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.

Ivan Illich, Schooling, Schools

Reflections on Illich 18: The thing that schools are best at is training up workers for the schooling industry and other total institutions

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

p. 48  “School either keeps people for life or makes sure that they will fit into some institution.”

I have finally left school.  I am nearly 58 years of age.  The best years of my life were given to schools and schooling.  However, when I took small breaks from school, I found myself caught up in other total institutions, the most significant being four years serving in the Australian Army.  I am living evidence of Illich’s words.  Upon deep reflection, I have come to believe that schools are poisonous places, and many attendees of schools are wounded for life as a consequence of their schooling experience.  The only real survivors of schooling are those who are oriented to the schooling process, and therefore are easily groomed to perpetuate the institution at one of its many levels (child care, pre-school, primary/elementary school, high school, university, post-graduate school, trade school, Bible school, etc.).   But are these survivors really survivors at all.  There is something satisfying about sharing knowledge with others.  However, the total institution of school breeds workplace bullying, academic ladder-climbing, playground bullying, workload stress, and gives opportunity for despots to rise to the top of the bureaucratic pyramid.

All of this is just not necessary for an education.  It is necessary to keep an industry flooded with public money to fund: mortgage payments, extended paid leave, sabbaticals, superannuation, textbook writing, seminars, tenured university positions, research projects, education journals, etc.  However, an education does not cost any where near the cost of funding public-financed schooling.

A truly educated person is not institutionalized.  An educated person knows how to live life to its fullest, is productive, creative, and knows how to think outside the school-set boundaries–an entrepreneur, an inventor, a pioneer.  A schooled person thinks narrowly, and is trained to believe that there is only one answer–the answer required by the teacher on the test that is coming up.  A schooled person is politically correct. A schooled person is passive, and expects others to provide for them–the well-trained dole recipient, or compliant worker in the top-down corporation.

It is said that it takes at least one month of deschooling to counter each year that a person has been schooled.  I have been deschooling for 15 months as of this post.  I only have three years of deschooling to go, and hopefully then I can start becoming a useful person in my community.  What a waste of a life!

A deschooled society will save the community an enormous amount of wasted money, and provide a much better educated community, as well.



Schooling, Schools, State Schools

It’s not just the children who suffer in schools: schools are poison for everyone

Peter Doulis, a teacher in the state of Victoria, Australia, has recently been awarded $770,000 in damages following a major psychological breakdown caused by teaching in a Victorian state school.  The Victorian Supreme Court awarded the damages against the Victorian Government because of the government’s negligence in not removing Doulis from teaching in dysfunctional classes.  The students were described as ‘feral’, and were reported to have been “virtually crawling up the wall”. Doulis has been suffering a “chronic severe major depressive condition”.

The Victorian President of the Australian Education Union warned that this is a re-ocurring problem because government’s “aren’t prepared to support our schools in the important work that they do in educating our young people.”

Education Unions have a vested interest in schools and schooling, so their solution to the problem is to throw more government money at the issue.  This will not solve the problem, it will only expand the institution that is the root cause.

So, here is evidence of another situation where attending a school is hazardous to health.  The behaviour of the students that is identified as contributive to Doulis’s breakdown is the kind of behaviour that would be expected in a mental institution.  And why should this be surprising?  Both mental institutions and schools are total institutions, as defined by Goffman (1961).

The Secular, Free and Compulsory Schooling experiment has failed dismally, and needs to be scrapped.  It will not happen over night, and who knows how many more teachers, principals and students will be afflicted with breakdowns before the lesson is learned.  Government-funded schools are not places of education, they are prisons and places that inflict enormous pain on a very large number of people subjected to them.

Goffman, E. (1961). Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates.  New York: Doubleday Anchor.



Ivan Illich, Schools, State Schools

Reflections on Illich 11: Schools are ancient and modern, and perpetuate childhood

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

p. 28  “The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces.”

School as we know it in our era has only appeared once before in history, and that was in the Ancient community of Sparta.  According to Flaceliere (1965) at the age of 7 a young boy was taken from his family, schooled in a state-controlled total institution, where he was indoctrinated to give allegiance and unquestioning obedience to the state until his death.  Spartan girls were raised to be on equal footing with the boys, but the objective was with a militaristic end in view – breeders of strong Spartan boys for the Army.  Schools and schooling were designed to create total dependence upon the state, and to form the citizens into military units that responded to the states martial objectives.

In the case of modern schools, their original raison d’etre was also militaristic.  The German Kaisers wanted to created a powerful war machine in Europe, and saw state-compulsory schooling as a means of achieving this objective.  When the concept of state-controlled education reached England, America and Australia, it was seen as a means of creating a large workforce of factory workers.  In the words of Reynolds (2014):

“… the traditional public school: like a factory, … runs by a bell.  Like machines in a factory, desks and students are lined up in orderly rows.  When shifts (classes) change, the bell rings again, and students go on to the next class.  And within each class, the subjects are the same, the assignments are the same, and the examinations are the same, regardless of the characteristics of individual students. … A teacher in a modern industiral-era school was like a factory worker, performing standardized operations on standardized parts.  And the standardized parts–the students–were taught along the way how to fit into a larger machine. … the modern school system provided far less scope for individuality on the part of both its producers and its products.  But the trade-off was seen as worthwhile: the modern assembly-line approach, in both settings, produced more of what society wanted, and it did so at a lower cost.  If standard parts are what you want, an assembly line is better than a blacksmith” (Reynolds, 2014, Standardized Parts and Mass Production).

So, the 19th Century objects of schooling were to create a ready supply of “punctual, obedient factory workers; orderly citizens; and loyal soldiers” (Reynolds, 2014).

Between Sparta and the experiment of the German Kaisers, education was a family and marketplace activity, and was not delivered in schools as we know them today.  In that sense, the school system is a modern phenomenon.  And since factories have shifted from the West to Asia, at least some of the reasons for schools and schooling have disappeared–training of piece-workers with no jobs at the end of the training process.

I remember the first thing that I was told by my platoon sergeant, when I got off the bus and commenced my military training: “Don’t think, soldier! You are not paid to think, that is what officers are paid to do.  You are paid to do as you are told.”  Military training militates against maturity and responsibility.  As a soldier, others make decisions about what you will wear, where you will live, what you will eat, whether you will sleep (or not), how you will behave, and so forth.  Schooling that is based on a militaristic and factory model prevents responsible thinking, the essential prerequisite to maturity.  Growing up requires real opportunities to make significant decisions, with actual consequences.  Schools perpetuate childhood;  particularly in the context of age-segregated cohorts, with age-oriented learning materials.

Education for maturity, education for responsibility and productivity in life requires education in life under the guidance of loving parents, and in the company of supportive siblings.  True education orients a child to the twin objectives: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love your neighbour as yourself.  This cannot be achieved in the context of a school, and is not the by-product of schooling; it is the fruit of unschooling with a discipleship emphasis.



Schools as Total Institutions

Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge, make mention of Goffman’s 1968 work on Total Institutions.  Goffman’s study was centred on a mental institution, but the findings could equally apply to other institutions, such as the military, a prison, and such like.  The following is a list of the qualities that make an institution a total institution, according to Goffman:

  • The institution is convened for a specific purpose
  • All aspects of life take place in the same place and under the same single authority
  • Every part of the member’s normal daily activities takes place in the company of many others
  • All members are treated the same and are required to do the same things together
  • The daily activities are precisely and tightly scheduled by a controlling authority and officials, and through formal rules that are tightly enforced
  • The sever activities are part of a single, overall plan that is intended to fulfil the aims of the organization
  • There is a division between the managers and the managed (e.g. the inmates and the hospital staff; the teachers and the students)
  • The inmates have limited or no contact with the outside world but the officials do have contact with the outside world
  • Access to the outside world for inmates may be physically or institutionally restricted, controlled or forbidden
  • There is some antagonism between the two groups, who hold hostile stereotypes of each other and act on the basis of those stereotypes, often based on inequalities of power
  • Officials tend to feel superior and powerful whilst inmates tend to feel inferior and powerless
  • The cultures and cultural worlds of the officials and inmates are separate
  • The two worlds – of officials and inmates – have limited penetration of each other
  • There is a considerable social distance between the two groups
  • Inmates tend to be excluded from knowledge of decisions made about them
  • Incentives (for work, behaviour) and privileges have greater significance with the institution than they would in the outside world
  • There are limited and formal channels of communication between the members of the two worlds
  • Release from the institutions is often part of the privilege system (Cohen, Manion, Morrison, 2011, p. 581)

Cohen, Manion and Morrison also add, “It can be seen that these features can apply to several different total institutions, of which schools are an example” (2011, p. 581).

No wonder many students rebel against the prison-like feel of schools.  Would they respond differently if education was delivered in a different way?