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.

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.

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.

Education, Education Delivery Programs, Home Schools, Home-Based Education, Ivan Illich, Life Learning

Reflections on Illich 01: Home-based education is education in community, not in isolation

The 1970s work of Ivan Illich has been an important point of reference in my PhD dissertation.  In many respects, Illich understood a Biblical Christian approach to the education process.  I am hoping to comment on a series of quotes that are recorded elsewhere in this blog (Illich quotes) .  This is the first of the quotes.  The full text can be obtained:

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

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.”

Here, as in other parts of Deschooling Society, Illich identifies that schools and schooling, because of their very essence, are unable to deliver true education.  Reformation of schools will not bring about the changes that are necessary to enable education to be accomplished.  Schools are, fundamentally, anti-education.  The thing that schools do best is school its attendees.

No amount of reformation, according to Illich — adjustments to the ways schools are constructed and run, changes in teachers’ attitudes to students, the use of technology in the classroom, and even a change in how students are engaged — will alter the outcomes of schooling.  Schools can only school.  And they can only school, and not educate, because they are total institutions that are designed to control every participant and process within them towards a stated end: egalitarianism and unquestioning submission to the state or some other dominating institution, i.e. an organized religion.  This is not an education, it is indoctrination.  It breeds narrow-mindedness, and an incapacity to think independently.

Schools are not to be reformed, they are to be abandoned altogether, and the vast resources that are taken from families and businesses (through taxation) to fund the schooling industry, should remain with the families and the businesses to fund home-based education and more financially viable private enterprise.

The proper context for education to take place, according to Illich, is living life: “the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”  And the support structures for a thorough education are “educational webs.”  Education must be in a context greater than the family.  The family is an essential base from which children move in and out.  Parents are important gate-keepers, who must vet and monitor the kinds of influences that their children are exposed to in the marketplace.  However, no parent is able to provide everything that the child needs for a well-rounded, reality-grounded education. 

There are three essential agents in an education, from a Biblical perspective.  The three agents are: the family, the church and the marketplace.  And the family needs to engage both the church and the marketplace as important sources of educational moments and experiences, not just lock their children away in a family fortress, as some (a small minority) home schooling families do.