I struggled trying to blog yesterday after reading the excerpt from “Deschooling Society” by Illich.  It was one of those moments where there are so many things that you want to say, that you actually say nothing.  I often felt the same in class today – we were all riled up and sometimes it was hard to get a word in.

I will try to be brief here because I want to (again) draw attention to something scary and ominous that has stuck with me since our discussion.  Before I dive in, I want to point out that, to me, discussing the scary and ominous need not be a pessimistic act… but rather one that helps us to ground and orient ourselves so that we might find hope.

Ben mentioned Skinner boxes early in class and I couldn’t shake the connection from that to our conversation.  We like to think (and often rightfully so) that much of our learning involves sophisticated cognitive and/or social processes – that we are meta-cognitive masters in constructing knowledge and regulating our learning.  Yet, ever since Ben reminded us of our more animal-istic, somewhat subconscious, tendencies to be trained (<phone buzzes>, text back, or check the twitter mention, or…), it was all I could think about and hear as we talked.

Today in class, as we chatted about our education schooling(?) system, I heard that we good little students have learned very valuable lessons:

  • don’t ask questions
  • especially don’t ask naive questions
  • especially especially don’t ask stupid questions (as a novice, your question is probably stupid)
  • don’t say anything that isn’t perfect (don’t do anything that isn’t perfect either)
  • don’t like books (we can’t learn from them anyway)
  • i can’t be an expert until i’m credentialed
  • i can’t contribute until i’m an expert
  • if i display vulnerability, weakness, or any possibility that i might be wrong, i will be eaten, mocked, thrown out, oppressed.

Like the adage “we become what we eat,” how much of these messages do we internalize and allow to dictate our everyday actions?  I know I fall prey to many of these in spite of my best intentions not to.  I think some of these lessons, when internalized, keep us from being our most full, authentic, creative, beautiful selves.  I think they can keep us from seeing the best in each other and in our communities, and even in our institutions (school being one of them).  The hope (I believe) springs from the realization that these aren’t intentional outcomes.  No one is masterminding “schooling” to oppress and to stifle.  Rather, some of these lessons have become “unintended consequences” for some of us.  Fortunately, we can be better and do better.  Critical reflection can lead us to positive change.  Even as cogs in the “machine,” we have agency. (Thanks @shellifowler and @rebeccakmiller for our tweets about this)