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:

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.


Home Schools, Home-Based Education

Defining the Terms

George Orwell, in his book, 1984, illustrated the power that comes from defining terms.  New Speak had the capacity to make anything to mean whatever the controllers of a society wanted it to mean.  People with a radically different agenda have been redefining terms for political advantage forever.  My wife cannot use her middle name in public places, because what once meant a happy, fun-loving disposition now refers to a life-style choice that my wife has no desire to have anything to do with.

Since the early 1960s, when Rev Dr Rousas J Rushdoony acted as an expert witness in support of parents who were taken to court because they chose to educate their children at home, the terms home school or homeschool have been widely used to describe such education.  I have chosen to use this term in my dissertation, and throughout this blog site, in a more precise way.  When I use the term home school, I am meaning the setting up of a school-like environment and conducting schooling in the home.

I am now proposing a different term to be used as the coordinating term that describes the education of children out of a home as the base for such an education.  The term I propose to be used is: ‘home-based education’.  Home-based education includes home schooling (as I have defined it) as one of the modes of home-based educational delivery, but home-based education also includes unschooling and radical unschooling as alternative modes of home-based education.

Home-based education is conducted in the context of living life in the company of others; particularly in the company of other family members.  Every part of life is an opportunity to learn something.  This could include learning from formal academic studies, household chores, engaging in communication events with other members of the family, and having foundation skills and ideas developed in young impressionable minds.  The Fabian Socialists and Marxists understand the importance of capturing the young mind, before it is shaped by the family, the church, and other local community sources of skills and knowledge.  This is why they are so adamant about having children sent to school to be socialized (i.e. be indoctrinated into the mindset of socialism).

Home-based education is not home-bound.  The home is an important base, from which the members of the family move in and out.  Amongst the Australian Central Desert First Nations People, the Warlpiri, they have a kinship system (‘skin system’ – has nothing to do with skin colour, it is merely a corruption of the term kinship), and the Jangala/Jampijinpa Nangala/Nampijinpa clan have a concept of complementary states of water.  One state is static water, and the other state is moving water.  Both are critically important.  Static water, such as a billabong, provides a sanctuary for fish and birds to feed and breed in and around.  However, if the water remains static for too long, then the billabong either dries up, or goes stagnant.  In the cycles of the seasons, moving water must flow in and out of the billabong to provide fresh water, to aerate and oxygenate, to flush out accumulated rubbish, and to enable fish and birds from other areas to mix with the fish and birds of the billabong, to strengthen the gene pool.

Home-based education needs to have a safe sanctuary to withdraw to, but it must not become a stagnant pool, so insular and protective, that it becomes stale and stagnant.  This highlights the difference between home-based education and home schooling.  Home schooling is so home focused, that there is no (or very little) interaction with the broader community, and there is no trust that other members of the community can have a positive input into the lives of the young family members.

God has ordained that the home, the church and the market place have a role to play in the development of an educational environment for the younger members of the family.  Certainly, the parents have the primary role of being the gate-keepers of the family, and they need to be discerning as to who they expose their children to.  The church has a very important role in helping parents to develop a godly sense of discernment, and should work with the family to set up safety barriers and limits as to who, in the market place, has educational access to the children.  However, no sets of parents are able to supply everything that each member of the family needs to have a rich and meaningful education.


Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)

Some Comments on my Involvement with Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)

My experience with Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) stretches all the way back to 1981, when, on our honeymoon, my wife and I visited the Christian Life Community Centre in Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia.  We were introduced, at that time, to the school that was associated with the church, and which was using the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum and mode of educational delivery (the school is now called Toowoomba Christian College (TCC), and has not used the ACE material for a long time).  We were told that the program enabled Christian parents to provide a Christian education for their children.  The program had been brought to Toowoomba from Blackheath in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, where it had been introduced into Australia in late 1976, and was being used by Mountains Christian Academy.  My wife and I joined Christian Life Community in 1982, shortly after I was discharged from the Army on 11th May, of that year.

From early 1984 to late 1986 I studied at the Darling Downs Institute of Advance Education (in Toowoomba) the units that led to my obtaining a Diploma of Teaching (Primary).  I did very well in my studies, achieving 17 Distinctions (A’s), 10 Credits (B’s), 2 Pass (C’s) and 1 Ungraded Pass (P).  I then went, in 1987, to Bible College in the Blue Mountains and obtained a Diploma of Biblical Studies with Honours (subsequently I have obtained a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Education (Leadership,) a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment, and am in the latter stages of a Doctor of Philosophy (Education) degree).  It was my hope that I would be employed by the Christian Life Community Centre School.  However, I was not.  So, I never got to work in an ACE School, but I did get to see, at close hand, how an ACE school functioned.  I read through many of the PACEs, witnessed the children seated in their cubicles with star charts, flags, no communication, waiting, independent scoring (after getting permission), and everything else that characterized an ACE school in those days.

Whilst working on my Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology and Teaching Methodology units for my Diploma of Teaching (Primary) I came across the work of B. F. Skinner and his Behaviourism School.  I was particularly interested in his teaching machines, which reminded me so much of the ACE way of educational delivery.

My first teaching appointment was at the Christian Outreach College (COC) in Toowoomba, which also started as an ACE school, but which very early on in its history dropped the ACE curriculum and embraced the Queensland state curriculum.  By the time I was teaching at COC Toowoomba, it was like a regular school, with age-segregated classes, using traditional didactic approaches to educational delivery.  TCC was still an ACE school at that time.

As I taught at COC it became clearer and clearer to me that the ACE system, delivered in a school context (as originally conceived) was a defective mode of educational delivery.  Sentences are important in the development of complete thought.  Writing sentences is an important part of the process of creating a multi-sensory connection between the knowledge that is to be engaged, learning, long-term memory, and the practical usefulness of the knowledge.  By getting children to simply fill in spaces with words was getting them to focus on isolated incidents in the text, and not drawing them into the complete thoughts being communicated.  I came to the conclusion that ACE was not teaching children to think, it was indoctrinating them and brainwashing them into a set worldview.  The set worldview was Dispensational Fundamentalism.  It became my opinion that ACE PACEs could only be useful, if after filling in the spaces, the children were required to engage with the text by writing summaries in full sentences, or at the least, copying some of the sentences completely in another exercise book, so that the thoughts in the sentences could be considered in their entirety, not just key words being memorization so that they can be written into the spaces of the tests.

I went to Canberra in 1998 and worked with Light Educational Ministries.  In Canberra I was trained in Intensive Phonics, both in Spalding Phonics and LEM Phonics.  It was that training that convinced me that a multi-sensory, multi-modal approach to education was essential for solid learning (this was explored in my Master of Education (Leadership) final dissertation**).  ACE was neither multi-sensory, nor was it multi-modal.  By this time, also, I had become a Biblical Christian, rather than a New Testament Christian (as exemplified in Dispensational, Fundamentalism).  ACE was now further down in my consideration of educational approaches: it was defective in its pedagogy, in its curriculum content and in the worldview that it was seeking to imbed into young minds.  I wanted to be generous, so I thought that it might be a useful way for Christian parents to bridge into homeschooling.  ACE, by 1993, was the largest provider of resources for Christian homeschoolers in Australia*.  However, whenever I spoke to parents who were considering the use of ACE material, I always advised them to get the children to interact with other materials outside of the ACE provided PACEs, and to get the children to summarize the PACEs into a separate notebook, or at least copy some of the sentences in their entirety into the notebook, so that the children were engaging in complete thoughts.

Amongst my research respondents, I received a range of comments, in regards to the ACE program.  They ranged from: “It was done very badly, … fruitloops were using ACE … ACE was a crappy progam; it was childish … We cheated all the way through our home schooling … focused on academics more than the social elements of education … I was so lonely … I hated schooling” through to: “It (ACE) is a brilliant curriculum … a curriculum that builds on itself … the curriculum enables the child to take pauses, and when they are ready again, to continue their progression through the curriculum. … there are no gaps, and there is no wasted time having to go back over things–minimize gaps”.  One respondent reported that the ACE material was: “boring material … there were entire books of time tables, and I had to work for 45 minutes at a time through the books … I remember there were sentences and I had to fill in gaps with words.  It was all writing stuff.  There was not much talking. … I was mostly expected to finish a certain number of pages.”

The family that reported the worst experiences with ACE material, was a family that employed the material in a home school context that followed the ACE Procedures Manual implicitly.  By bringing an ACE School into the home, the worst elements of ACE were concentrated and the result was a hatred for education and learning, which spilled over into fractured family relationships.

The family that reported the best experiences with ACE material threw the Procedures Manual out the window (metaphorically), and used the PACEs as resources to explore ideas,rather than as an end in themselves.  They were used as a jump-off point to pursue other lines of thought, and there were many other educational aspects to their home-based education than simply being schooled by the Manual.

I am still of the opinion that an ACE education is defective pedagogically, in academic content, and in its brand of Christian world and life view.  However, I do concede that some people may be able to use the ACE resources to good effect, if they use the PACEs as a jumping-off point to then go and do lots of other pedagogically sound activities.  I would never try to stop families using ACE material, but I would always counsel them to use the material interactively and creatively, and never use it as a tool to keep their children in isolation from others.  At its best, this is cruel, and at its worst it is abusive.  Children need socialization – not in schools, but in the context of learning alongside significant others with a range of ages and life experiences.  ACE, as it was originally conceived, militates against this.

For a more detailed critique of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), refer to:



Is it true that kids can only be socialized in a school environment?

Now, this is a question that can be very frustrating, because the answer is both yes and no.  It all depends upon what is meant by the word ‘socialize’.

One of my research respondents said, “The definition of socialization is essential in understanding this question.”  And they were dead right.  How we define the process of socialization will determine where and how the socialization process needs to take place.

Socialists of many stripes, including so-called Christian socialists, dominate the schooling system at all levels.  A former Education Minister in the Federal Government (who became a Prime Minister) is a self-proclaimed Fabian Socialist*, and has advanced the socialist cause in schools from her elevated positions of civil authority (think Australian Curriculum).  Teachers’ Unions are socialist fronts and text books are written from a socialist perspective.  Karl Marx, the father of modern socialist thinking, in Part II of his Communist Manifesto advocated, amongst other things, “Free education for all children in public schools.”

Socialization, therefore, is the process whereby children are indoctrinated into the mindset of socialism.  Socialism is a condition of helpless dependence upon the state.  The more dependent people are upon the state, the stronger the socialist hold will be upon a society.  The ultimate end of socialism is the total control, by the state, over every minute aspect of the lives of the members of the state (think the book, 1984**).

Given this definition and context for socialization, the answer of course is, school is the most efficient institution to facilitate the socialization of a large number of children.

However, socialization can be defined in a different way, and it is usually the way that unsuspecting parents have been taught to think about the word when confronted by teachers and others advocating that their children need to go to school to be properly socialized.  One of my respondents defined the term in this way: “Socialization is about learning to communicate to many people in many contexts, with the parent being the role-model of how to communicate.”

Another of my respondents said, “We learned (to socialize) by getting along with our family.”  Another said, “We interacted with people of a range of ages, not just children of our own age.”  Another said, “As home educated children, we have mixed with a large number of people, including Christian people.”

These comments indicate that the second understanding of the word socialize requires a much more diverse interaction between children and others than is provided by schools.  Schools lock children away in age-segregated classrooms and gets them to play in age-segregated playgrounds, thus limiting their socialization opportunities — a very good environment for brainwashing and indoctrination into a socialist mindset.  On the other hand, home-based educators, especially those who unschool, (and not home school), provide opportunities for their children to mix with a very broad range of people, but in a safe context.

From this perspective, then, children can only truly be socialized when they are unschooled, under the care and protection of loving parents and siblings.