deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Home-Based Education, Life Learning, Natural Learning, Unschooling

What is in a name? What shall we call it?

In the Drabsch (2013) e-brief to the NSW Parliament, Home Education in NSW, it is reported that distance education is not considered to be a form of home education/home schooling by the NSW Department of Education, because the children are directly enrolled in a Department controlled school, and are subject to Department supervised schooling.  However, it is identified that amongst those who educate at home, the terms home education and home schooling are used interchangeably.

I would like to suggest that it is important that members of the home education/home schooling community commence a discussion about the terminologies that are used when talking about education that is outside the Education Department controlled schooling system.

I am happy to allow the Department to own the term Distance Education.  However, I would prefer the term to be Distance Schooling, because I do not necessarily agree that what is delivered in schools is an education.  In schools, students are schooled and many receive a schooling.

In my PhD Dissertation I spent time differentiating between receiving an education and being schooled (Box, 2014, pp. 33 to 122).  From my perspective, it is possible to be schooled at home, so I would like to reserve the term home schooling for the process of reproducing the school environment in the home.  On the other hand, home schooled children, in most cases, do receive an education, therefore I am pleased to identify home schooling as a subset of home education.  This being granted, I think that it is better to call home education, “home-based education”.  The reason for my recommendation is that one of the significant criticisms of home schooling is the potential for children to be home-bound, whilst being home schooled.  This is not the case, in the majority of instances, but it has been the case for some children who were home schooled.  It was definitely the experience of one of the adults I interviewed who had been home schooled during their teens.  The person hated the concept of home school, and was quick to admit that during their home schooling experience:  “I didn’t know any other kids. Home schooling was a horror experience, not primarily from the program, but from the complete package. We had our own church, our own school, there was nothing outside of the home.”  This was definitely the minority view, and no other home-based educating family reported anything resembling the home-bound nature of this case.   The term home-based education implies that home is a base from which an education takes place in a range of settings.  The children return to the base, and the majority of the basic education tasks are conducted in the home, however, home-based education provides a range of social and other educational activities outside the home.

On page 2 of the Drabsch (2013) e-brief, three approaches to home-based education are identified.  These three are:

i.     Structured learning environment — families in this category closely follow some kind of curriculum and learning is structured in a way similar to the classroom.  (I would like to call this approach: home school / home schooling);

ii.   Informal learning environment — those in this category may use various resources, including some textbooks, but they are less structured in their approach than those in the first group.  (I would like to call this approach: unschooling.  Many who call themselves unschoolers would object to this because they tend to work more in the next category.  However, bear with me.  The purpose of this exercise is to provoke broader discussion, and in the end come up with some terms that every one understands and agrees to.  I am not precious with these ideas.  Others may have a better idea, and that is fine, as long as it is clear that we all understand what we mean when certain words are being used).

iii.  Unschoolers / natural learners — This involves no structured learning at all, due to the belief that the best learning takes place by maximising the opportunities present in the various activities that constitute daily life and by following the child’s interests. (I would like to call this approach, radical unschooling.  Once again, I know that will upset some who call themselves unschoolers, but who really radically unschool; and upset the radical unschoolers who like to call themselves unschoolers.  Be that as it may, I am looking for some consistency, and this is where I have started the discussion).

So, I am suggesting that the umbrella term for the three approaches (as identified by the e-brief) is “home-based education”.  I am then arguing that the three approaches seem to be fairly fair appraisals of the broader clusters of home-based education styles.  As suggested above, I would like to call these three approaches: “home schooling”, “unschooling” and “radical unschooling”.

Outside of these terms there are a large range of other terms that are used in the home-based education community.  These terms include (but are not limited to): natural learning, life learning, discipleship, hands-on learning, academic, child-centred, child-focused, self-directed, eclectic learning, family-friendly education, activities-based learning, kitchen-table learning, practical learning, and many more.  In my dissertation (Box, 2014, pp. 155-166) I argue that these are emphases within the three main approaches.  Therefore, one might have a home schooling approach with a discipleship emphasis, or an unschooling approach with a discipleship emphasis, or an unschooling approach with a natural learning emphasis, or an unschooling approach with an academic emphasis, and so forth.  I have commenced the discussion on the definitions elsewhere in this blog site, but would really like to engage in further discussion around the topic.

I am not wanting to unnecessarily offend good people who are doing good things in the home-based education community.  However, I would like to be able to write using terminology that the majority of people are happy to employ, and that the majority of people are in agreement as to what is meant by the terms.

I am proposing that some kind of wiki be set up so that the ongoing discussion can proceed in the broader home-based education community.  Any thoughts?

References

Box, L A. (2014). A Proposal to Deschool, then Unschool Australian Biblical Christian Education. Unpublished dissertation submitted for fulfillment of Doctor of Philosophy, in the School of Applied Theology, New Geneva Theological Seminary, Virginia, U.S.A.

Drabsch, T. (2013). Home Education in NSW. Sydney: N.S. W. Parliamentary Research Service. e-brief 15. Downloaded 25/09/2014, from: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/publications.nsf/key/HomeEducationinNSW/$File/Home%20schooling%20GG%203.pdf

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deschooling, Education, Education and the Family, Unschooling

Family-Based Education: The role of the family in education

The following has been lifted from my PhD dissertation, and slightly edited for this blog site.  I continue to give thought to some of my earlier ideas, and welcome feedback as I continue to refine them.

In the book of Malachi, God indicated that a key purpose of marriage is “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15[1]). For offspring to be godly, they must be trained to know God and to obey His commandments (Deuteronomy 6:1-9[2]). Raising godly offspring, therefore, is a significant goal of Biblical education, and the principle context for this goal is the trustee family. The trustee family is held by Rushdoony to be in contradistinction to both the atomistic family and the extended family. The atomistic family is, essentially, husband, wife and kids. The extended family includes husband, wife and kids, but also includes grandparents, grandchildren, cousins, uncles and an extended network of blood-related family members who are living.  The trustee family, on the other hand, takes into consideration the heritage and inheritance received from long generations past, and looks down history to many generations to come. The family holds in trust all that has been passed down, adds to that trust, then passes an enriched inheritance and heritage to children’s children to be passed on to their children’s children, and so forth (Rushdoony, 1983, pp. 201-206). This, therefore, provides the context for the commandment that God gave to the newly formed family in Genesis 1:26-28. Mankind, both male and female joined in marriage, is to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (by implication: with godly offspring). Godly offspring will then “subdue” and “have dominion” until such time that “the meek … shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5; c.f. Psalm 37:11). “God is not a man that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19). He commanded us to pray that His kingdom come, and that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10) until the time that His promise is fulfilled that says: “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD” (Numbers 14:21, KJV). This shall be a day when multitudes of godly offspring, across the face of the whole earth, willingly live out the commandments of God, to the glory of His Son, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the manifestation of His kingdom in time and on earth.

Sin introduced frustration to this dominion mandate. God cursed the ground and ordained thorns and thistles to frustrate man’s dominion efforts (Genesis 3:17-19[3]). Ungodly offspring are one of the outworkings of unatoned-for sin (Genesis 6:1-7[4]). David wrote: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). This does not imply that the act leading to conception is sinful, necessarily[5], but rather, sin resides in a person from the moment of conception, and ensures that all who are born are born sinners, needing a Saviour: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

It is the atonement of Jesus Christ worked out on the cross of Calvary that deals with the sinful nature. Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). As the redeemed of God, we are to live as those who are dead to sin, but alive unto God, walking in newness of life, in Jesus Christ (Romans 6[6]).

Education does not make children of God. Education is not the Saviour/Messiah[7]. Giving new birth to children of God is the work of God’s regenerating Word and the Holy Spirit, according to the will of God (I Peter 1:3; I Peter 1:23; John 3:5; John 1:12-13[8]). However, a godly upbringing helps children to recognise the voice of the Lord when He speaks to them, and makes it easier for them to respond to the Holy Spirit when He calls them. It must be conceded, however, that in both the case of the child that is brought up in a godly way, and the child that is not brought up in such a way, it is a sovereign work of God’s grace that brings such a child to a place of salvation, not the upbringing.[9]

Willing obedience to Jesus’ commandments is the principle Biblical evidence of new birth (John 14:15; John 15:10; I John 2:3[10]). The evidence of love one for another (John 13:34-35; I John 4:7-12[11]) is qualified in the statement that love is expressed in the willing keeping of God’s Law: “…(by) this we know that we love the children of God, that we keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (I John 5:2-3). Therefore, this is the fulfilment of the New Covenant promise made by God in Ezekiel when He said:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The sanctifying work of Biblical education is to be conducted in the context of family and family life. Rushdoony (1973), in his book, The Institutes of Biblical Law Volume I, wrote a chapter called ‘Education and the Family’. In this chapter he outlines six aspects of family-based education, from a Biblical perspective. These aspects include chastisement; sound instruction (a godly education); an intensely practical education; the responsibility of parents and children to be productive, responsible family members; a consciousness of membership of a family; and godly learning (pp 182-185). These things are instilled by teaching and practically applying the Law-Word of God as the foundation of family-based education. Paul alluded to this kind of education when he wrote to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (II Timothy 1:5).

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture[12] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:14-17).

The Christian home education movement takes these Scriptural injunctions seriously. Home educators seek to provide Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education for their children in the context of their homes. Some home educators simply try and replicate the structures of school, and administer schooling in the context of the home. These I would call ‘home schoolers’. Others, however, take seriously the passage in Deuteronomy that says:

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD the God of your fathers has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind then as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:1-9).

This is what I would call, life education / education in life/ education for life. Those who conduct education in this way I would call ‘unschoolers’. God places education in the context of family members together living life, with parents teaching their children how to live in a way that is pleasing to God, in the light of His Law-Word: ”when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Nothing of this implies the need for schools or schooling (even home schooling).  It is my contention that the unschooling model is closer to what God was talking about in this passage from the book of Deuteronomy; i.e. the unschooling process approximates the life education / education in life/ education for life paradigm. However, this must be qualified with the rider that the extreme manifestation of unschooling (i.e. radical unschooling[13]), where every learning decision is made by the child, is not Biblical. Proverbs 22:15 teaches us that “Folly (foolishness) is bound up in the heart of a child, … .” There are some very important educational decisions that must be made by parents on behalf of the child, simply because parents have lived life and can see consequences where there is neglect; such fundamentals as Scripture memorization, instruction in literacy decoding and encoding skills and foundational arithmetic (i.e. tables, etc.). These things are best learned by wrote, and learned early in a child’s life. Such things as basic manners and respect for God and others are best learned by example, through godly admonition and discipline, and in extremely serious situations, by appropriate punishment.

[1] Malachi 2:15 “Did he not make them one (man and wife), with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth.”

[2] Deuteronomy 6:1-9 “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the LORD your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel: The LORD your God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

[3] Genesis 3:17-19 ‘And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

[4] Genesis 6:1-7 “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God (men of the covenant line) saw the daughters of man (women of the ungodly line) were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose (according to physical attraction, not according to God’s covenant law—II Corinthian 6: 14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. …”; the sin of mixed-marriage). Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit shall not contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth (the state of apostasy of the progeny of inter-faith marriages), and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’

[5] When in the context of a legally married male husband and female wife, sexual activity is a gift from God (The Song of Solomon is a complete book of the Bible teaching about the joy and pleasure of human sexuality in the context of marriage; fully sanctioned and encouraged by God). On the other hand, when sexual activity is practiced outside of God’s ordained parameters (i.e. homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, fornication, adultery, and all other Biblically defined sexual perversions), then such sexual activity is sin worthy of God’s just punishments (I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21;Colossians 3:5-6; I Peter 4:3-5; Revelation 22:15).

[6] Romans 6 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Chrst was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. …”

[7] The principle theme of the book: Rushdoony, R. J. (1976 [1963]). The Messianic Character of American Education. Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press.

[8] I Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, …”

I Peter 1:23 “… since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; …”

John 3:5 “Jesus answered, ‘’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

John 1:12-13 “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

[9] Much thanks to my friend Steve Swartz for his feedback on this part of the dissertation.

[10] John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 15:10 “If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

I John 2:3 “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”

[11] John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

I John 4:7-12 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

[12] In this context, “all Scripture” is referring to everything written in the Old Testament, including the Law of God as delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai.

[13] (Gerzon, 2012; Martin, 2014; N. Olsen, 2014)

References

Rushdoony, R. J. (1973). The Institutes of Biblical Law. Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press

Rushdoony, R. J. (1976 [1963]). The Messianic Character of American Education. Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press.

Rushdoony, R. J. (1983). The Trustee Family and Economics. The Journal of Christian Reconstruction. Vol. IX, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 201-206.

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deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Socialization, Teaching, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 22: Unschooling and a flexible learning web: the dangers of age-segregation in schools

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

p. 93  “The inverse of school would be an institution which increased the chances that persons who at a given moment shared the same specific interest could meet–no matter what else they had in common.”

One of the important defining characteristics of school and schooling is age-grade segregation.  Age-grade segregation is justified on grounds of socialization and child-development theory.  It is argued that children need to be exposed to peer-relationships so that they can learn how to relate to a cohort of children their own age.  It is also argued that all children pass through development stages at the same time, and therefore they need to be related to, in an age-appropriate manner.

These two presuppositions are fallacious at several points.  Firstly, God placed children into families.  In most cases, families grow at the rate of one child at a time, with significant age intervals between each child.  God is wisdom personified.  The only wise God, our Saviour, would not ordain a process that is fundamentally flawed.  Therefore, I argue that the best learning environment is not age-segregated, but multi-generational, with a broad range of ages represented in the learning environment.  I have worked in schools for 25 years.  I can speak with a measure of authority.  I have worked in Christian schools, state schools, private schools, schools for Aboriginal children, and the common factor between all these schooling contexts is that age-segregated children degenerate to the lowest common denominator.  Children crave attention.  If they cannot get it from the overworked teacher, they will look for it in their peers, and the peer that they usually crave attention from is the coolest dude–the naughtiest kid in the class.  Their socialization is downwards through the pressure of wanting to conform to be accepted–even in the case of a good family, good kids are dragged down, in the school context, and many good families have lost their children to the pressures of socialization in schools.  In an inter-generational, multi-age learning setting, the child will look for attention from the strongest role model–their socialization is upwards, into the lifestyle of the patriarch of the learning environment.

Secondly, children are not equal.  There may be general growth phases, but not all children reach the same milestones at the same time in all areas of growth.  To presuppose equality of development, will lead to holding back of those who are ready to move on in some areas, and forcing outcomes from those who are not ready in other areas, and generally trying to squeeze the cohort of children into a teacher-determined mediocrity.  In this context, none of the children are fully developed in any of their strong areas, many of the children are crushed because too much is expected of them in their weak areas (and as a result of the crushing they lose confidence to learn in their good areas) and every one has the desire to learn taught out of them.

Home-based education that is firmly grounded on unschooling principles, with a discipleship emphasis, is the best means of establishing individual learning needs in children.  If there were local Flexi-Learning Centres scattered around the country, then a register of learning opportunities could be kept so that children could be connected with an appropriate local custodian of specific knowledge sets, skills, and experiences.  Those who gather around this local expert will be there because they want to learn, not because they are of the same age.  Such learning contexts may include multi-generational learners, and a distribution of a wide range of ages.  No one should be excluded from learning simply on the basis of age.  Older learners will be there to help younger learners, and learners who teach other learners will enhance their own learning–a fresh look at peer tuition.

 

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Education, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 17: Don’t wait to be taught: have a go and learn.

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

p. 48  “School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught.  Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence; they no longer find relatedness attractive, and close themselves off to the surprises which life offers when it is not predetermined by institutional definition.”

It has been very painful to watch someone I know struggle with the helplessness that they feel because their schooling has instilled in them that unless they are taught, they cannot learn.  Actually, this is the condition of a number of people that I know.  They have been schooled, and they have been schooled exceptionally well.  These people live less than satisfying lives because they are always blaming their lack of knowledge on not having been taught such and so.  It is a debilitating condition to be in.

I remember that I did not really start learning to drive until after I had been given my driver’s license.  I was taught the basics, but the real lessons came from repeated practice on the open road, and having to learn how to adjust to the unpredictable as it came in my ongoing driving experience.

A proper education is like this.  At the beginning we do need to be taught some basics, such as: moral precepts, decoding/encoding skills, mathematical tables, and some basic historical, geographical and scientific facts.  However, if we are spoon-fed beyond the basics, then we lose the capacity to self-learn, and as a consequence become dependent upon others to teach us.  Those who have been institutionalized by schooling and its spoon-fed learning model, are not able to cope with the learning opportunities that life throws up at them.

The best context for learning is to have a go, fail, consider the lessons that can be learned from the attempt, then have another go with better insight.  To wait until someone teaches you, before having a go, means that you are ever learning, but never arriving at the truth, or never learning at all.

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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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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.

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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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