While reading Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, I found myself puzzled, again. I have to read sections multiple times, and each time I altered my lens.
For example, I couldn’t help but think “libertatian utopia” when I first read this paragraph:

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public’s chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational.”

Like with libertarianism in general, there are elements that I agree with (who doesn’t believe in the importance of personal freedom and personal responsibility?), but when I think of how it would be applied, it seems quite scary. There are three things that immediately scared me about that paragraph:

1. If education is not compulsory, then it is not accessible to all. Some students might be interested in how the natural world operates, or in the genealogy of ideas. If their parents believe that dogma is the only true knowledge there is nothing stopping those parents from barring that child from his or her desired curriculum.

2. Illich writes that “Everywhere the hidden curriculum of schooling initiates the citizen to the myth that bureaucracies guided by scientific knowledge are efficient and benevolent.” States that have a nationalized education system governed by bureaucracy aren’t subject to arguments like “teach the controversy.” If students are not required to submit to a curriculum, then students are allowed to make up their own facts.

3. If you advocate a constitutional “right to all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known” then you are advocating for a reality in which cults are normal and viable alternatives.

But then I realized that I wasn’t reading it correctly. While I was not alone in seeing a libertarian utopia in that vision (libertarians apparently read it that way too), that’s apparently not what Illich had in mind, since he labeled advocates free-market education advocates “the most dangerous category of educational reformers.” Not having read his follow-up work, After Deschooling, What? I don’t know how what he is advocating is different.

He thought that the mechanical aspects of surgery could be taught outside of the traditional education system. He believes that professions (such as medicine, law, education) where a credentialed set of authorities gets to decide who else meets the requirements of certification is an essentially corrupt idea. He seems to believe in more of an Angie’s List model, where previous clients can rate the quality of service. In short, he rejects traditional medicine in general. Illich was consistent. He lived with a cancerous growth on his face for 20 years, and for therapy he employed a regimen of yoga, meditation, and opium.

There are elements where I agree with Illich. The means of instruction is traditionally structured in a one-size-fits-all or in more generous forms, a one-size-fits-most model, and, in the U.S., it is controlled by a school board, state legislature, state Boards of Education (appointed by a governor), U.S. Congress, and the Department of Education. It is not controlled by the two classes of people in the classroom: students and teachers. Illich seems to believe that students and teachers should control the means of instruction.


As Tony mentioned in class, toddlers are highly inclined to learn and extremely curious, and they remain so until the love of learning is squeezed out of them by a form of “education” where you sit in rows, your day is divided into subjects, and learning is assessed by multiple choice tests. I agree that that is a problem. But I disagree that De-schooling is the most viable solution. If education is not compulsory, there are other news ways of depriving young minds of the opportunity to learn. Parents, other authorities, and economic realities can discourage learning in a number of ways.
Quit asking so many questions. Not now, I’m busy. Harvest is when I need you the most. You’re too young. You’re too old to begin the training. Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten. Everything you need to know you is in The Bible. You can’t sing. You can’t dance. You can’t draw. That won’t help you get a job.
The list could be infinitely long and infinitely sad. The point being, as I wrote above, if education is not compulsory, then it is not accessible.
As was discussed in seminar, if political science is not required for engineering students, then they will lack the time, and perhaps, the interest to pursue study in that area, even if it is in their best interest. i.e. a civil engineer who studies the nexus of water quality and gas drilling probably understands the importance of political science to her profession. Even if it wasn’t in her required curriculum as a student, she has perhaps at some point wished that it was required.

I was filled with hope and awe towards the end of seminar when we shared our artifacts. Alma strutted around the room like a magician with stage props, and took a super hero stance whilst demonstrating a lesson on light. When she asked for a definition of refraction, a guest in the room gave a lucid and gripping definition that had me on the edge of my seat. Alma then proceeded to make a solid object disappear before our eyes. Her artifact was two beakers and a container of vegetable oil, but the hidden artifact that she brought in to the room was her pedagogy, which was hypnotizing and seductive…she started her insta-lesson by proclaiming that she was going to make us all fall in love with physics, which I did. The best environment for learning is one when you forget that you’re learning.