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Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

Deschooling Society (1970)

by Ivan Illich

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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 |
Ivan Illich is one of our more interesting social critics. Schooled as a priest he became anathema to both the left and the right of the Catholic Church. He was Vice Rector pf the Catholic University of Ponce in Puerto Rico when he was ordered to leave by the Bishop. He went to Mexico where he founded the Center for Intercultural Documentation. In 1967 he was summoned before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to undergo a modern form of the medieval inquisition. One of the reasons for their distaste of his ideas was his reluctance to promote the Pope's strong move to help the underdeveloped countries. Illich was against the so-called development of underdeveloped countries arguing it was a "war on subsistence". At the time when he railed against it (the mid-sixties), it deeply offended the conventional wisdom. "Rich nations," he wrote, " now benevolently impose a straitjacket of traffic jams, hospital confinements and classrooms on the poor nations and by international agreement call this 'development.'" Development disabled their ability to seek alternatives and created "under-development as a form of consciousness" which occurs with " the translation of thirst into the need for a Coke."

In Deschooling Society [Illich:] identified schooling as the fundamental ritual of a consumer society. Schole, the Greek word from which ours derives, means leisure, and true learning, according to Illich, can only be the leisured pursuit of free people. The claim that a liberal society can be built on a compulsory and coercive ritual is therefore paradoxical. By designing and packaging knowledge, schools generate the belief that knowledge must be acquired in graded and certified sequences. And this monopoly of schools over the very definition of education, Illich argued, not only inhibits alternatives but also leads to lifelong dependence on other service monopolies. By the early seventeenth century a new consensus began to arise: the idea that man was born incompetent for society and remained so unless he was provided with 'education'. Education came to mean the inverse of vital competence. It came to mean a process rather than the plain knowledge of the facts and the ability to use tools which shape a man's concrete life. Education became an intangible commodity that had to be produced for the benefit of all, and imparted to them in the manner in which the visible Church formerly imparted invisible grace. Justification in the sight of society became the first necessity for a man born in original stupidity, analogous to original sin.

In the early 70's he wrote book:Tools for Conviviality|253076] in which he argued that being anti-growth would merely stabilize "at the highest levels of endurable output." He disliked the term 'technology' because of the confusion it caused, preferring to use the word 'tools'. The hammer, highways, the health-care system are all examples of tools. All tools go through a metamorphosis. First they are productive, then they become counter-productive and they become ends rather than means. For example, automobiles expanded our mobility but we have now become their prisoner. Some tools do not dictate how they must be used. Libraries, the telephone, bicycles can be used freely whereas a high-speed transportation system "compels our allegiance by adjusting time and space to its own dimensions." He liked austerity, as defined by Aquinas, "a virtue which does not exclude all enjoyments, but only those which are distracting from or destructive of personal relatedness." Austerity, according to Illich, is the only "alternative to intensified surveillance and management by technocratic elites."

The Rio de Janeiro "Earth Summit" of 1992 represents the logical outcome of the failure to master tools. It was not about finding a better life that is simple in means and rich in ends; "it is about the equitable division of pollution optimums under the aegis of global monitoring." The idea of conservation must become intrinsic to the dignity of human nature and not just a requirement for survival. Illich was also critical of the power of dominant professions. In contrast to the old liberal professions like law and medicine, new professions have sprung up that have become protection rackets, licensed monopolies licensed to serve clients with services they insist must be recognized. "Grave-diggers did not become members of a profession by calling themselves morticians, by obtaining college credentials, by raising their incomes, or by getting rid of the odor attached to their trade by electing themselves president of the Lions Club. Morticians formed a profession, a dominant and disabling one, when they acquired the muscle to have the police stop your burial if you are not embalmed and boxed by them."

It was also in Puerto Rico that Illich came into contact with the first of the great secular bureaucracies whose pretensions he would make a career of puncturing, the school system. He sat on the board that governed the island's entire educational establishment and was soon engaged in a full-scale effort to understand what schools do. He came to the conclusion that compulsory education in Puerto Rico constituted "structured injustice." By "putting into parentheses their claim to educate," lie was able to see that schools focused aspiration on a mirage. In Puerto Rico, at the time Illich began studying the question in the late 1950s, children we' already required by law to have more schooling than the the state could afford to give them. The worst aspect of this Illich was that people also learned to blame themselves for failing to achieve the impossible. "Schooling," he concluded, "served ... to compound the native poverty of half the children with a new interiorized sense of guilt for not having made it" " you look around the globe at the most lethal conflicts convulsing the world, not one of them turns on race. Think about it. English vs. Irish, Croatians, Moslems, Bosnians and Serbs , Irakis vs. Kurds; the combatants are racially indistinguishable. The conflicts turn on difference of religion or ideology and the one thing we' learned very clearly, is that people of one race are fully capable of murderously exploiting people of the same race. Why do we get this so wrong in the United States, Why do we equate skin color with culture in the multicultural rubric, given what I just said. Given that it so ill-equips us to understand and of these conflicts I just mentioned. The answer is obvious. This is the only western country, to have abducted and plunger into its mists millions of enslaved people from Africa. . . . And blacks out of that dispossession had to create out of nothing an identity, plunged into this society yet kept viciously apart from it and the very rigidity of segregation actually gave some firm moral footholds because at least you knew what you were up against and black survival tools from black religion to jazz. . . cultural survival tools are among the richest treasures that this country has ever produced. The black quest to belong is the greatest example of unrequited love anywhere in the world." ( )
2 vote ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Didn't think I'd find myself in such agreement with Illich. Basically, what he's saying is that when you attempt to organize education from a top-down bureaucracy, lead by authoritarian teachers, organized into standardized cirricula, sanctified by abstract diplomas and certification and strictly confined by age.... the results are less than spectacular. Illich's counter-proposal, in short, is open-learning based on peer-to-peer networking (remarkably predicting of a world where people are linked via computers years and years before personal pcs and the internet come about) and the disestablishment of degrees and certification as qualifications. While I didn't find everything he said to be utopian, and even the author admits to flaws in his proposals, he does, however, point out that the status quo is hardly benevolent and working, and that alternatives shouldn't therefore be dismissed because of flaws, but on the weight of their benefits to pitfalls. ( )
1 vote palaverofbirds | Mar 29, 2013 |
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Many sudents, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them.
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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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