Certification, deschooling

To what extent does schooling prevent creative thinking?

Just yesterday I was in a workshop of a mining company.  The mining company is winding down because of a significant down turn in the Australian economy, and there are only a couple of men working in the huge shed.

We had been having coffee at an old office desk, and had to walk some distance to the ablutions block to get water for the hot water jug.  One of the workers decided that it would be far better to have the amenities better arranged, so he converted the office desk into a fully functioning sink, with an overhead shelf to store the coffee ingredients, with both hot and cold water running in the sink, in the workshop.  He did so after walking around the site, scrounging bits and pieces from this and that, installing an old hot water service that he found, diverting water from a distant external tap, diverting the grey water into a drain and decorating the whole arrangement with corrugated iron to give it a rustic look.

I looked at the bloke after he had finished installing everything, and asked if I could inquire of him a question.  He agreed.  I said, “Did you do well at school?”  His response, “I hated my teachers and they hated me.  I hated school, and did not do well at school.”  I then asked him, “So, what is your trade?”  His reply, “I don’t have a trade.”

This man had very little successful schooling, was not officially taught a trade, but was able to apply skills from plumbing, carpentry, boiler-making and diesel-mechanics.  He is holding a job in an industry that is laying off most of its higher-paid, highly qualified employees, and was able to come up with a solution to a complex practical problem by scrounging and using whatever tools were at hand.

Australia needs a lot more unschooled, creative thinking, practically-oriented blokes like this fellow I ran into the other day.  He grew up on a farm, as a kid, so that could explain his familiarity with such a range of skills.  However, he hasn’t been trained, and doesn’t hold any certificates – he simply thinks laterally, has a go, and accomplishes stuff.

Lots to think about.

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Certification, deschooling, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 21: Schools militate against the reality that we are not all created equal

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

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.”

In his essay, ‘Human Variation and Individuality’, from the book, The Twelve Year Sentence, H. George Resch (1974) argues that there is no such thing as equality in the universe.  At every level, every human being, and every other created thing, has stamped upon it individuality.  The modern mantra of equality spits in the face of reality.  We are not created equal.  We should not be treated equally.  The expectation of equal outcome from equal opportunity is a hollow expectation.  It is demanding greater and greater resources for lesser and lesser result.

Those who espouse equality despise the Sovereignty of God; they despise the idea that God has fore-ordained and pre-determined all things–including our roles and functions in society.  It is true that some have used the idea of ordained roles and functions to suppress others and appoint them to positions of slavery.  This is a perversion of the doctrine of Sovereignty.  “For freedom Christ has set us free, … do be not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 teaches us.  No, God is an infinite God, and He has created  an infinite variety in expression of the roles that He has ordained.  This means that individuality needs to be nurtured, encouraged, and allowed to become an expression of expertise.  This means that each person requires an intimately individualized education track.  Sure, there will be core skills that many will share.  However, not everyone will need all of those core skills to be the best that they can be in whatever it is that God has created them to be excellent in.  Mandating core skills will inhibit the growth and development of some for whom such skills are not appropriate.

The educational paths of individuals should touch and part, mingle and separate, and trace a learning dance across the community.  Some will learn some things from this person, but then learn different things from a range of other people, in totally different contexts.  This dance of learning will be encouraged and facilitated by parents, but be tempered with a consideration of the interests, gifts, passions, calling, abilities and other marks of individuality within the student.  It cannot be centrally predetermined.  It cannot be centrally administrated.  It cannot be centrally certificated, regulated, and controlled.  It is an expression of the creativity and providence of the Infinite Triune God.

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Certification, Education, Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 20: We need to consider the wealth to be gained from deregulated teaching in the marketplace

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

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.”

Freedom can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ: “For freedom Christ has set us free; …” (Galatians 5:1).  It is the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Law of God which provide the constraints around freedom that prevents it from becoming license.  To legislate for freedom, without first ensuring there is a change in heart of the majority in the community, is only to entrench greater and greater measures of license.  So-called academic freedom in the west has morphed into an unchecked attack on truth.  Academic freedom has come to mean the proclamation of anything, without accountability.  Being that, as it may, laws concerning libel and slander and inciting riot do place a measured check around license, therefore political censorship of all speech is contrary to the freedom that Christ has offered those who believe in Him.

Furthermore, the notion of rights under girds all kinds of aberrant lifestyles and behaviours.  The Bible knows nothing of rights.  The Bible teaches privileges and responsibilities.  Those who bear their responsibilities enjoy the privileges that come with them.  Those who shirk their responsibilities lose their privileges.  Without such a balance, the claim for rights, without a corresponding check, leads once again to unrestrained license.

Having said all this, the point that Illich makes concerning the deregulation of teaching is a valid one.  Teaching should not be limited to those who hold a state-issued license.  The issue of false and dangerous teachers can be addressed with laws that prohibit the propagation of ideas that incite violence, riot, and promote degenerate and immoral lifestyles.  The free exchange of ideas is an important part of community growth and development.  New ideas, that are tested and weighed against old values, when they survive the debate, and blossom out of the trials, can lead to better conditions and enjoyment of life.  New ideas should not be feared, simply because they are new.  Untested, and unchallenged ideas cannot be embraced without due diligence.  A free education market is the best place to ensure that such ideas do get considered, debated, trialed and either embraced or rejected by the community.

It is the narrowing of curriculum, through the centralization of curriculum choice, that does the most damage to education.  Centralized curriculum is indoctrination, not education.  A free education market will guarantee a much broader  curriculum in the marketplace.  Local decisions will adjust curriculum to local need, and the sharing of educational content between communities will ensure that the best of ideas are generally accessed.  This will allow individuals to follow their gifting, their passion and their interests more fully, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to become an expert in something.  This will result in a much wealthier community that is served by a plethora of experts in a hugely diverse range of knowledge sets, giftings and skills.

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Certification, deschooling, Education, Funding, Ivan Illich, Schooling

Reflections on Illich 19: The radical heart of Ivan Illich’s proposal: a deschooled but educating society

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

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.”

Of all the quotes from Ivan Illich’s book discussed thus far, this is the most important.  He is proposing a radically deregulated education system.  A schooled society will struggle with this proposal.  It is inconceivable that education can take place without centralized control, and lots and lots of public money being thrown at the bureaucracy.  In fact, as it is more and more evident that publicly-funded, centrally-controlled education does not work, there will be more and more calls for greater controls and vastly increased amounts of money to be chucked down the black hole of the failed secular, free and compulsory schooling experiment.

What Illich is proposing is that there be locally and privately owned educational portals, unfettered by government and other institutional interference through Constitutional guarantee.  These portals are to become educational markets, places of exchange where those who have expertise, and a passion to pass that expertise on to others, can meet up with those who have a passion to learn the knowledge and skills that are being offered.  These portals will assist with due diligence in checking the backgrounds of those presenting themselves as education providers, however, at the end of the day the exchange of knowledge, skills and experience will be a free-market contract, without compulsion and requirement for government approved certification or qualification.  Such markets will not necessarily provide enough remuneration for educators to survive without also having a real ‘job’.  It will require teachers to be grounded in reality, as they deal with the workplace as well as engage in educating others.  Very good teachers will be well patronized, but poor teachers will either have to improve their teaching skills, or go back to their day job.

As I said, a schooled society will find this a very difficult concept to think through.  However, until we take seriously Illich’s proposal, we will continue to subject children to the twelve year sentence*, and waste vast amounts of public funds, that could be spent elsewhere, on a failed educational concept.

* Rickenbacker, W. F. [Ed.]. (1974). The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Schooling. New York, NY: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.

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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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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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