the exchange of knowledge and skills comes from government taxes, or even mostly from other institutions such as the church.  These clearing-houses need to be privately managed, and the financial exchange be between the families seeking the knowledge/skills and the supplier of the knowledge/skills.

I am calling these clearing-houses Flexi-Learning Centres.  They are not to take over the role of the home.  However, home-based education uses the home as a bases, where learning is done in and out of the home, and such networks and services, as suggested by Illich, become a means of accessing a whole range of supplementary educational experiences. 

A Flexi-Learning Centre would not be a school; there would be no compulsion, there would be no age-grade segregation, there would be no government-mandated curriculum, there would be nothing of school in the mix.  Activity may take place at the Flexi-Learning Centre, if appropriate, but there is no requirement for this to take place if learning would be better accessed in another place.  However, it would be a location where families could find out about what is available, where, when and at what cost, and delivered by whom.

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Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Schools, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 07: Drill and education are not in competition but are complementary

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

pp. 17-18  “… (the) two-faced nature of learning: drill and an education.  School does both tasks badly, partly because it does not distinguish between them.”

This is a critically important distinction that needs to be embraced in the context of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.  Schools are very bad at distinguishing between drill and education, and very often swing to either extreme; i.e. fill the school day with drill and call it education, or fill the day with ‘education’, but neglect the importance of drill at critical times in the educational life of the child.

Both drill and education are required.  Both have their place, and one cannot substitute for the other.

What then is meant by education, and what is meant by drill?  How are they different, and how are they complementary?

By education is meant the living of life for the purpose of learning how to live life richly and fully.  An education needs to be liberal, in the older sense of being exposed to a very broad range of experiences and cultural expressions, and being able to engage in social intercourse around around such cultural life.  An education includes exposure to good music, beautiful works of art, great accomplishments in architecture, reading of excellent samples of literature from a range of historical periods, and so forth.

On the other hand, being able to live life requires the mastery of specific skills.  Skills mastery often requires repetition, so that there are mental and physical stimulus-response tracks created in the brain and muscle fibres.  Such drill could include the learning of algorithmic facts (i.e. times tables, addition/subtraction facts), phonics coding and decoding cues, geographical features such as rivers and mountains, and names of states and capital cities, lines of Presidents and Prime Ministers and Kings and Queens to create historical pegs upon which can be hung other historical facts, sport and athletic disciplines, and so forth.

Mastery of such skills is not an education, but neither can an education be complete without the mastery of such skills.  The two must be understood, their part in the unschooling process embraced, and their complementary nature fully appreciated.

This just does not happen in most school contexts.

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deschooling, Funding, Ivan Illich, Schools

Reflections on Illich 06: The fuzzy state funding of schools vs self-funding of unschooling

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

p. 17  “… discrimination in favour of schools which dominates … discussion on refinancing education could discredit one of the most critically needed principles for educational reform: the return of initiative and accountability for learning to the learner or his most immediate tutor.”

I served as an Educational Leader in a school, and was instructed by my superior to round up records of attendance, because in Australia schools are paid government money according to attendance statistics.  The attendance figures generated on one day in the year, determined the level of funding that was received for the following year.  If the period from which the snapshot was taken reflected poorly for some reason, even if it wasn’t a true reflection of attendance at other times in the year, then funding was reduced.  So, I was required to round up, when checking attendance figures, so that the best possible attendance picture could be presented.

It happens in many schools, and particularly schools with transitory populations.

On the other hand, unschooling does not cost the public anything; it is self-funded education, and you don’t have to round up attendance figures to ensure that an education can take place.  When learning decisions are made at the level of student and immediate tutor, they can be made realistically, and without having to fudge the books.

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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.

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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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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.

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