Ivan Illich: Deschooling Society/Introduction

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People mentioned in the introduction[edit | edit source]

Reimer[edit | edit source]

Illich talks about his 13 year friendship with Reimer to whom he ascribes his interest in public education. Reimer published his thoughts seperately in a book entitled School is Dead.

Reimer outlines his relationship with Illich and the subsequent train of thought that both men pursued like this in the introduction to School is Dead:

"We began to study the problems of Latin American education at about the same time and these turned out to be similar to the problems of Puerto Rico but on a vastly larger scale. It was soon clear to both of us that the countries of Latin America could not, for many years, afford schools for all of their children. At the same time education seemed to be the basic need of these countries, not only to us but to their political parties and leaders as well. In 1968 we began a part-time formal study of this dilemma and of possible ways out of it." -- Reimer, School is Dead.

The crux of Illich's argument[edit | edit source]

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education — and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.


  • Starts by making a case against "institutionalization".....is this an argument for "limited government", maybe a form of libertarianism?
  • But does not seem to be against all institutions. "We need research on the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative, and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats." Would a mainframe computer be technology "substantially controlled by technocrats" while personal computers and Web 2.0 are more about tools that "average people" can use as they see fit? Are ideas like free culture based on "values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats?
  • Cites Milton Friedman and ideas about methods of educational funding by which: "Funds would be channeled to the beneficiary, enabling him to buy his share of the schooling of his choice".
  • Mentions Fidel Castro: "Fidel Castro talks as if he wanted to go in the direction of deschooling when he promises that by 1980 Cuba will be able to dissolve its university since all of life in Cuba will be an educational experience." See also: Education in Cuba
  • "even with schools of equal quality a poor child can seldom catch up with a rich one" About the time that "Deschooling Society" was published, court-ordered desegregation busing became a major issue in the USA. "the mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning" <-- How do we account for the fact that so many poor people have taken advantage of public education to better themselves?- Certainly there exist poor people who have benefited from public education, but making note of this does not invalidate the critique. A much greater percentage of poor people go to school and find it to be an oppressive establishment that doesn't speak to their experience or even meaningfully recognize the challenges they face. These students are the ones who eventually drop out of school and, in various attempts to improve their situations through socially unacceptable means (stealing stuff, selling drugs), or cope with their seemingly fatalistic lot in life (doing drugs), end up in prison.
By saying this you show that you've missed his entire point. "The mere existence of school discourages... the poor from taking control of their own learning"- going to puplic schools "to better themselves" is not taking control of their own education, it is in fact the very thing Illich is arguing against. He's saying that poor people go to school instead of controlling their own education and truly bettering themselves, which, in his opinion, is something schooling cannot do. So, "the fact that so many poor people have taken advantage of public education to better themselves" that you mention is EXACTLY the thing he is bemoaning here. --Luai lashire 22:59, 14 February 2008 (UTC)
  • Cost. "The United States....is obviously too poor to provide equal schooling". According to the National Center for Education Statistics the United States spent 4.1 percent of its GDP on primary and secondary education in 2003.
And how, exactly, does that show that it is providing adequate schooling? We are throwing more than half our tax money into the war in Iraq, yet we are getting no where. Just saying "See! We're throwing money at it!" doesn't address Illich's point. (Disclaimer: sorry if I sound overly blunt or angry, I had a bad day and it may come through in my writing) --Luai lashire 22:59, 14 February 2008 (UTC)

Can we put Illich in context?[edit | edit source]

Institutions that make possible a system by which large numbers of children are sent to schools funded and run by the government first became popular in the context of industrialization and the development of modern forms of nationalism. Populations were shifting from farms to cities and and there was increasing need for a basic level of literacy and education. Also, a system of structured schooling can prepare and select for those students who are able to move on to higher education. With time, as nations and economies became more complex, the schooling institutions also became more complex while attempting to do more with a basic institutional structure for schooling that originally had a simpler mission. One way to understand the basic nature of schooling institutions is to use the analogy of the "factory school". Think of students as raw material fed into the factory school which stamps out useful parts for society. At the time Illich wrote, transformations had begun that were shifting some nations from basic patterns of industrialization to more information-oriented economies. Might new information technologies make it possible to abandon the "factory school" and replace it with new systems capable of more personalized education for increasingly creative and autonomous people?

Glossary[edit | edit source]

External Links[edit | edit source]