Hugo Holbling, on 10 August 2010 - 05:22 AM, said:
I think the point is to limit this democratic power via education (and other means). For an overview of the possibility that the education system isn't an accident and was intended to restrict thought, you could look at the work of John Taylor Gatto...
I don't think they're that clever, and I don't think they could have imagined that it would work: it's a house of cards just waiting to be knocked down. The only reason it isn't being knocked down is that people are naturally passive and tend to over-respect others, as they do in their worship of pop stars who are just ordinary people who happen to have the ability to put together or perform music that taps into something in the circuits of our brains and makes us feel good, or in religion where they admire deities which don't even exist. Even so, it only needs one movement (like ours, I hope) to inspire them all into rebellion and the whole thing will collapse. Illich didn't inspire sufficient following because his ideas didn't quite stack up. The key chapter of Deschooling Society which illustrates why is Chapter 6.
To give an example: The same level of technology is used in TV and in tape recorders. All Latin-American countries now have introduced TV: in Bolivia the government has financed a TV station, which was built six years ago, and there are no more than seven thousand TV sets for four million citizens. The money now tied up in TV installations throughout Latin America could have provided every fifth adult with a tape recorder. In addition, the money would have sufficed to provide an almost unlimited library of prerecorded tapes, with outlets even in remote villages, as well as an ample supply of empty tapes.
This network of tape recorders, of course, would be radically different from the present network of TV. It would provide opportunity for free expression: literate and illiterate alike could record, preserve, disseminate, and repeat their opinions. The present investment in TV, instead, provides bureaucrats, whether politicians or educators, with the power to sprinkle the continent with institutionally produced programs which they-or their sponsors--decide are good for or in demand by the people.
Surely radio would have been a far better technology to push than tape recorders, but TVs have got to be the greatest educational device of them all. The computer may eventually change that, but the advantage of TV is that you are pushed into watching programmes when they're shown rather than putting it off till later as you might with books. Most importantly, however, people aspire to owning a TV even if they can't afford it and they don't want to spend money on something which is massively inferior when they can save that money to put towards the TV which they know they will be able to buy some day when the price has fallen low enough. As for tape recorders, it's far better to teach people to read and spread books around. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas subsequently showed how easy it is to teach the masses to read.
The planning of new educational institutions ought not to begin with the administrative goals of a principal or president, or with the teaching goals of a professional educator, or with the learning goals of any hypothetical class of people. It must not start with the question, "What should someone learn?" but with the question, "What kinds of things and people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?"
It seems to me that before you can work out what kinds of things and people learners might want to be in contact with in order to learn, you first have to know what they are going to want to learn, and what they are likely to need to learn. Once you've worked that out, then it makes sense to think about how the learning might best be done. Illich is setting up an artificial contrast between different approaches because both approaches have to consider the same set of questions.
Educational resources are usually labeled according to educators' curricular goals. I propose to do the contrary, to label four different approaches which enable the student to gain access to any educational resource which may help him to define and achieve his own goals:
1. Reference Services to Educational Objects-which facilitate access to things or processes used for formal learning. Some of these things can be reserved for this purpose, stored in libraries, rental agencies, laboratories, and showrooms like museums and theaters; others can be in daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to students as apprentices or on off hours.
2. Skill Exchanges--which permit persons to list their skills, the conditions under which they are willing to serve as models for others who want to learn these skills, and the addresses at which they can be reached.
3. Peer-Matching--a communications network which permits persons to describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope of finding a partner for the inquiry.
4. Reference Services to Educators-at-Large--who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self-descriptions of professionals, paraprofessionals, and free-lancers, along with conditions of access to their services. Such educators, as we will see, could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients.
That's the framework for his model of how education should be done. Let's now see some of the detail:-
Formal learning requires special access to ordinary things, on the one hand, or, on the other, easy and dependable access to special things made for educational purposes. An example of the former is the special right to operate or dismantle a machine in a garage. An example of the latter is the general right to use an abacus, a computer, a book, a botanical garden, or a machine withdrawn from production and placed at the full disposal of students.
At present, attention is focused on the disparity between rich and poor children in their access to things and in the manner in which they can learn from them. OEO and other agencies, following this approach, concentrate on equalizing chances, by trying to provide more educational equipment for the poor. A more radical point of departure would be to recognize that in the city rich and poor alike are artificially kept away from most of the things that surround them. Children born into the age of plastics and efficiency experts must penetrate two barriers which obstruct their understanding: one built into things and the other around institutions. Industrial design creates a world of things that resist insight into their nature, and schools shut the learner out of the world of things in their meaningful setting.
A lot of this relates to being able to understand how things work by exploring their mechanisms, but technology is becoming more and more complex to the point that you can't take things apart and work out how they work, never mind try to mend them. I have mended an old camera by making a replacement component for part of the shutter mechansim, but I wouldn't have a hope of doing the same with a modern one. Fortunately, we can now use software to teach people how things work in principle and make such programs available to all for virtually no cost, so there is a way round the problem. Making actual equipment available is in most cases no longer relevant. Even so, there is still plenty of room to explore equipment where things are simple, and taking apart a bicycle hub to understand the role of the cones and ball bearings is something that should be happening in every primary school as standard. Secondary schools have all manner of tools for wood and metalworking, but they aren't open to the idea of doing non-curricular things with them. They should be encouraging people to bring in broken things for mending or dismantling, and also to try to make new things out of the pieces. Most things made in this way will be so inferior to things that could be bought that it would only appeal to a few individuals, but it would be very important for those individuals. There are now machines available which can print out 3D plastic objects, and again this is something that should be made available to people who have designed interesting things in computers, such as a Rubik's Dodecahedron - I've been wanting to have a go at such a puzzle for a long time, but I don't have the means to make one and I don't know if anyone ever has made one. So, Illich is certainly right about this to some degree, but I'm not sure that his suggested way of going about it would work and the importance of it is not as great as it once was because we can now do so much with software instead.
...School removes things from everyday use by labeling them educational tools.
If we are to deschool, both tendencies must be reversed. The general physical environment must be made accessible, and those physical learning resources which have been reduced to teaching instruments must become generally available for self-directed learning.
Again he's right: the contents of the physics lab could be made more accessible to those who want to experiment with them, but how far does that actually need to go, and how disruptive would it be if things were continually being broken or not put away properly. There are good practical reasons for things being done the way they are. If you lend your tools to someone, you don't get them all back. It happens time and time again because there are always people who don't respect the importance of taking care of things properly. Illich has ideas that sound plain fanciful:-
Private cars could be banned from Manhattan. Five years ago it was unthinkable. Now certain New York streets are closed off at odd hours, and this trend will probably continue. Indeed, most cross-streets should be closed to automotive traffic and parking should be forbidden everywhere. In a city opened up to people, teaching materials which are now locked up in store-rooms and laboratories could be dispersed into independently operated storefront depots which children and adults could visit without the danger of being run over.
If the goals of learning were no longer dominated by schools and schoolteachers, the market for learners would be much more various and the definition of "educational artifacts" would be less restrictive. There could be tool shops, libraries, laboratories, and gaming rooms. Photo labs and offset presses would allow neighborhood newspapers to flourish. Some storefront learning centers could contain viewing booths for closed-circuit television, others could feature office equipment for use and for repair. The jukebox or the record player would be commonplace, with some specializing in classical music, others in international folk tunes, others in jazz. Film clubs would compete with each other and with commercial television. Museum outlets could be networks for circulating exhibits of works of art, both old and new, originals and reproductions, perhaps administered by the various metropolitan museums.
The professional personnel needed for this network would be much more like custodians, museum guides, or reference librarians than like teachers. From the corner biology store, they could refer their clients to the shell collection in the museum or indicate the next showing of biology videotapes in a certain viewing booth. They could furnish guides for pest control, diet, and other kinds of preventive medicine. They could refer those who needed advice to "elders" who could provide it.
Two distinct approaches can be taken to financing a network of "learning objects." A community could determine a maximum budget for this purpose and arrange for all parts of the network to be open to all visitors at reasonable hours. Or the community could decide to provide citizens with limited entitlements, according to their age group, which would give them special access to certain materials which are both costly and scarce, while leaving other, simpler materials available to everyone.
Yes, you could close streets to cars, but can you really see valuable shop space being given over to education at all, never mind to something so aimless? It isn't aimless, of course, but it will always appear so. A lot of it is simply out of date anyway - things have moved on so far that most of those suggestions are simply irrelevant now. What can usefully be made available today should be mainly in the schools - the key thing is to open up the schools to the community and not to force children to waste hours in them every day doing very little of value. The art rooms should be used by real artists who are ready to help teach any children who show an interest in being creative. The technical rooms should be used by people who are mending and building things, and again they should be ready to help people who want to get involved in any way. The way to make these things real is to have real people doing real things there to show it actually happening. I've never seen an art teacher do anything creative. I've never seen a technical teacher manufacture anything interesting. But shouldn't school be the main place for this to be happening? Does it make sense to expect a joiner to open up his workshop to a whole lot of people off the street who want to play with his tools when he's busy trying to earn a living? If he's happy to let them in and teach them a few things, then that's fine, but is it realistically going to happen often enough for this to be a significant way for people to learn? The people best placed to do this kind of teaching are retired people who used to make a living from it but who now have no access to the tools and workshop which they used to work in, but schools could provide both and give them a place to do the odd little jobs where they would be able to pass on their knowledge to others and would be likely to have the time to do so. Even so, this isn't going to make much impact on the main event, because most school learning is more concerned with data, pen and paper.
A friend of mine went to a Mexican market with a game called "'Wff 'n Proof," which consists of some dice on which twelve logical symbols are imprinted. He showed children which two or three combinations constituted a well-formed sentence, and inductively within the first hour some onlookers also grasped the principle. Within a few hours of playfully conducting formal logical proofs, some children are capable of introducing others to the fundamental proofs of propositional logic. The others just walk away.
That sounds as if it could be done on a computer, as most things can these days. Instead of providing expensive physical objects to people, we can now create them in software and make them available to all. I'd like to see that game.
A much more radical approach would be to create a "bank" for skill exchange. Each citizen would be given a basic credit with which to acquire fundamental skills. Beyond that minimum, further credits would go to those who earned them by teaching, whether they served as models in organized skill centers or did so privately at home or on the playground. Only those who had taught others for an equivalent amount of time would have a claim on the time of more advanced teachers. An entirely new elite would be promoted, an elite of those who earned their education by sharing it.
Nice idea, but do schools actually teach skills? For the most part, they don't, so there won't be any money in it. People who teach skills already do so privately and charge money for it directly. If you want to play a musical instrument, you pay for private tuition. If you want to learn to do gymnastics, you join a gymnastics club - you won't learn it at school by walking along up-turned benches (which is one of the more dangerous things they're still allowed to do).
The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.
In its most rudimentary form, communication between client and computer could be established by return mail. In big cities typewriter terminals could provide instantaneous responses. The only way to retrieve a name and address from the computer would be to list an activity for which a peer was sought. People using the system would become known only to their potential peers.
A complement to the computer could be a network of bulletin boards and classified newspaper ads, listing the activities for which the computer could not produce a match. No names would have to be given. Interested readers would then introduce their names into the system. A publicly supported peer-match network might be the only way to guarantee the right of free assembly and to train people in the exercise of this most fundamental civic activity.
I don't know how well this would have worked in the '70s, but even now I can't imagine it working that well in terms of people travelling to meet up at particular times to try to learn the same thing together. However, it could work with the Internet and needn't involve real-time conversations. Once you've found someone to learn with, you could communicate through e-mail or form a Yahoo group to learn with a number of people at once, but it's still likely to fall apart quickly as people learn at different speeds. It's much better to team up with friends in normal life where the ties between you are stronger. You'd work with different friends on different subjects because you'd be unlikely to have a single friend who's doing the same things as you at the same level all the time. In some areas you might need to team up with someone remotely because there's no one in your group of friends studying a particular thing, so is there a place where you can go to find such a person today? Does anyone know of one? And if it is up and running, does it actually work? If the answer to both questions is yes, then why haven't I heard of it? I think it should be possible, so if no one else has set it up, shouldn't we be trying it out here?
As citizens have new choices, new chances for learning, their willingness to seek leadership should increase. We may expect that they will experience more deeply both their own independence and their need for guidance. As they are liberated from manipulation by others, they should learn to profit from the discipline others have acquired in a lifetime. Deschooling education should increase--rather than stifle--the search for men with practical wisdom who would be willing to sustain the newcomer in his educational adventure. As masters of their art abandon the claim to be superior informants or skill models, their claim to superior wisdom will begin to ring true.
With an increasing demand for masters, their supply should also increase. As the schoolmaster vanishes, conditions will arise which should bring forth the vocation of the independent educator. This may seem almost a contradiction in terms, so thoroughly have schools and teachers become complementary. Yet this is exactly what the development of the first three educational exchanges would tend to result in--and what would be required to permit their full exploitation--for parents and other '"natural educators" need guidance, individual learners need assistance, and the networks need people to operate them.
The Internet has made millions unqualified educators available to all, but how do you find the real quality? If you just let children loose and tell them to find their own teachers on the Web or in society around them, they may eventually find the right ones, but how many are going to get sucked into weird religious sects which could offer all sorts of education with hidden extras? There does need to be some kind of system for stamping approval on educators, based on the quality of their teaching rather than any certificates which they might have picked up along the way. There are also numerous ex-teachers who have been thrown out of the profession because they have a sexual interest in children, and society is infinitely more aware of this now than it was forty years ago, so that's a major barrier to progress. I've deliberately made my site one-way so that it doesn't collect information from learners at all. (Actually, I've just realised now that I need to change the instructions about how people contact me by e-mail if they feel the need to do so so that children only write to me through their parents' e-mail accounts.) If deschooling is to work, it needs to be done through one-way electronic learning, or where it involves direct interaction with teachers, it should be done in a school where there are lots of eyes watching. The school should not be thrown out, but the oppressive nature of it needs to go and it has to be opened up to fresh ideas. Illich had a number of good ideas, but I think he's missed the point that the bulk of the genuinely important stuff in education is based around data and data manipulation: it doesn't involve things (objects) or difficult skills, and there isn't a vast amount of need to team up with people from far away. Access to educators can be done primarily online through a single portal and it can come in the form of carefully designed courses with interactive content, with the option of asking for help wherever that content doesn't do the job so that the faults in it can be ironed out quickly. In short, I think a lot of Illich's ideas are out of date, and some of them were never practical in the first place, but his central objective remains valid: learners need to be in control of their own learning so that they can learn how to be in control of themselves and to become responsible for the running of the wider world as well instead of being programmed to leave it to others. People have to learn to stop going with the crowd and to act on their own initiative instead while trusting their own judgement. That is what deschooling is really about.