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.

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.