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.

Discipleship, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 09: Learning in life ensures that education is relevent and real

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

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

In a formal schooling situation, learning is standardized and presented as a curriculum.  However, much of the learning that takes place is learning for examinations, not learning for life.  Very little of what is learned for examinations is retained beyond the examination.  In fact, a whole lot of self-learning usually needs to take place, after schooling has finished, for young people to become useful in a vocation.

On the other hand, learning in life (expanding knowledge from the events, situations and opportunities that present themselves as you go about daily routines) ensures that learning is anchored in reality.  This incidental and oftentimes informal learning is usually the learning that remains.

At this time, society tends to give more value to formalized school learning.  However, those who have been unschooled, and especially those who have been unschooled with a discipleship emphasis, will prove to be the most useful and adaptive participants in the broader society, because their learning is relevant, and much more anchored in reality.

Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Life Learning, Schools, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 07: Drill and education are not in competition but are complementary

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

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.”

This is a critically important distinction that needs to be embraced in the context of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.  Schools are very bad at distinguishing between drill and education, and very often swing to either extreme; i.e. fill the school day with drill and call it education, or fill the day with ‘education’, but neglect the importance of drill at critical times in the educational life of the child.

Both drill and education are required.  Both have their place, and one cannot substitute for the other.

What then is meant by education, and what is meant by drill?  How are they different, and how are they complementary?

By education is meant the living of life for the purpose of learning how to live life richly and fully.  An education needs to be liberal, in the older sense of being exposed to a very broad range of experiences and cultural expressions, and being able to engage in social intercourse around around such cultural life.  An education includes exposure to good music, beautiful works of art, great accomplishments in architecture, reading of excellent samples of literature from a range of historical periods, and so forth.

On the other hand, being able to live life requires the mastery of specific skills.  Skills mastery often requires repetition, so that there are mental and physical stimulus-response tracks created in the brain and muscle fibres.  Such drill could include the learning of algorithmic facts (i.e. times tables, addition/subtraction facts), phonics coding and decoding cues, geographical features such as rivers and mountains, and names of states and capital cities, lines of Presidents and Prime Ministers and Kings and Queens to create historical pegs upon which can be hung other historical facts, sport and athletic disciplines, and so forth.

Mastery of such skills is not an education, but neither can an education be complete without the mastery of such skills.  The two must be understood, their part in the unschooling process embraced, and their complementary nature fully appreciated.

This just does not happen in most school contexts.

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.

deschooling, Socialization

… vive la difference …

In the book, The Twelve Year Sentence: Radical Views of Compulsory Schooling, edited by William F. Rickenbacker (1974),  H. George Resch, in his chapter ‘Human Variations and Individuality’ points out that human equality is a myth.  There is nothing equal about any of us, other than our equal responsibility to live righteously before the law.

From the minutiae of our DNA, to the macro details of our body shape, emotional responses, mental capacities, preferences, gifts and motivations; the total combination of who we actually are is completely unique from everyone else who has existed, and ever will exist.

Our uniqueness makes mass education an impossibility.  It is just not possible to cater for all the educational, emotional and relational needs of all the children in a classroom.  The expectation placed on teachers to do so is an unreasonable expectation, and in many cases causes stress for the teacher who is failing to rise to the expectation, and the students who are not having their needs met.

One of my respondents stated that, “… some children need the read / write version of instruction.   However, it is a challenge to children who are not wired that way.  Different families can cater in different ways for the differences in their children.  They can provide a certain kind of education for those children academically-oriented, and give a life-oriented education for those children who are that way inclined.  Parents can cater for the different needs of each of the children.”

Parents who are giving their children educational opportunities in the midst of everyday family life, can guide each of their children into tasks and projects and research assignments that cater for the particular learning style, interest and capacities of that particular child.  In a classroom you are not living life, you are creating an artificial hothouse, and every situation has to be planned and prepared for.  However, not everyone will be catered for, so boredom, frustration and anti-learning elements will be introduced into the classroom, which will draw the teacher’s energies and attention away from the students who are interested and do want to learn.

Long live the differences in humanity.  However, the socializing agenda (i.e. indoctrination into socialism) of schools militates against such differences.  Only home-based unschooling can properly recognize, feed and cause to flourish the uniqueness of each person in the family.