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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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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