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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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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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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Schooling

What are the characteristics of schooling that make schools schools?

In my research, one of my respondents made the comment:

“On the other hand [in contrast to good education], schooling means: classrooms, no learning and knowledge; when things are learned it has nothing to do with information, it is not interesting and not cool.”

From her perspective there were certain characteristics of schooling that make schools schools.  She held those characteristics up as being anti-educational.

The first of the characteristics is that schooling is done in a classroom.  The great Athenian educator, Socrates, avoided classrooms.  He chose to conduct his lessons in the midst of life being lived.  Cole, in her book, A History of Education: Socrates to Montessori, wrote that:

“… Socrates taught, but not in a school. It was in the marketplace, in the gymnasiums, and in the streets that Socrates carried on his life work of teaching young and old Athenians to know themselves, to know what was good, and to know what conditions influenced the development of virtue. He did not withdraw from life in order to study it under carefully controlled laboratory conditions but rather went joyfully out to meet it where it was whirling along at its busiest” (Cole, 1966, p. 10).

This is of course where Jesus did most of his teaching as well.

When my respondent said that in schools there was no knowledge and that when things were learned they had nothing to do with information, I interpreted that to mean that there was a disconnect between the information being communicated through the classroom lessons, and her everyday experience of life.  How much of school work is relevant to how many of the students?  Sure, a very small minority of the students will go on to higher education, and will spend the rest of their lives contemplating the esoteric and the ethereal, disconnected from the challenges and frustrations of living in a fallen world that requires practical wisdom to survive.  And much of school and schooling prepares those few for such a life.  But what about the rest?  Are they being equipped with entrepreneurial skills so that they are not dependent upon finding a job? Don’t have to depend upon government support?  Can they be productive and get paid for their initiative and industry?  Are they being taught how to be useful through mastery of practical, hands-on skills?  Are they interacting with a range of people, outside their peer group, and being challenged to develop communication skills in a range of circumstances, through a range of registers?

During the beginnings of the Global Financial Crisis nearly 53% of new university graduates in the United States of America were either unemployed or underemployed, and they had upayable study debts of between US$30,000 and US$300,000 at the end of their schooling experience; no employable skills, and no entrepreneurial skills (Weissmann, 2012).  At the very same time, young unschooled teenagers were earning between US$200,00 and US$1.5M annually from internet-based businesses [completely without schooling, but because of relevent unschooling, very entrepreneurial and productive – during a world-wide depression] (Investopedia, 2012).

I would suggest that in the majority of schools, the answer to all the questions above is, “No!”  Children are corralled into age-segregated classrooms, they are given mountains of busy work, required to memorize information for tests, but not shown how the information applies to developing healthy relationships, how to solve complex ethical challenges, or how to be productive and useful in life.

When my respondent said that school and school work was “not interesting and not cool”, she was indicating that the information being communicated is standardized.  Each of the attendees in a school classroom is uniquely created by God.  Their learning styles, passions, interests, and call of God upon their lives are unique.  But how can one teacher cater to the uniqueness of all the students in the classroom.  It is not possible.  I tried for 26 years, and was a complete and utter failure.  And it was not because I am a poor teacher.  I am a good teacher, and I have many one-on-one successes to demonstrate that I am a good teacher.  However, the classroom with one teacher taking care of nearly 30 children (and many more in non-western classrooms) is not an environment that can facilitate individuality.  Montesorri classrooms come close, but not as close as the unschooling environment.

Of course, there are many more characteristics of schooling that can be discussed.  However, these were the characteristics that came to mind from the response of one of my respondents.

Cole, L. (1966). A History of Education: Socrates to Montessori. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Investopedia. (2012). 10 Successful Young Entrepreneurs.   Retrieved 31/05/2014 12:30 AM, 2014, from http://www.investopedia.com/slide-show/young-entrepreneurs/?article=1

Weissmann, J. (2012). 53% of Recent College Grads are Jobless or Underemployed — How?   , from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/53-of-recent-college-grads-are-jobless-or-underemployed-how/256237/

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Socialization

Is it true that kids can only be socialized in a school environment?

Now, this is a question that can be very frustrating, because the answer is both yes and no.  It all depends upon what is meant by the word ‘socialize’.

One of my research respondents said, “The definition of socialization is essential in understanding this question.”  And they were dead right.  How we define the process of socialization will determine where and how the socialization process needs to take place.

Socialists of many stripes, including so-called Christian socialists, dominate the schooling system at all levels.  A former Education Minister in the Federal Government (who became a Prime Minister) is a self-proclaimed Fabian Socialist*, and has advanced the socialist cause in schools from her elevated positions of civil authority (think Australian Curriculum).  Teachers’ Unions are socialist fronts and text books are written from a socialist perspective.  Karl Marx, the father of modern socialist thinking, in Part II of his Communist Manifesto advocated, amongst other things, “Free education for all children in public schools.”

Socialization, therefore, is the process whereby children are indoctrinated into the mindset of socialism.  Socialism is a condition of helpless dependence upon the state.  The more dependent people are upon the state, the stronger the socialist hold will be upon a society.  The ultimate end of socialism is the total control, by the state, over every minute aspect of the lives of the members of the state (think the book, 1984**).

Given this definition and context for socialization, the answer of course is, school is the most efficient institution to facilitate the socialization of a large number of children.

However, socialization can be defined in a different way, and it is usually the way that unsuspecting parents have been taught to think about the word when confronted by teachers and others advocating that their children need to go to school to be properly socialized.  One of my respondents defined the term in this way: “Socialization is about learning to communicate to many people in many contexts, with the parent being the role-model of how to communicate.”

Another of my respondents said, “We learned (to socialize) by getting along with our family.”  Another said, “We interacted with people of a range of ages, not just children of our own age.”  Another said, “As home educated children, we have mixed with a large number of people, including Christian people.”

These comments indicate that the second understanding of the word socialize requires a much more diverse interaction between children and others than is provided by schools.  Schools lock children away in age-segregated classrooms and gets them to play in age-segregated playgrounds, thus limiting their socialization opportunities — a very good environment for brainwashing and indoctrination into a socialist mindset.  On the other hand, home-based educators, especially those who unschool, (and not home school), provide opportunities for their children to mix with a very broad range of people, but in a safe context.

From this perspective, then, children can only truly be socialized when they are unschooled, under the care and protection of loving parents and siblings.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_Fabian_Society#Notable_members

** http://www.penguin.com/static/pdf/teachersguides/1984.pdf

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