Ivan D. Illich - Deschooling Society & Tools for Conviviality. Are we ready to listen?

Ivan D. Illich

a man whose time has come
a man whose time has come | Source

Ivan D. Illich, 1926 - 2002

Ivan D. Illich died in 2002, age 76. Austrian born, he was an academic, a philosopher, an anarchist, a sociologist, a catholic priest, an activist, a reformer, and for many, an inspiration and source of hope. Like many great thinkers, especially independent thinkers, he was ahead of his time. But the modern world needs his ideas now more than ever before.

A personal note

Ivan Illich wrote his two most influential books, Deschooling Society and Tools for Conviviality, during my University years, 1970-74. I was aware of them through friends in Social Sciences, but I was a Physical Scientist with a long tough reading list of my own. We had lots of good arguments about his ideas, after class in the beer bar, but that's as far as it went. Later, when I'd completed my formal education and started work, I found I had time on my hands and began reading what I wanted to read, in those days, mostly Philosophy, Science and Music. Then by chance I saw Ivan Illich interviewed on TV and was captivated by his intellectual courage and huge enthusiasm. So, next day, I bought his first three titles and started reading.

Please note - what follow are not meant as book reviews. I am writing in Doha without access to my library, simply remebering his ideas and musing on their applicability to modern society.

Celebration of Awareness by Ivan D. Illich (1971)

Illich's first book in English is, like many first books, mainly a collection of earlier essays and papers. It has the feeling of a voice crying in the wilderness, and the title piece, Celebration of Awareness, is very much Illich's personal manifesto. It is refreshing and inspiring, but doesn't deliver a very coherent message. Rather, it leaves you feeling, this is someone to watch. He's about to do something. Which he did, and in the same year, with...

Deschooling Society by Ivan D. Illich (1971)

Illich was concerned about the development of the Third World. He was also unenamoured of aspects of First World development, in particular, over-industrialisation and over-institutionalisation. He passionately believed in universal education, but not through universal schooling. He saw schools as harmful of child development in many ways:

Schools institutionalise children, conforming them and preparing them for First World workplaces that may be locally inappropriate or may simply not exist.

The school curriculum itself is an agenda for producing people to service and maintain existing institutions of society and to restrict as well as disseminate knowledge.

Schools in their nature produce failure as well as success, where failure, by definition, is measured against the school's criteria.

Illich also observed, controversially, that childhood itself, meaning dependent childhood, is a construct of the modern schooled society which removes young people from the real community for the daylight (working) hours, thus ensuring that they become totally dependent on society until the prescribed leaving age.

Before you rush for the comments box and start talking about the evils of child labour, bear with me - Illich was wholly opposed to enforced child labour too, though he was in favour of the traditional socialisation of children through helping in the work of family and community. As mentioned earlier, he simply would not equate education with schooling, which he considered one of modern society's sacred cows.

Perhaps also pause to consider the thousands of 21 year old lost souls graduating from our western colleges, largely unemployable, with degrees in, say, media studies which nobody wants, no real life experience at all, and a debt of $100,000. What were you saying, Ivan, 40 years ago??

School-less Education

Illich saw that communications technology was fast becoming cheap, lightweight, and available. He proposed "learning webs" (in 1971!) working through local libraries and community centres, but globally interconnected, with access to all educational resources. He further proposed "peer networks" whereby anyone could enter their identity and interests and be connected to like-minded people anywhere in the world. He wanted to remove pedagogy from education and replace it with "empowerment" (though I don't think he used exactly that word).

Remember, too, that Illich was not talking about knocking down schools in London and New York. He was talking about not repeating the mistake throughout the underdeveloped world. In such areas, instead of building schools and "creating dependent childhood", he was in favour of providing access to education through learning webs.

Tools for Conviviality by Ivan D. Illich (1973)

In this book, Illich is still exploring Third World development. His underlying themes are: avoiding the mistakes of the First World, avoiding domination by First World institutions, empowering (my interpretation) local communities and individuals. But his focus has moved from Education to Technology. And in a brilliant and unprecedented insight, he gives us a new standard against which technology should be measured - Conviviality.

Conviviality, as commonly used, means joviality, especially in company. But the deeper meaning of the word is simply "living together". Illich's measure of the success of a technology is the extent to which it reinforces community. By contrast, a failed technology is one which brings alienation and disempowerment.

As an example, in an area where there are only rough tracks and donkey carts, you can introduce basic bicycles, bicycle carts and slow-moving (bicycle speed) motorcycle trucks. All of these can negotiate the tracks, and all can be maintained, with a few basic spares, by the local blacksmith, given a little training. They help the community and are truly convivial. But the 'family saloon' car, if introduced indiscriminately, is no help at all. It isolates the owner. It cannot be maintained locally. It (not the community) requires the tracks to become roads. Roads require compulsory possession of land and demolition of property. This is a very difficult area, because we do need transport and we do need communication. But Illich's yardstick of conviviality is at least as valid as the yardstick of corporate profit, especially where the corporation is centred in another town, country or even continent.

My thoughts on Conviviality - a Tale of Two Cities

From this point on, though I hope Ivan Illich would not disapprove, I am going to stray from his original Third World 1970s agenda and talk a little from hindsight and from my own experiences. And to give this some focus (because I could ramble forever) I'll talk about two cities I know pretty well, having lived and/or worked in both. They are Doha (Qatar) and Amsterdam.

doha - a good location ruined
doha - a good location ruined | Source

Doha, where I live now, is in a process of manic expansion, rather like its near neighbour Dubai. But this is not intelligent expansion. It is funded by virtually unlimited oil money. Conviviality isn't given a thought. Consumerism (next to, or perhaps even ahead of, Allah) is God. Buildings and streets are never refurbished. They are simply bulldozed and replaced, with high-rise attrocities, often so shoddily constructed that their own useful life will be about twenty years. People drive around in 5-litre Land Cruisers, getting nowhere fast, because the traffic build-up is wholly out of control. Absolutely no thought is given to the pedestrian. New roads will be left with sand and rubble by the side for a year or more. Because rich people don't walk anyway and the poor don't count.

But speaking of the poor - Doha's neglected inner city areas are "home" to large ex-pat communities of workers living (amid 17% inflation) on about $200 per month. Less, in fact, because they send money home. How do they survive on so little? Answer - Conviviality. The barber, where I would have to pay 20 riyals, cuts hair "free" after work, on a wooden chair in the street, except that meanwhile someone else is mending his puncture "free" and someone else will give him rice and tea. Such possessions as these folk have are repaired, by each other and recycled within the community, just as would happen at home in Pakistan or Bangladaesh.

canals and cobblestones, amsterdam
canals and cobblestones, amsterdam | Source

Amsterdam, in total contrast, is an old city. It was built quickly too, by the standards of the time, between about 1650 and 1750, and must have seemed the height of modernity in its day. The old city plan is like a D-shaped spiderweb of radial roads crossing concentric semi-circular canals. It has been called the Venice of the North, but probably by Venetians who didn't realise that Amsterdam is actually far more beautiful. I don't want to dwell on where the money came from to build this wonder. Slaves and Empire feature in the past of most great cities.

Instead I'll concentrate on development and transport. Within the old city, Amsterdam has maintained its buildings as far as possible and replaced lost buildings with new ones of compatible height and shape, so in effect the city lines are original. They have provided a comprehensive network of buses, trolley buses, underground trains, trams (road trains) and water buses (on the canals), so it is possible to travel the city freely and efficiently by public transport. They have discouraged private cars by the simple policy of not providing any parking. The very few who drive have private parking below their place of work, but it's not the norm.

Then there are the bicycles, thousands upon thousands of them. In China, as soon as you can afford to, you get rid of your bike and buy a motorbike or car. And the cities are suffering as a result. But in Amsterdam, people are affluent enough, but simply prefer their bicycles for getting around. And not just ordinary bicycles - pedal barrows for carrying loads, pedal buggies to take one or two children to school, recumbents, tandems, occasional unicycles - I even saw a string quartet cycling by on four bikes, the girl with the cello as happy as the rest.

And this, I hope you agree, shows that Ivan Illich's idea of assessing tools for conviviality is as valid in the developed First World as in the emerging Third.

My biggest concern is that the rulers and developers of the Third World seem intent only on rushing blindfold into bigger, faster, stupider like Dubai and Qatar.

Thank you for reading!

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Comments 48 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, great hub. Ivan Illich sounds like a great thinker. Why have I never heard of him? For that matter, how is it that anybody has heard of him? Such ideas are not the kind that are usually disseminated by academe. Or am I wrong about that?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Aya - a great thinker, definitely. You're right that a lot of academia would feel threatened, yet, from what I remember, he still supported the university faculties as centres of excellence for research and dissemination. It was only ritualised, formal, curriculum schooling that he disparaged. In fact, he was popular in France through the 70s until, ironically, the communist party came to power. They didn't like his empowering of real people (as distinct from their faceless proletariat!)

But he also practised what he preached. He spent a lot of his time in Mexico working on the ground with local communities. You don't get famous that way.

I think his time will come :)


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

The "first world" system is just as bad here when it comes to standard schools.  They ram these kids through regardless of aptitude or interest.  One size does NOT fit all.  Never has.  And for some reason teaching kids trades is... degrading or something now.

I've never heard of Ivan Illich, but I'm glad he inspired this hub and I'm glad you shared.  Another nice contribution to the hub community, Para.  Too bad no place I'll ever live will be like Amsterdam.


Ntathu profile image

Ntathu 8 years ago from SE London

I love your hubs...I'm learning so much.... thanks for broading my perspective on life... Ntathu


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

It would be very nice if it were permitted to press the "thumbs up" button numerous times for deserving Hubs.  This one would more than qualify.

Paraglider.  I am bemused by the fact that on a few occasions, while reading your Hubs, I realize that an author you are discussing, whom I have never read or even heard of, is saying things very similar to what I have said in one of my own Hubs.  What makes this especially pleasant is that the person you are writing about is someone you apparently hold in relatively high esteem.

What Illich has to say about schools, among other things, resonates very strongly with me.   

Illich: “The school curriculum itself is an agenda for producing people to service and maintain existing institutions of society and to restrict as well as disseminate knowledge.”

“Schools institutionalise children, conforming them and preparing them for First World workplaces that may be locally inappropriate or may simply not exist.” 

ColdWarBaby: I have always maintained that we are, literally from birth, subjected to a relentless barrage of messages and signals designed to mold our consciousness.  In school we are trained NOT to think but only to accept as fact, without question, what we are told by those in authority.  We are conditioned, like Pavlovs’ dog.

After decades of mind numbing assault by public schools, mandated not to educate but to indoctrinate, and corporate marketing, intended to manipulate the public mind rather than present useful, quality products, nothing is left of the U.S.A. but an ocean of mindless consumers. 

I managed to find a copy of Deschooling Society in PDF format for my own edification.  If anyone else is interested, here is a link.  The second link is a site with much of his work including Deschooling and Tools for Conviviality.    

http://www.gyanpedia.in/Portals/0/Toys%20from%20Tr...

http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/ 

Thanks very much for this one Paraglider.  It gives me cause to hope I may not be as mad as I sometimes fear.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Shadesbreath - that's certainly true about any 'standard' schools, and I take your point about trades too. Apprenticeships and Guilds gave young people a purpose and a goal to aim for. I was in Amsterdam briefly last week (and did manage to fit in a beer with Ananta and Lazur!) It is a truly social town and long may it continue.

Ntathu - that's a very nice thing to hear. Thank you very much :)

CWB - You, mad? - Absolutely not! In my own case, I didn't immediately understand Illich fully, because when I first 'met' him I knew very little beyond small town Scotland and University and I'd had a fairly easy passage through both, because I was genuinely interested in an 'approved' academic subject. It was only later, when I started travelling and working further afield, that I had something tangible to attach his ideas to. I am convinced that his time has come, even if he never receives due credit. For the record, the two Illich quotes in your response are of course my paraphrasing of what I think he said. I hope I haven't misrepresented him! Thanks for the links.


ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

Pleasure. I'll be reading Illich for the next few days.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Funny thing is, I know more financially stable plumbers and electricians than I do people with liberal arts degrees (media studies) etc. I think that's coming round though. We just have to scrifice another generation or two and maybe plummet into a fourth world economy and we'll finally figure it out.

And dude, I'm so jealous. I don't know Lazur, but a beer or five with you and Ananta would be a total F-ing joy. Wish I lived close, I'd stuff my pushy American ass into that little rendevouz if I could.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

CWB - I think, so will I. I've put myself in the mood to check him out again, through writing this hub.

SB - I visit Amsterdam every September for a few days. Have done for about 12 years. Maybe next year?


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

Hi Paraglider, You and Shadesbreath must have a virtual beer on me. I insist!

Thanks for the Illich hub. I have never heard of him either, but I echo the sentiments expressed here by Shadesbreath and Cold War Baby. Here in the UK we are planning to increase the school leaving age. I left school at 16 and although I did do further education through evening classes and day release etc., it was not the same (I imagine!) as going to University. In the 70s and 80s university education was really valued, because such a low percentage of school leavers went on to study at degree level. These days our Universities are churning out graduates at a great rate, many of them totally unsuited for the real world of work. We have taken our cossetting and cushioning of our children too far. It's a jungle out there, and kids need to learn that sooner rather than later. Our 'one size fits all' education system is failing the kids and failing society. What a big shake up we need!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Amanda - I agree entirely. In UK, the school leaving age has been raised several times and (as you say) is just about to go up again. Is it 17 or 18 this time? The politicians like it because it reflects well on unemployment figures, for one year, and that's as far ahead as most of them think. But these kids are too old and "sophisticated" (in their eyes) then to want to start apprenticeships and, except for the few, not university qualified.

So, we create more and more colleges with minimal entry qualifications to look after them for another 2 or 3 years.

(My house when in UK looks out over the Severn Valley by the way)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

Hi Paraglider,

My 'Severn' ancestors originated in Worcestershire, but we are mainly based in Sussex these days.I haven't kept up to date with the exact age they're planning on. I think it's 17 unless you obtain an apprenticeship or go into further education. If it is a ploy to reduce the unemployment figures, then it's a cynical ploy to say the least. Three of my siblings left school at 15 and they have all done exceptionally well in their chosen careers. Children need to do what's right for them, not what the government dictates is right for them. Personally I'm now sorry that I didn't do a degree. I had the opportunity, but didn't take it. In my large comprehensive there were around 400 children in my year. I know of only 3 or 4 who went to University. I guess things were very different thirty years ago.


talented_ink profile image

talented_ink 8 years ago from USA

This is definitely an interesting hub and thank you for introducing me to someone new who sounds worth a read. When it comes to Illich and education, I agree that the rote method by which most of us have learned, has its inherent faults because we learn in different ways and through different means so a classroom(whether it's surrounded by 4 walls or outdoors) and the teacher should be able to accommodate many if not all of the various learning types. When it comes to conviviality, in the U.S., it would always just be a great idea on paper. My country has become so industrialized that many times we fall over ourselves in an attempt to tear down what we've just created so that we can build something newer and bigger. Cutting down on private vehicles in favor of public transportation is a great way to free cities from pollution and would help to cut down on petroleum usage, but too many greedy people wouldn't allow such "innovative and convival modernization". Great hub!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Amanda - I'm just old eough to have come through the Scotish "eleven-plus" selection system, so my secondary school was geared towards universtiy (Glasgow). The system wasn't 'fair' of course, but neither have its replacements been.

Talented_ink - I agree that even in schools, education could be improved and maybe that's as radical as we can get in practice. Deschooling society will never be accepted unless it is forced on us by total financial/institutional meltdown. There's more hope for transportation, maybe, but not until oil prices rise to somewhere approaching a sensible level for an irreplaceable resource that is destroyed on first use.


Jewels profile image

Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

I wish this man was my father or brother or had an influence in my own life. I loved this hub though it's a bit difficult to respond without pangs of regret in my own schooling. I loathed it and in most cases it was because it didn't have any socially structured reasoning behind it. Education via my school never grabbed my curiosity or encouraged creativity unless it was in an essay form where the subject was set.

Coincidentally I was talking to a friend about how schools don't teach any social skills at all (except what is right and wrong in obedience to the teacher). Additionally the lack of self empowerment skills is possibly the reason why generation x has little respect for it's elders. Why would they. A person can only be quashed so far before self preservation takes over.

Conviviality feels grass roots reasoning for getting an education in the first place. Education providing knowledge to help make a community more interesting and satisfied.

Can I come for coffee with you guys too?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jewels - god points, thanks, especially in your second paragraph about schools not socialising the children. The irony is, we now have the technology available to put Illich's learning webs in place, but as a society we've become so anti-intellectual (because natural curiosity has been schooled out of us) that all we use it for is to download holywood movies. (I exaggerate - after all, we're here!)


Jewels profile image

Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

Yeah, the dumbing down of America doesn't just relate to America. You know all this subtle pursuasion adds more fuel to the Ahrimanic agenda I pointed out in a forum discussion. As well as bad diets and lack of exercise, another cause of the depression problem is this lack of inspiration. People are willing, but have no idea what to put will into and so will is quashed. When a person doesn't know how to manifest creative thoughts - what happens?

The timing of this hub is fascinating. Looking globally, the US election is one of the most pivotal in history, the stock market crash is the worst in history (even with the bail-out) and we are discussing how the education system at large is not fostering flavors of humanity. How to make change at a grass roots level - isn't it at the educational level that this is needed? OK, this is not the forum section!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Jewels - I assure you, the timing of this hub is not accidental. Hubbers like CWB, PGrundy and others are writing a series of specific and detailed hubs from their on-the-spot knowledge of the US. Here, from sunny Qatar, I'm offering a series of philosophical, latterally related hubs on the same basic themes. It's all part of the great campaign to help people waken up to what's happening around them.

I'm glad you're awake!


Ananta65 8 years ago

Interesting read. Illich's ideas are absolutely worth pondering on.

Amsterdam's not too bad, but as you've seen this North-South line has yet to contribute to the attainability. Not to mention the budgetary consequences.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 8 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Ananta - Not even Amsterdam gets everything right, but it still remains one of the better 'adjusted' Western societies. Wonder if Illich ever visited?


Ananta65 8 years ago

You know Illich better than I do, Paraglider :)

Actually I’ve seen another example too. In Namibia (http://hubpages.com/hub/Namibia-in-eight-days) the roads were more than just tracks. They weren’t the (expensive) concrete or asphalt roads either. A minimum level of ‘convenience’, but fit for their purpose.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

I'm all for letting children learn by doing in the "real" world rather than in the institutions themselves wherever appropriate. Illich is somone I'll have to read, so thanks for the tip.

Thoroughly great hub (did I tell ya I went to the University of Strathclyde? I love Glasgow. The last place I lived there was a bedsit on Byres Rd.)


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

I wonder what number? I had a bedsit in 151 Byres Road in my first year (70-71) then moved North to Hillhead. It's a great city.


Natasha 7 years ago

Thanks for your commentary. There's something nice about knowing that decades ago, there was a man fueled by philosophies I build in myself. Your intro mentions Illich as a sociologist, but I wonder what he would've said about cultural anthropologists and their "ethnographies" approach.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Natasha - thanks for the visit. Illich, I think, would have valued constructive thought from any quarter. He deserves to be better known. Spread the word!


Darren 7 years ago

Aloha from Hawai'i Island,

As one who considers Ivan Illich a great teacher, I appreciate your writing.

http://islandnotes.wordpress.com/category/educatio...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Darren - a pleasure to hear from an Illich fan. Most people haven't heard of him, sadly.


Make  Money profile image

Make Money 6 years ago from Ontario

Very interesting Paraglider. Would I be wrong to think that Illich's Conviviality would be akin to returning to traditional cultures? School-less education would be akin to how kids used to learn while growing up on traditional family farms too, wouldn't it? If Illich is saying that we need to spend more time at preserving traditions then I like it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Mike - returning to traditional cultures up to a point, but with the benefit of modern convivial technologies (e.g. communications, internet etc). Regressive or Luddite movements are doomed to fail, and rightly so, but rejecting the extremes of consumerism and militarism would seem a good start.


EmpressFelicity profile image

EmpressFelicity 6 years ago from Kent, England, UK

I enjoyed reading this hub, thanks! The example of "conviviality" you mentioned (people effectively using barter to avoid spending money they don't have anyway) is going to become more and more prevalent in the West, IMO. Sometimes technology can have unexpectedly convivial effects. I remember reading an article about old mobile phones being sent to Africa, where farmers use them to text each other about which markets offer the best price for produce. That sort of thing might well be far more effective at raising the standard of living in Third World countries than any amount of government aid (which often seems to end up lining the pockets of corrupt regimes).

As far as education goes, I think I must have been one of the lucky ones. I went to a grammar school, where I got quite a good, rigorous education that I'm still grateful for now. My science degree also helped, but since then I've also learned a LOT from talking to people on the Internet - they've pointed me in directions (intellectually speaking) that I would never have gone in otherwise LOL.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Empress. I think we are all going to have to learn convivial living and the value of convivial technologies. The worst thing that could happen would be a return to the failed model of limitless consumerism. The machine broke because it is defective. It should be redesigned, not repaired. Thanks for the visit :)


TheMindlessBrute profile image

TheMindlessBrute 6 years ago from Orlando,Florida

There was an article in the news today (in the U.S.) that Americans are fighting for their rights to "hang their laundry on clotheslines"It would seem that a convivial community will be inevitable if Americans are to survive the "jobless recovery"As once overlooked privileges like a clothes dryer are now a luxury for millions of those "jobless"who are far from recovering.

During our decline the observance of many middle class American communities who once considered,such things as grass over 6 inches tall and hanging clothes an "eyesore"I say let it all "hang" out and maybe that will be the equivalent of the Roman Senator who thought that all of the slaves should wear white armbands and a wiser senator said no,then the slaves would see how many of them there are and there would be an uprising.I can't wait to see the clotheslines springing up all over my neighborhood,maybe then the people will wake from their media induced slumber and question the oxymoronic "jobless recovery"

Anyway I have another video clip that fits your hub and what we in America are up against when a city in California used bulldozers and the imminent domain laws to raze a convivial garden set up by the citizens.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juMe8ls3yOI


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That video says it all. Corporate profit before everything else. I think I'll link it on the blog, and quote you as well, if I may?


TheMindlessBrute profile image

TheMindlessBrute 6 years ago from Orlando,Florida

Please do.I may write a contribution to the blog because I think the work you are doing there is essential for the survival of our human family.I only wish for the activism to be translated out of the digital dimension and into the third one.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

An article contribution would be very welcome - thanks!


TheMindlessBrute profile image

TheMindlessBrute 6 years ago from Orlando,Florida

This is quietly spreading across America:

PALM BAY — City leaders will plant a seed to see whether community gardens could be perennial favorites among green-thumbed citizens.

http://www.floridatoday.com/article/20091210/NEWS0...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's encouraging. Convivial community is the single best hedge against infrastructure meltdown.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I have liked Illich since the early 70s when I first read Deschooling. As an educator it was very meaningful to me. I read it along with Freire and a book which I have long since lost called "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" (can't remember the authors).

Great stuff and thanks for the great write up on Illich, truly a great thinker.

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tony - I just wrote a longish response that disappeared into cyberspace. It ended by saying I'm not at all surprised to hear you are an Illich devotee. Paulo Friere too. Wasn't his called 'School is Dead'? These guys were well ahead of their time.


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

Good Day Paraglider

This is another very clear and comprehensive presentation, as always. Dr. Illich was indeed way ahead of his time, as you say, having proposed 'learning webs' back in 1971. But I'll come back to that.

I do not disagree with his ideas about the formal, western education institutional system -- as you had recalled them, here, as best you could (yourself having written this in Doha without access to your library). The system does largely produce a stale product, an "education" that really turns human beings into objects, whose only purpose is to maintain the status quo.

Education in the western world, in a strange way restricts as well as disseminates knowledge (I think I saw this sentiment expressed in one of the comments?), in my view, by operating very particularly as a class instrument. Thinking just about America, anyway, where we are officially guided by a meritocratic ethos of the "rugged individual," there exists, nevertheless, a class of people and a mindset -- descended down through many centuries -- which has never given up the idea that they are (and always have been) the rightful rulers of world civilization.

However, in liberal democracies, they cannot simply assert their superiority by dint of blood. What better way, then, in such settings, for them to maintain social control by holding up IQ scores, high scores on various standardized tests, displaying a pedigree of the "finest" preschools, private elementary and high schools, and especially universities (with various subsidiary honors), which seem to offer "proof" that they are indeed the "best and brightest" of the society.

But when you declare one child "gifted," you are by definition, declaring that another child is not gifted, or even stupid. When a school declares one child "gifted," we must understand it is at the expense of another child; because you are giving the "gifted" child extra programs, extra resources, extra time and attention, extra money devoted to her development, at the expense of another child, from who these things are, in effect, taken.

Illich's 'learning webs' idea, proposed in 1971, was visionary. Do you recall if he had any thoughts about how quality control might be put in place and maintained in such an environment? Because that is not exactly a matter of small concern today.

Let's just take journalism as an example. Just thinking about America (but I suppose a similar situation exists in most western liberal democracies). I hear the profession is in a bit of a crisis. Newspapers are folding. News organizations are shutting down foreign bureaus.

And so on and so forth. I'm sure you know the drill. Anyway, there seems to be varying shades of opinion as to the viability of the Internet in filling the void. There are a few good news/opinion journal sources that have a strictly online presence (Huffington Post, Salon.com, GlobalPost.com, etc).

But the majority, even those whose point of view agree with, are nevertheless severely lacking. Some people even think bloggers have a role to play in filling the void. Others are not so sure.

There is a liberatory aspect to the Internet, that brings out both the best and worst in people, so it seems. Many people fear that far from liberating people, cyberspace really enables people to exist in their own ideological "echo chambers," and so forth.

All you have to do is visit the forums, here at HubPages, to realize that nothing like Illich's conviviality is practiced. Frankly, the forums always seem to degenerate into incoherent, raucous, mean-spirited zoos.

I suppose what I'm asking is this: How did Illich see the speculative technology of 'learning webs' being used to meet his standard of conviviality?

Thanks


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi wingedcentaur - I'd hesitate to answer for Illich on details like quality assurance, because it's a while since I read the originals. However, though he was proposing learning webs, I'm pretty sure he wasn't envisaging universal broadband access to 'rich' content. He was probably thinking more of the Internet (which grew out of universities) than the Web (which grew out of, or into, big business).


wingedcentaur profile image

wingedcentaur 6 years ago from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things!

I believe I understand, Paraglider. Thank you.


Muneer 5 years ago

Thanks for an illumnative illustration on Illich...


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

My pleasure :)


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 4 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Now I remember why I loved college in the 70s in the US. I had a prof who would have shared Illich, had he known his work. He probably did, after I left. We studied Carlos Castaneda and Marshall McLuhen instead. Such writers- like Illich- give me hope for a better future because they challenge the norm and the norm in America is not working. if we for one minute considered conviviality in it's many dimensions, so much would change. Brilliant hub, Paraglider! I will read it again after I do my part for the family group and walk the dogs. I loved Amsterdam, too, by the way. In fact, the whole of The Netherlands when I was 12.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Storytellersrus - I have a week in Amsterdam every year, in September. It's a working trip, but I still look forward to it. I find the place uplifting, for all the reasons I mentioned.


Talisker profile image

Talisker 4 years ago from UK

A terrific hub. It's actually the second time I've read it, but it's nice to digest it slowly. Coupled with the comments, it's a pleasurable evenings read. Anyway! Enough of the woffling.

Interestingly enough a large proportion of teachers have come straight out of the school system only to become the teachers themselves (me included) they have had relatively no life experience outside of their prescribed education. No time to read/study/think other than that which has been 'prescribed'(sorry to repeat myself)

I remember once I finished teaching an overwhelming sense of relief that at last I could be free, free of the never ending barrage of 'STUFF' that was deemed very important and always had imminent deadlines, but actually bore no relevance to...well anything. huge amount of time were spent on things which could have been managed more effectively..My point? teachers are forced to become effectively brain dead, in a high state of stress and barely able to complete the day to day running of the classroom, greatly reducing their opportunity to use their free time constructively. So many teachers either take to drink or shit TV to get them through the evenings and weekends.

Oh and that's what many kids do too, watch 6 hours straight of mindless TV.

I am one of these people who is not the brightest, but at least I think about things, and I choose to hear about things and listen to things. I don't allow myself to become entrapped in pits of mindless STUFF of which there is plenty. Rather I try to direct my time constructively, that way, although I will not become the next great thinker, at least I am able to muse upon the great thinking of others.

Oh and one person springs to mind. He did not fit school, and school did not fit him, but even in his short life he touched upon a sort of intellectual greatness, independently of any prescribed education


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 4 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

There is certainly no end of mindless stuff to take over our lives if we let it, some of it cynically provided by those who don't want an engaged populace.

And to your last sentence, yes :)

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