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Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich
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Deschooling Society (1970)

by Ivan Illich

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This book takes the myth of schooling as a place where anything important happens and rips it to shreds, and replaces it with deep trust in humanity to learn and to grow on their own terms and not having the terms of 'learning' or 'improvement' dictated to an individual by others. This book confirmed what on some level I think we all know: kids hate school for a reason, and that reason is that school is dumb, no true learning happens, and the actualization of one's authentic self, and the growth needed to be one's best self, happens outside of school. Most of us didn't like being in school anyway, but somehow we forget, and push the values of standardized education onto the next generation. I wish Ivan Illich could run the world. I'd be scared at first, the man is truly radical, but it would be better than the shitshow we have going on right now. ( )
  barnettie | Feb 3, 2019 |
Ivan Illich doesn’t mince words. So far as formal schooling goes, he argues for a society where school is not just out for summer, it’s out completely. In Deschooling Society he writes, “The modern state has assumed the duty of enforcing the judgment of its educators…much as [did] the Spanish kings who enforced the judgments of their theologians through the conquistadors and the Inquisition.” The Inquisition? Now that’s a concussive statement.

Illich’s goal is to unshackle education from institutions. He doesn’t want government or other formal bodies deciding how to educate the populace. He protests that “only by channeling dollars away from the institutions which now treat…education…can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects be stopped.” How stop these disabling acts? Nothing less than a Bill of Rights of Education will do, with the first provision being “The state shall make no law with respect to the establishment of education.” He’d also, we figure out, likely endorse banning educational methods based on the concept of “Childhood.” A related consequence is his idea of permitting “a boy of twelve to become a man fully responsible for his participation in the life of the community…[and] allowed to come of age.” Recalling that he’d been a parish priest, that statement can cause one to blanch.

All this is assertive enough to get my attention. Does he deserve yours? It doesn’t help that the book’s first paragraph is bad enough to discourage any faith he won’t waste our time. And oh, that relentless rhetoric, with hardly a living being in sight. The author offers a torrent of pronouncements notable for the absence of opinions from young people. Illich is the man on the street corner expostulating with oratory that can seem like static because he won’t intrude on his argument testimony from the souls he seeks to save. It would help him, and us, a lot if they could testify.

Interwoven in the argument is Illich’s strong conviction that school exists to serve the power elite. This is no secondary matter and motivates much of his distaste. In his hands, though, that subject becomes boring and distracts from the more interesting theme of revolutionizing education.

In his final chapter, Illich verges on apocalyptic. It appears we now find ourselves in a kind of End Times in which “survival of the human race” will depend on rediscovery of “hope.” Hope, he clarifies, “means trusting faith in the goodness of nature” and it “centers desire on a person from whom we await a gift.” This hope Illich summons calls immediately to mind childhood’s trusting faith when looking to loving parents for help. It is an irony: Illich invokes such hope despite earlier insisting that “Growing up through childhood means being condemned to a process of inhuman conflict between self-awareness and the role imposed by a society.” But by whom is that role introduced? By one’s parents, for most. So it seems we are to achieve survival when the conditions associated with inhuman conflict tend to be at large.

Still, despite how one might be driven away from Deschooling Society, the book has merits. His attitudes toward licensure, certification, and credentialing deserve notice. He understands the mania of how societies “create needs faster than they can create satisfaction.” And while his notion of “learning webs” isn’t introduced all that effectively, it is a prescient idea that the internet age makes realistic. Unless a reader is resistant to hearing others’ thoughts, the book will be a stimulus, even if only to wrestle with how to form objections. Naturally it would please Illich best if your wrestling is undertaken for some purpose other than completing a school or institutional assignment.

A fascinating article illustrating a real-world educational alternative called “unschooling” was published in Outside magazine a few years ago. It is “We Don’t Need No Education,” by Ben Hewitt, and is online. There are living young people in it and their experiences speak to the possibility that education can be done without curriculum-bound schools or “home” schools. Check it out, along with Hewitt’s other writings on the subject, especially if Illich’s way of arguing cause you to lose interest not in his subject but in his book. ( )
  dypaloh | Dec 6, 2018 |
Deschooling Society is a collection of essays based around the author's idea that society might be better off without the formal schooling system that is prevalent in most industrialised countries. He supports this radical proposition by stating that the majority of learning is done outside of the formal educational system, and that school itself is therefore not necessary for education.
A second strand to the argument is that industrialised nations have to rely too much on "pre-packaged" services, in which a service is consumed. As the whole of society revolves around consumer institutions, be these in healthcare, education, and retail, we treat these services as something we complacently consume and not as something we actively participate in. This is in contrast to historic or non-industrialised nations where learning is achieved when it is useful to the individual, for example during an apprenticeship for a certain means of livelihood, or learning from family elders. The instituton of school, the author claims, is maladjusted to the needs of the individual and seeks to teach everyone the same thing whether it is useful to them or not – thereby wasting vast resources of time and money. The very existence of schools and universities create a demand for their products, whether or not they are actually needed for practical reasons of imparting useful learning: because it looks bad if you are the one, in a competitive society, who hasn't completed school or obtained a degree. There is probably more than a little truth in this view.
There is a lot of rhetoric and bold statement in this book, and not as much convincing argument in favour of the project of deschooling as the book could have benefited from. It is certainly a very interesting idea that modern society could be better served by alternative modes of education, however there is little here to make a convincing case that warrants the enthusiasm that the author has for this project.
As with many people who criticise current systems, sensible alternative propositions are somewhat lacking, however one of the essays does go into some detail about new proposed methods of learning. Being written in the 70s when audio cassettes and sending things by post were the state of the art, some of the proposed alternative methods of learning have now been more or less realised in a more advanced form on the internet including forums for the discussion of special interests, "how to" videos on You-tube, and online learning courses.
There is enough in this volume to prompt the reader to seriously consider the feasibility of a society in which the school system was disestablished, and this itself deserves some credit. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Aug 12, 2018 |
What Ivan Illich try to convey, in a bigger picture is, the school nowadays is the institution organized around expectations, which means it tends to becoming a manipulative institutions. The last chapter about Epimethean Man is telling everything about this. These kind of institutions might seek to eliminate the disappointment, pain, and unpredictability of life, but in the process they will always ironically prevent us from being fully human.

So, the Epimethean Man, whose derived from Epimetheus's legendary story married with Pandora, is conveying what the real educational institutions should be. It should be organized around hope, even it is necessarily vague, on the other hand, because such institutions treat humans as ends, seeking, despite inevitable disappointments, to allow us to act freely and, from time to time, perhaps realize our own transcendent potential. ( )
  tajuddinabd | Mar 26, 2015 |
Many interesting ideas, even though I don't agree with everything. The author pretty much described meetup.com back in 1970s. Looks at the effects of institutionalised education: people start to believe that education is complex, and can only be provided by institutions. Degrees have a stratifying effect. The rest of the world buys into the idea of Western degrees and education systems. The system thus perpetuates and expands. The book suggests that people would be better off by just having infrastructure to find peers for study/discussion, experts and any needed equipment for practice.

Takes a look at the discriminatory aspect of infrastructure (e.g. using highways requires buying a car - so they aren't for everyone; whereas phones are accessible to most).
  supremumlimit | Jan 6, 2015 |
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Many sudents, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0714508799, Paperback)

I bought this book for one of my classes and never even opened it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:25 -0400)

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