deschooling, Discipleship, Education, Education Delivery Programs, Ivan Illich, Socialization, Teaching, Unschooling

Reflections on Illich 22: Unschooling and a flexible learning web: the dangers of age-segregation in schools

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

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.”

One of the important defining characteristics of school and schooling is age-grade segregation.  Age-grade segregation is justified on grounds of socialization and child-development theory.  It is argued that children need to be exposed to peer-relationships so that they can learn how to relate to a cohort of children their own age.  It is also argued that all children pass through development stages at the same time, and therefore they need to be related to, in an age-appropriate manner.

These two presuppositions are fallacious at several points.  Firstly, God placed children into families.  In most cases, families grow at the rate of one child at a time, with significant age intervals between each child.  God is wisdom personified.  The only wise God, our Saviour, would not ordain a process that is fundamentally flawed.  Therefore, I argue that the best learning environment is not age-segregated, but multi-generational, with a broad range of ages represented in the learning environment.  I have worked in schools for 25 years.  I can speak with a measure of authority.  I have worked in Christian schools, state schools, private schools, schools for Aboriginal children, and the common factor between all these schooling contexts is that age-segregated children degenerate to the lowest common denominator.  Children crave attention.  If they cannot get it from the overworked teacher, they will look for it in their peers, and the peer that they usually crave attention from is the coolest dude–the naughtiest kid in the class.  Their socialization is downwards through the pressure of wanting to conform to be accepted–even in the case of a good family, good kids are dragged down, in the school context, and many good families have lost their children to the pressures of socialization in schools.  In an inter-generational, multi-age learning setting, the child will look for attention from the strongest role model–their socialization is upwards, into the lifestyle of the patriarch of the learning environment.

Secondly, children are not equal.  There may be general growth phases, but not all children reach the same milestones at the same time in all areas of growth.  To presuppose equality of development, will lead to holding back of those who are ready to move on in some areas, and forcing outcomes from those who are not ready in other areas, and generally trying to squeeze the cohort of children into a teacher-determined mediocrity.  In this context, none of the children are fully developed in any of their strong areas, many of the children are crushed because too much is expected of them in their weak areas (and as a result of the crushing they lose confidence to learn in their good areas) and every one has the desire to learn taught out of them.

Home-based education that is firmly grounded on unschooling principles, with a discipleship emphasis, is the best means of establishing individual learning needs in children.  If there were local Flexi-Learning Centres scattered around the country, then a register of learning opportunities could be kept so that children could be connected with an appropriate local custodian of specific knowledge sets, skills, and experiences.  Those who gather around this local expert will be there because they want to learn, not because they are of the same age.  Such learning contexts may include multi-generational learners, and a distribution of a wide range of ages.  No one should be excluded from learning simply on the basis of age.  Older learners will be there to help younger learners, and learners who teach other learners will enhance their own learning–a fresh look at peer tuition.

 

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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 Delivery Programs, Home-Based Education, Ivan Illich, Schooling

Reflections on Illich 08: Floating the idea of Flexi-Learning Centres

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

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.”

As I continue to argue, from my perspective, the best form of foundational education is unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.  However, no family is able to pass on to the children everything that needs to be learned for the child to become a mature contributor to the welfare of the community.  There comes a time (sometimes earlier, and sometimes later in the child’s education) where there must be recourse to learned and skilled others in the community.

The question is, how is the access obtained?  Illich’s suggestion is that there be networks or services that provided a clearing-house for those with passionate concerns to meet with those with the same passion and desire to learn.  A forum for connecting those in the community who are experts in a field of knowledge or skills-set, with those who want to acquire that knowledge and/or skills-set.

This should not be institutionalized, where the financial remuneration for the exchange of knowledge and skills comes from government taxes, or even mostly from other institutions such as the church.  These clearing-houses need to be privately managed, and the financial exchange be between the families seeking the knowledge/skills and the supplier of the knowledge/skills.

I am calling these clearing-houses Flexi-Learning Centres.  They are not to take over the role of the home.  However, home-based education uses the home as a bases, where learning is done in and out of the home, and such networks and services, as suggested by Illich, become a means of accessing a whole range of supplementary educational experiences. 

A Flexi-Learning Centre would not be a school; there would be no compulsion, there would be no age-grade segregation, there would be no government-mandated curriculum, there would be nothing of school in the mix.  Activity may take place at the Flexi-Learning Centre, if appropriate, but there is no requirement for this to take place if learning would be better accessed in another place.  However, it would be a location where families could find out about what is available, where, when and at what cost, and delivered by whom.

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Education Delivery Programs, Home-Based Education, Unschooling

Flexi-Learning Centres as a service to home-based educators

I am thinking about the concept of a Flexi-Learning Centre in accessible locations around Australia, primarily serving the home-based education community.  What do home-based educators think?

I am proposing that in Australia there be developed a federation of Flexi-Learning Centres. These centres would not be in competition with Flexible Learning Centres ‘Youth +’ run by Edmund Rice Education Australia. Flexible Learning Centres ‘Youth +’ are run as registered schools and they target youths who have fallen through the gaps in regular schools. The Term Flexi-Learning Centre was a term coined by me in 2001, and was included in a proposal to establish such a centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, at the time (This was a long time before Edmund Rice Education Australia called their facilities ‘Flexible Learning Centres’).   Flexi-Learning Centres, in contrast, will be privately managed, partially supported by the tithes and offerings of local churches, and partially supported by commercially contracted fees paid by the users of the service. Typically, Flexi-Learning Centres (F-LC) will be run out of private homes, or rented facilities. Access to the facilities and/or resources is by paying a locally determined fee.   Their target market will be home-based educators, whether home schoolers, unschoolers or radical unschoolers. F-LCs would be equipped with a growing Biblical Christian research library, consisting of physical books that can be read in-situ, digital books that can be accessed in the F-LC by computer, or accessed on-line through a purchased password. Christian home schooling textbooks could be available for loan or purchase. The F-LCs would have a range of technologies available for educational use, such as photocopiers, printers, scanners, computers, and access to the internet. There will be a place where lessons can be conducted, discussions and meetings can take place, and help and guidance can be found. A cup of coffee can be purchased, and serious discussions about things Biblical Christian can be freely engaged in. The F-LCs will be a learning clearing house, where a database of skills and knowledge providers (who have been vetted by police checks, character reference checks, and due diligence on the local grapevine) will be made available to those who want to obtain direct instruction or apprenticeship in specific areas. Access will be by payment of a locally determined fee, and inclusion on the list will be by payment of a periodic fee. It is envisioned that all kinds of different learning opportunities will take place in, around and out of the F-LCs. A very limited sample might include such things as: parenting workshops, household budgeting workshops, vegetable garden design demonstrations, pet care classes, Bible Studies, teaching evangelism, worship services, permaculture design ideas exchange, intensive phonics instruction, mathematics instruction, controlled science experiments demonstrated, and so on.

Associated with the F-LCs would be a portal enabling enrolment in an Australian campus of the New Geneva Christian Leadership Academy (NGCLA), currently located in Appomattox, Virginia, U.S.A. Local Biblically competent scholars will be encouraged to function as mentors for young people engaging in formal study through NGCLA. NGCLA would offer tailored learning units that can be linked together by students into a meaningful string of relevant and practical learning in accordance with the students’ interests and passions. NGCLA, over time, will develop a comprehensive digital library of books and articles that relate to all facets of life from a consistently Biblical Christian perspective, and in particular, providing an Australian perspective to the topics. Students will be encouraged to make their studies practical, with a measurably actionable outcome at the end of the study process. Local mentors will meet with the students on a regular basis, typically weekly, and will set small research assignments relating to the student’s interests. At the regular meetings the students will report back on what was learned in the previous period, and the mentor will ask clarifying questions around the things that have been learned, and then assign a further research question to be investigated over the next study period. This cycle of study and questioning will continue until the student has sufficient knowledge to engage in a practical project. At the conclusion of the practical project, the student will write up the body of knowledge learned through the research phase, and report on the experience gained in the practical project. This combined theoretical and practical report will form the basis for awarding a graduation acknowledgement in that area of interest. Students can engage in as many or as few of these cycles of learning as they want. It would be hoped that the things learned would enable the student, over time, to develop a range of marketable skills and knowledge sets that can be turned into an entrepreneurial enterprise. One of the cycles could be related to how to set up a viable internet-based business. Another could relate to setting up business accounts, and legally minimising tax payments. Payment to the mentor will be lesson by lesson, and this will encourage the mentors to make their appointments with the students interesting, so that the students will be encouraged to return. This will ensure that poor teachers move on, and good teachers are rewarded. To make the process viable for the mentor, and affordable for the students, there may be a small group of four to six students at each of the meetings.

NGCLA would also offer the opportunity to study formal bodies of knowledge from a Biblical Christian perspective, with the view of encouraging the students to contribute to the wider community of Biblical Christian scholarship and perhaps contribute to the development of a series of whole Bible commentaries and research resources in varied spheres of cultural endeavour. Individual students can work on projects on their own, and communities of students can work on projects cooperatively, mediated through the communication networks that are associated with the F-LCs and the Australian and international campuses of the NGCLA.

Connected to the NGCLA would be a publishing house that regularly gathers, peer-reviews, and publishes scholarly articles in digital magazines that focus on a range of cultural activities and foci. These magazines, after release, will be stored on the NGCLA database for use by NGCLA research students who are taking on advanced studies. The emphasis will be on the Australian context, but articles will be accepted for inclusion from like-minded communities in other countries. Permission will be obtained to reprint pertinent articles that appear on web sites on the world wide web. This database will have mirror sites around the world to protect against cyber terrorism and vandalism.

Is this something that would interest home-based educators in Australia?

Would love to hear from any one about this idea.

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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: 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.”

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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