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Ivan Illich


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#1 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 12:11 PM

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View PostPeter, on 04 August 2010 - 12:35 PM, said:

I wonder if a good start in reaching a TGL understanding of "deschooling" would be to undertake a critical group reading of Illich. Read him into the ground. Rip his ideas to shreds. Stick the shreds back together as we see fit with glue of our own and we'll make our own version of what "deschooling" means. It may or may not look like Illich's.

This topic is for the discussion of Illich's ideas and a critical reading of some of his books, as suggested by Peter. The focus is particularly on his Deschooling Society but I also suggest looking at Energy and Equity and Tools for conviviality since there is considerable cross-over and to some extent these individual works ideas only make sense within the structure of his overall critique and aims. Much of Illich's writing can be found here, including shorter papers, articles and speeches. For an overview, see ivan illich: deschooling, conviviality and the possibilities for informal education and lifelong learning, from which the following is excerpted:

Aspects of Illich's anti-institutional argument:A critique of the process of institutionalization. Modern societies appear to create more and more institutions - and great swathes of the way we live our lives become institutionalized. 'This process undermines people - it diminishes their confidence in themselves, and in their capacity to solve problems... It kills convivial relationships. Finally it colonizes life like a parasite or a cancer that kills creativity' (Finger and Asún 2001: 10).

A critique of experts and expertise. Ivan Illich's critique of experts and professionalization was set out in Disabling Professions (1977a) and  in his exploration of the expropriation of health in Medical Nemesis (1975b). The latter book famously began, 'The medical establishment has become a major threat to health' (ibid.: 11). The case against expert systems like modern health care is that they can produce damage which outweigh potential benefits; they obscure the political conditions that render society unhealthy ; and they tend top expropriate the power of individuals to heal themselves and to shape their environment (op. cit.). Finger and Asún (2001: 10) set out some of the elements:

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Experts and an expert culture always call for more experts. Experts also have a tendency to cartelize themselves by creating 'institutional barricades' - for example proclaiming themselves gatekeepers, as well as self-selecting themselves. Finally, experts control knowledge production, as they decide what valid and legitimate knowledge is, and how its acquisition is sanctioned.

A critique of commodification. Professionals and the institutions in which they work tend to define an activity, in this case learning, as a commodity (education), 'whose production they monopolize, whose distribution they restrict, and whose price they raise beyond the purse of ordinary people and nowadays, all governments' (Lister in Illich 1976: 8). Ivan Illich put it this way:

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Schooling - the production of knowledge, the marketing of knowledge, which is what the school amounts to, draws society into the trap of thinking that knowledge is hygienic, pure, respectable, deodorized, produced by human heads and amassed in stock..... y making school compulsory, [people] are schooled to believe that the self-taught individual is to be discriminated against; that learning and the growth of cognitive capacity, require a process of consumption of services presented in an industrial, a planned, a professional form;... that learning is a thing rather than an activity. A thing that can be amassed and measured, the possession of which is a measure of the productivity of the individual within the society. That is, of his social value. (quoted by Gajardo 1994: 715)

Learning becomes a commodity, 'and like any commodity that is marketed, it becomes scarce' (Illich 1975: 73). Furthermore, and echoing Marx, Ivan Illich notes the way in which such scarcity is obscured by the different forms that education takes. This is a similar critique to that mounted by Fromm (1979) of the tendency in modern industrial societies to orient toward a 'having mode' - where people focus upon, and organize around the possession of material objects. They, thus, approach learning as a form of acquisition. Knowledge become a possession to be exploited rather than an aspect of being in the world.  

[b]The principle of counterproductivity.
Finger and Asún (2001: 11) describe this as 'probably Illich's most original contribution'. Counterproductivity is the means by which a fundamentally beneficial process or arrangement is turned into a negative one. 'Once it reaches a certain threshold, the process of institutionalization becomes counterproductive' (op. cit.). It is an idea that Ivan Illich applies to different contexts. For example, with respect to travel he argues that beyond a critical speed, 'no one can save time without forcing another to lose it...[and] motorized vehicles create the remoteness which they alone can shrink' (1974: 42).


(See the original article for the refences.)
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#2 chad3006

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 02:25 PM

I'll definately be reading more from Illich.  The first potential problem I see is an age old one.  The institutionalization of uninstitutional ideas.

#3 The Heretic

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 04:56 PM

Chad,
Haven't every idea, no matter how intitally counter-establishment it is, been tamed enough to become institutionalized in the end?

#4 Parody of Language

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 06:21 PM

I don't quite agree that institutions aren't convivial, I think it depends on the institution.  I take an institution to be a human organization that can select for its members, and I think institutional selectivity is a good thing.  An institution wants to select qualified people and refuse unqualified people, and the institution begins to degenerate when it starts selecting unqualified people.  But a healthy institution is often convivial.  I think many of us have had jobs where everyone pretty much works for a common purpose, implicitly understands what needs to be done and does them, and understands each other well enough to compensate for their weaknesses or seeks the assistance of people based on their strengths.

Conviviality is broken often when unqualified people are selected which results in lack of morale due to poor performance or qualified people having to constantly compensate for the unqualified.  The latter drives workplace drama, office politics, and petty bickering.
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#5 chad3006

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 07:36 PM

View PostCampanella, on 05 August 2010 - 04:56 PM, said:

Chad,
Haven't every idea, no matter how intitally counter-establishment it is, been tamed enough to become institutionalized in the end?

Yes

#6 David Cooper

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Posted 05 August 2010 - 11:06 PM

I'm just going to quote and comment on a few bits for now. Here's a bit I might have written myself:-

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A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only insofar as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.

Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. Normal children learn their first language casually, although faster if their parents pay attention to them.
...apart from the bit about most intentional learning not being the result of programmed instruction, though it's not clear what that actually means. If you learn lots of stuff by using self-teaching courses, is that programmed instruction or self instruction?

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Most people who learn a second language well do so as a result of odd circumstances and not of sequential teaching. They go to live with their grandparents, they travel, or they fall in love with a foreigner. Fluency in reading is also more often than not a result of such extracurricular activities. Most people who read widely, and with pleasure, merely believe that they learned to do so in school; when challenged, they easily discard this illusion.
That is because the language teaching in schools is abysmal, and it's bound to be when everyone has to learn a particular language at a particular time in their lives and at a set rate of learning and with reading materials dictated to them which don't inspire them. Learning only works well when you want to do it, and if you suddenly feel the desire to learn a language, you want to get into it at that point and do very little else other than explore it and get into it deeply as quickly as you can. Drag it out and the interest fades, the slow progress isn't rewarding and you forget everything at almost the same rate as you learn it. I did French for five years at school and could barely speak a word of it by the end of the process. At the same time, however, I was making much better progress in my own time with Gaelic, Esperanto and Russian. I went on from there to study the basics of over fifty languages and worked out how to get through a language course in a week, reaching the standard necessary to pass a school exam in the process (which isn't actually much of a challenge). Without access to all the language courses (self-teaching books), I could not have learned any of them. I haven't travelled and I don't have foreign relatives.

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The strongly motivated student who is faced with the task of acquiring a new and complex skill may benefit greatly from the discipline now associated with the old-fashioned schoolmaster who taught reading, Hebrew, catechism, or multiplication by rote. School has now made this kind of drill teaching rare and disreputable, yet there are many skills which a motivated student with normal aptitude can master in a matter of a few months if taught in this traditional way. This is as true of codes as of their encipherment; of second and third languages as of reading and writing; and equally of special languages such as algebra, computer programming, chemical analysis, or of manual skills like typing, watchmaking, plumbing, wiring, TV repair; or for that matter dancing, driving, and diving.
Clearly Illich isn't rejecting the methods used in schools entirely, but he wants to stop them being inflicted on people who don't fit them.

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Right now educational credit good at any skill center could be provided in limited amounts for people of all ages, and not just to the poor. I envisage such credit in the form of an educational passport or an "edu-credit card" provided to each citizen at birth. In order to favor the poor, who probably would not use their yearly grants early in life, a provision could be made that interest accrued to later users of cumulated "entitlements." Such credits would permit most people to acquire the skills most in demand, at their convenience, better, faster, cheaper, and with fewer undesirable side effects than in school.
Here he seems to be talking about giving people the right to pay with vouchers to be taught the skills they need, not just leaving them to teach themselves out of thin air.

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Potential skill teachers are never scarce for long because, on the one hand, demand for a skill grows only with its performance within a community and, on the other, a man exercising a skill could also teach it. But, at present, those using skills which are in demand and do require a human teacher are discouraged from sharing these skills with others. This is done either by teachers who monopolize the licenses or by unions which protect their trade interests. Skill centers which would be judged by customers on their results, and not on the personnel they employ or the process they use, would open unsuspected working opportunities, frequently even for those who are now considered unemployable. Indeed, there is no reason why such skill centers should not be at the work place itself, with the employer and his work force supplying instruction as well as jobs to those who choose to use their educational credits in this way.
This is very true. Anyone who wants to teach in primaries has to have a university degree, so I wouldn't even be allowed through the door, and yet if you gave me a class of 60 five-year-olds and gave them the freedom to turn up at school for only half an hour a day so that there were only half a dozen of them there at a time, I could get most of them through seven years' worth of school in a single year, but I could only do it if I was free to use my own methods (that would be direct teaching without using Magic Schoolbook). Everything is so restrictive in the way things are done in school that it is almost impossible for it to evolve into a more efficient system. Speed up one bit, and the children end up waiting longer for the next bit, so there's no change in the rate of progress.

Edited by David Cooper, 05 August 2010 - 11:22 PM.


#7 David Cooper

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Posted 09 August 2010 - 10:34 PM

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If we do not challenge the assumption that valuable knowledge is a commodity which under certain circumstances may be forced into the  consumer, society will be increasingly dominated by sinister pseudo schools and  totalitarian managers of information. Pedagogical therapists will drug their  pupils more in order to teach them better, and students will drug themselves  more to gain relief from the pressures of teachers and the race for  certificates.

Well, he certainly wasn't wrong there. Lots of children who want to run around most of the time are now drugged to make them sit still so that they can get fat like the rest of them. What are you doing, you people who run society? Why can't you just let them be who they are and let them burn off that energy and learn when they want to by efficient methods that don't require them to sit around being bored all day? When you're bored, it means you aren't learning.

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Of course, school is not, by any means, the only modern institution which has  as its primary purpose the shaping of man's vision of reality. The hidden  curriculum of family life, draft, health care, so-called professionalism, or of  the media play an important part in the institutional manipulation of man's  world-vision, language, and demands. But school enslaves more profoundly and  more systematically, since only school is credited with the principal function  of forming critical judgment, and, paradoxically, tries to do so by making  learning about oneself, about others, and about nature depend on a prepackaged  process. School touches us so intimately that none of us can expect to be  liberated from it by something else. Many self-styled revolutionaries are victims of school. They see even  "liberation" as the product of an institutional process. Only liberating oneself  from school will dispel such illusions. The discovery that most learning  requires no teaching can be neither manipulated nor planned. Each of us is  personally responsible for his or her own deschooling, and only we have the  power to do it. No one can be excused if he fails to liberate himself from schooling.  People could not free themselves from the Crown until at least some of them had  freed themselves from the established Church. They cannot free themselves from  progressive consumption until they free themselves from obligatory school.

We are all involved in schooling, from both the side of production and that  of consumption. We are superstitiously convinced that good learning can and  should be produced in us-and that we can produce it in others. Our attempt to  withdraw from the concept of school will reveal the resistance we find in  ourselves when we try to renounce limitless consumption and the pervasive  presumption that others can be manipulated for their own good. No one is fully  exempt from the exploitation of others in the schooling process.

School is both the largest and the most anonymous employer of all. Indeed,  the school is the best example of a new kind of enterprise, succeeding the  guild, the factory, and the corporation. The multinational corporations which  have dominated the economy are now being complemented, and may one day be  replaced, by supernationally planned service agencies. These enterprises present  their services in ways that make all men feel obliged to consume them. They are  internationally standardized, redefining the value of their services  periodically and everywhere at approximately the same rhythm.

A lot of the book reads like this, but it isn't always this clear. Illich could have done the job in a fraction of the space and made his message more immediately accessible. Some of it comes across as a conspiracy theory as if there's some conscious maniputation from the top to program us to be unthinking consumers, and no doubt there are people in big business who try to steer things in that direction, but I don't know if they really have so much power. I think the system we're locked into is more of an accident than a deliberate design and that the people who set it up genuinely thought they were doing things the right way. These people destroy their own children's childhood in the same way as the rest of the population and they don't recognise how their own lives have been blighted by the system, for all that they may be wealthy. I simply don't find it credible to think they're that capable of manipulating things in the face of democratic power which could blow them away in an instant. I think things are the way they are largely by accident and that if we can show that there is a better way and that it works, there are no defences in place to prevent radical and rapid change. The Internet gives ideas instant power, but what we lack are large numbers of people with the wit to try them out and act on them. The population has been programmed to be passive by accident rather than by design, and we need find ways to light little fires under their seats to make them jump into action.

Why don't people act on good ideas? Michel Thomas demonstrated in a TV documentary that he could teach as much French to a class in a week as they would normally learn in a year. How many teachers have since been trained to use his method? None. How often is his demonstration mentioned? I've never heard it being mentioned anywhere at all in the many years that have followed. People don't seem to be interested. Maybe it's just that they don't see the point of making education more efficient because they're happy for troublesome kids to be kept off the streets all day, but the few that are actually troublesome are only troublesome because of the damage done to their lives by the imprisonment and abuses imposed on them by society. We're locked into a system which people are scared to take apart, so it just goes on getting more oppressive and the behaviour of the worst behaved children continues to justify the increase in that oppression because they continue to become more and more like wild animals which only want to kill each other. But if you'd known them in nursery, they were almost all nice people when they set out. How anyone can look at the system that turned them bad and think it's a good thing is beyond me, but most people just don't seem to be able to connect the two things and see the cause-and-effect relationship that goes between them. I think the whole thing's just an accident of circumstances where feedback loops happen to have amplified the power of the trap. To get out of it, we need people to show that there is a credible alternative and to spread that idea by word of mouth. Just talking about it doesn't work because words and arguments by themselves can't compete with the system we're trying to dismantle as that system does actually educate, however flawed and inefficient it may be - we need to provide an alternative route through education which is better than the one hidden inside the school system: we need people to understand that it can be dismantled without losing anything of value. When we have done that, it will crumble overnight and the business world will happily look to new ways to exploit our leisure instead of our imprisonment.

Edited by David Cooper, 09 August 2010 - 10:46 PM.


#8 Hugo Holbling

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Posted 10 August 2010 - 05:22 AM

View PostDavid Cooper, on 09 August 2010 - 10:34 PM, said:

I think the system we're locked into is more of an accident than a deliberate design and that the people who set it up genuinely thought they were doing things the right way. [...] I simply don't find it credible to think they're that capable of manipulating things in the face of democratic power which could blow them away in an instant.

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; in particular, he argued that schooling was intended to adjust people to react to authority in set ways, to integrate them, to direct them into filling social roles, to differentiate them into classes and reinforce these, and to select a small number to manage everyone else. His short essay, A confederacy of dunces, introduces this:

On schoolingThink of govemment schooling as a vast behavior clinic designed to create a harmless proletariat, the most important part of which is a professional proletariat of lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, government people, and schoolteachers. This professional proletariat, more homeless than the poor and the sub-poor, is held hostage by its addiction to luxury and security, and by its fear that the licensing monopoly might be changed by any change in governance. The main service it renders - advice - is contaminated by self interest.

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#9 David Cooper

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Posted 11 August 2010 - 12:15 AM

View PostHugo 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.

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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.

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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.

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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:-

1.

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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.

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...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:-

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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.

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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.

2.

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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).

3.

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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?

4.

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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.

#10 chad3006

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 02:02 PM

I'm currently reading Tools for Conviviality and remembered an article I'd read called Inverting the Economic Order by Wendell Berry.  There are many similarities in the two pieces.  I had shared this particular article with others before, but it went over like a lead balloon.  I think most people read the first few lines where he describes himself as an agrarian and went no further.  I’ve got a copy of the full version around here somewhere.  PM me (or whatever you call it) if anyone wishes to read the whole thing.  I’ll try to find it.

Edited by chad3006, 12 August 2010 - 02:09 PM.


#11 chad3006

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 06:09 PM

View PostHugo Holbling, on 10 August 2010 - 05:22 AM, said:

View PostDavid Cooper, on 09 August 2010 - 10:34 PM, said:

I think the system we're locked into is more of an accident than a deliberate design and that the people who set it up genuinely thought they were doing things the right way. [...] I simply don't find it credible to think they're that capable of manipulating things in the face of democratic power which could blow them away in an instant.

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; in particular, he argued that schooling was intended to adjust people to react to authority in set ways, to integrate them, to direct them into filling social roles, to differentiate them into classes and reinforce these, and to select a small number to manage everyone else. His short essay, A confederacy of dunces, introduces this:

On schoolingThink of govemment schooling as a vast behavior clinic designed to create a harmless proletariat, the most important part of which is a professional proletariat of lawyers, doctors, engineers, managers, government people, and schoolteachers. This professional proletariat, more homeless than the poor and the sub-poor, is held hostage by its addiction to luxury and security, and by its fear that the licensing monopoly might be changed by any change in governance. The main service it renders - advice - is contaminated by self interest.


A quote from The People Shapers (and I know this is the second time I've reverenced this book in this forum, but it's a good one.):

"In the early 1970's an argument exploded in the behavior shapers' own Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis about conditioning in classrooms. R.A. Winett and R.C. Winkler, then of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, reviewed all the reports the Journal had published over a three-year period on the use of behavioral engineering in classrooms. They concluded that the behavior shapers were almost totally absorbed with training students to 'be still, be quiet, be docile.'"

Edited by chad3006, 12 August 2010 - 06:11 PM.


#12 David Cooper

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Posted 12 August 2010 - 07:35 PM

View Postchad3006, on 12 August 2010 - 02:02 PM, said:

I'm currently reading Tools for Conviviality and remembered an article I'd read called Inverting the Economic Order by Wendell Berry.  There are many similarities in the two pieces.  I had shared this particular article with others before, but it went over like a lead balloon.
Lack of replies doesn't always mean lack of interest or agreement. There are lots of people saying the same thing, so it's hard to think of much to say about it.

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From an economic point of view, a society in which every school child  “needs” a computer, and every sixteen-year-old “needs” an automobile,  and every eighteen-year-old “needs” to go to college is already  delusional and is well on its way to being broke.
Given what computers can do for education (if you use the right software), it certainly makes sense for every child to have access to a computer, but owning one isn't essential and may even be harmful as computers can eat up your life in all manner of useless ways. As for cars, they should be used primarily by old and disabled people. Illich had an interesting idea about cars in Deschooling Society which is similar to my idea of combining the car with the recumbant cycle: most of the time there's no need to travel faster than 30mph, and that's also a safe speed to crash at if you're tied in properly so we could eliminate almost all the deaths on the roads. What we need's a carbon fibre shell which you sit inside and which serves as a chassis at the same time, so it could be as light as a normal recumbant cycle even once you've put the battery pack into it. The battery would help you go uphill and be charged on downhills so that all the hills would be practically eliminated, but you could also run it down instead of pedalling and just charge it up again whenever it's flat. People who aren't fit could add one or two extra battery packs to extend the range, so a hundred miles between charges would be easily achieved. These vehicles would be so light that it would be easy and inexpensive to provide flyovers at all junctions such that you could travel through every city at a constant 30mph without ever having to stop. There's an electric Nissan car that takes 42 battery packs to power it, each one about the same size as a large, fat laptop computer. Between one and three of those packs would be enough to power a vehicle of the kind we should be using, depending on how fit you are. An important aspect of the design would be to give it the ability to steer itself using chips or magnets embedded into the road to guide it, so it would be possible to lie down and sleep while on the move: you could go to sleep in it at night and wake up 250 miles away the next morning, or you could surf the Net in it on the way to and from work.

If you go cycle touring in it, you won't need a tent. If you want to do a place-to-place hillwalk (not a round trip) you can send it to the finish to meet you there. If parking's somewhere's a problem, just send it home. This kind of machine could be hired out too, so it would also eliminate the need for taxis and buses. Turn the idea to transportation of goods, and it could also replace a lot of lorries and vans on the roads - why have one lorry dropping off lots of little loads in different places when small vehicles with no driver can handle all the deliveries separately? Here's a key statistic you need to take on board: the world record for vehicle efficiency is ten thousand miles a gallon (with a person on board). That's an extreme case with a small person on board and a speed of 15mph, but a thousand miles per gallon is realistically possible, so a hundred of these vehicles could outperform a lorry for many tasks while polluting far less and making the deliveries more quickly. It would also reduce transportation costs by eliminating drivers. If we decided to set things up around this kind of vehicle, it would also be possible to let them pick up power as they go along, perhaps not continually, but they could periodically run through charging zones where a supercapacitor would be charged in a matter of seconds and it would then be able to transfer that power to the battery more slowly before the next charging zone repeats the process.

Every member of a family would be able to have their own vehicle, so parents would no longer need to transport their children around in the way that they do now. This would give everyone more freedom either directly or indirectly, the roads becoming clearer for everyone. I've also designed a vehicle of this kind that doubles as a hull and can be converted into a high-performance sailing dinghy (trimaran if you use semi-inflatable outriggers, or catamaran if you attach it to another vehicle of the same kind) - perfect for a holiday exploring Scotland's islands, and it would even have ocean-crossing potential (two or three hulls - loads of space for food and water). You could pretty well live in such a vehicle and not bother with a house, and that would be a good way to deal with the homeless and unemployed - just give them one and let them travel the world. Want to live a real life? A whole family could travel the world in them, putting out virtually no pollution and yet they'd have everything they need with them and could live on very little money. It could even have a toilet in it, eliminating one of the major problems in life for anyone with children and for anyone with IBS, or indeed for anyone who simply has a need to go in what would otherwise be an extremely inconvenient place. It's a chair, a bed, a toilet, a car, a bicycle, a boat, a caravan, a tent, a computer room: what more do you need other than insulation and a coating of solar cells on the top surfaces?

Other design aspects: the pedals go fore and aft rather than in circles (to reduce the height of the front end), directly powering a dynamo rather then driving a chain; the vehicles can be linked together into trains; the boat-convertable versions are suspended from carbon fibre pieces which swoop down at either side to the wheels (4 wheels per vehicle); each wheel has a motor/dynamo in the hub; the wheels fold up out of the way so that they are horizontal in boat mode; the sail is rectangular, can roll up into the mast and is held out by three wishbones; the mast is directly rotated to control the angle of the sail, so there is no rigging involved; a sail can also be used in road mode, enabling high speed travel in strong sidewinds. Carbon fibre requires a lot of cooking and is expensive as a result, but it's possible to generate a lot of heat from large arrays of mirrors in deserts which could provide the heat directly without going through a wasteful convertion to electricity phase, so the manufacturing might be best done in northern Africa.

I'm going to keep working on my designs, and then I'll see if I can interest Lotus in the idea of making a prototype.




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