deschooling, Discipleship, Ivan Illich, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 02: Schools don’t just school the kids, they school the whole society

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. 4  “Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs ‘deschooling’.”

When I was growing up, the most common comment made to a child when met by an adult was, “What are you going to be when you leave school?”  It was assumed that children went to school.  No one that I knew even thought of a possible alternative.  Schools and schooling are a mindset, and a mental stronghold.  And the stronghold pervades our western culture.  Sure, there are small pockets of those who have thought outside the norm, and there is an even smaller minority who have actually applied themselves to the task of doing stuff that is not like school.

However, due to the pervasiveness of schools and schooling, the very fabric of western culture is schooled.  Schools look very much like total institutions (as I argue in my dissertation pp. 87-90), and the survivors of schools carry institutionalized thinking into the general culture.  This spreads institutional thinking throughout the culture.

Institutional thinking reduces human value and interaction down to systems, rationalization, pragmatism and utilitarianism, that is measured quantitatively.  All in all you’re just another brick in the wall (to paraphrase Waters).

This is in contradistinction to organic thinking.  Organic thinking is creative, entrepreneurial, cooperative, relational and achieves quantity through qualitative measures.

Institutional thinking is top-down.  Organic thinking is top-up; and by top-up I mean the kind of leadership that serves and equips, rather than uses and rules over.

Cultural change must begin with me and mine, and must start with a change of heart.  Having a change of heart, we need to become educated after a process of deschooling.  From my perspective, the best way to become educated is through unschooling, and the most powerful unschooling is that that which is done at the side of a caring and trustworthy mentor, who demonstrates and coaches, equips and encourages, and finally releases into joy and fruitfulness in life.  Over time, this will leaven the whole of the culture with an unschooled mindset.  It has to start somewhere.

deschooling, Ivan Illich, Unschooling

Some thought provoking quotes from Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich published Deschooling Society in 1970.  The concept of deschooling has moved on from Illich’s definition.  However, many of the ideas in his book are worth revisiting.

Illich, I. (1970). Deschooling Society. Cuernavaca, Mexico: CIDOC.  Downloadable from:

p. xix  “Universal education through schooling is not feasible.  It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools.  Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education.  The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

p. 4  “Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs ‘deschooling’.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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

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

p. 28  “The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces.”

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

p. 31  ” The most important role of schools is to create jobs for accredited teachers, no matter what their pupils learn from them.”

p. 32  “The school teacher is a ‘secular priest’.”

p 39  “We cannot begin a reform of education unless we first understand that neither individual learning nor social equality can be enhanced by the ritual of schooling.”

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.”

p. 40  “Most learning is not the result of instruction.  It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.”

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.”

p. 48  “School either keeps people for life or makes sure that they will fit into some institution.”

p. 75  “Everywhere the hidden curriculum of schooling initiates the citizen to the myth that bureaucracies guided by scientific knowledge are efficient and benevolent.”

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

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

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

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.”

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God doesn’t want you to send your children to school: He wants them to have an education

After climbing to the top of the academic tree of education by earning a Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (School Leadership), Doctor of Philosophy (Christian Education) and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment [mostly self-funded], and working for about 30 years at all levels of school from Preschool to adult education, I have come to realise that the deficiencies in educational outcomes for children in the western world are because of schools and schooling. Schools and schooling have always been the problem.


My new book is now available from Amazon.

Education and Schooling are not synonymous. A proper education does not require children to be sentenced to twelve years locked away in a total institution as if they were criminals, mentally insane, enlisted in the military or part of a religious cult.

The state has no mandate, at all, to be involved in education. Education is the proper sphere of the family, with support from the church, and assistance from free-market tutors and other community custodians of skills and knowledge.

True education should be delivered through unschooling, with a discipleship emphasis. Ivan Illich explored the idea in the 1970s, and the Triune God of the Bible emphatically agrees.  You can get this book from Amazon.

Some time ago, now, I walked away from working in a school as a school administrator. I am on the road to deschooling, but am conscious that there is much more of the road that needs to be traveled.

The focus of my research is around Biblical Christian deschooling/unschooling.  Over time I will be triangulating the things that I have found in the literature, with interviews conducted with families that are actually unschooling, and comparing the results with the development of my own thoughts over 30 years, as recorded in my personal journals.

I look forward to the day when home-based education is the norm, not just a curious anomaly.  Those who would like to read my book, you can get a copy from Amazon.


The dissertation for my post-graduate doctoral degree is located here: Dissertation found at this location .