Ivan Illich, Literacy, Schooling, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 04: Why so long to do such simple stuff (and then get it wrong at the end of the process)

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

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.”

My initial training in schooling was as a Primary Teacher.  I have qualifications and experience at every level of schooling: Diploma of Teaching (Primary), Bachelor of Education, Master of Education (Leadership), Doctor of Philosophy (Education) and Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (Vocational Training of Adults).  I also have training in the teaching of reading and writing: a Certificate in the 4S Literacy Program, a Certificate in Spalding Phonics, and an Advanced Certificate in LEM Phonics.

I have taught at all age levels from Pre-school, through High School, vocational education for post secondary students, and have tutored a very large number of university students, helping them with their undergraduate studies.

I have taught in cross-cultural contexts people from a very large range of ethnic and language backgrounds: from China, Taiwan, Korea, Maldives, South Sudan, Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, and other places.

I have worked with Australian Aboriginal students, particularly from the Warlpiri nation, both in and through English and in and through their native language, Warlpiri.

I think I know a little about what I am talking about when discussing education and schooling. 

Well, when I ran a small tutoring business, providing help to illiterate children and adults who had been going to school for many years, or who had left school after many years of attendance, it amazed me how very short a time it took to get the students to independently read and write using an Intensive Phonics method.  I had one student, who had been ascertained Level 7 Learning Disabled, who had an attention span of only 2-5 seconds in the classroom, who could not read and write by the end of primary (elementary) school. Over a four-week period he developed an attention span of up to 20 minutes a session, and wrote beautifully crafted words, correctly spelled, in properly formed sentences, and then was able to read them back to me accurately.

Why couldn’t seven years of primary schooling produce the result that I was able to produce in four weeks?  I have the dated befores and afters in my files, for anyone who wants evidence.  And yet, repeatedly, I have been persecuted, bullied, and forbidden to use in my school classrooms the techniques that I used successfully in my tutoring business.

Anyone can teach children to read and write.  It does not take a long time.  It does not require complex resources, and years of study and preparation.  I can teach anyone who wants to learn, how to teach their child to be an independent reader and writer in a matter of moths for a younger child, and in a few weeks for an older child.  It is not hard.  It is not a mystery, and it does not take four years teacher-training, and then 12 to 13 years of application in a school (and even then a very large number of school graduates cannot read and write) to produce the results.

There is something wrong with schools–no, there are lot of things wrong with schools–and one of those things is the length of time it takes to do badly what really only should take a short time to do well.

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Ivan Illich, Teaching

Reflections on Illich 03: Teaching is not all there is to learning, and it is not restricted to schools and schooling

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

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.”

In my dissertation (pp. 122 – 136) I argue that the office/ministry of teacher has a place in a society.  However, teachers must function in their teaching roles as marketplace entrepreneurs, under the instruction of church officers, and engaging parents directly with free-market contracts.  There must be no compulsion in the contractual relationship, no age or time restrictions and no restrictions to location. 

Teaching has a valid role to play in the education of a student, but there must not be a prescription around who is to be the teacher at what particular stage in the student’s educational journey.  This must be determined by the parent, in consultation with the child (in the case of older children).  But there should be no impediment to others being involved in the teaching events.

When the compulsion is taken out of the equation, then teaching events also become learning events.  When young people are engaged in things that they have a passion about, then they will be much more receptive to the teaching that is taking place — if teaching is what is needed for learning to occur.

It is true, most of the real learning that takes place is after the teaching has ceased.  I think of driving a car, for instance.  When I wanted to learn to drive a car, I sourced a driving instructor (a specialist teacher of a specific skill).  This was a family friend who was willing for me to learn to drive in his car.  He was not government trained, not government certified, not government supervised.  He simply had a skill that he was willing to share with me, and my parents contracted with him to teach me what he knew.  When he finished teaching me the basics, then I obtained my driver’s license, and then commenced to learn how to drive.  It wasn’t until I was allowed to put the basics to unsupervised practice, that I then learned about driving in various conditions, at various speeds, with various loads, sizes of cars, etc.  I enhanced my learning by adding personal experience and research to what I was taught.

Why does this have to be restricted to learning how to drive a car?  Could it not equally apply to learning how to read, learning how to numerate and apply arithmetic to real world applications (such as shopping, trading, designing, etc.)?

Teaching does not have to take place in a school to be teaching.  Teaching is not all there is to acquiring an education, but it is a valid part of the process.  However, the validity of teaching is not realized by restricting it to the location of a school and the schooling process.

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