Boris Smus

interaction engineering

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. – Mark Twain

A lot of this book agrees emphatically with this Twain quote. Fundamentally, Illich believes that "universal education through schooling is not feasible". Did you know that "schole", the origin of the word "school" and "школа", is the greek word for leisure? The book is written as a collection of essays. Overall, Illich is an Anarchist, and the essays are too radical for me temperament.

Why We Must Disestablish School

A scathing, radical critique of modernity:

Medical treatment is mistaken for healthcare, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends.

Illich also seems to think that schools are flawed because they won't lead to equal outcomes for rich and poor. But he seems to discount the fact that a poor but schooled person would presumably be better off than a poor unschooled one. A rising tide lifts all boats.

One area where I agree is to "detach competence from curriculum", and make it taboo to ask people where they studied and how they came to have their skills. Another interesting argument is that "most learning happens casually", in the way that children learn a language, or even adults do it situationally (rarely in language class).

Illich strongly advocates for apprenticeship models, arguing that "all education was complex, lifelong, and unplanned". He gives examples of making schooling more effective by taking into account personalized context: "Paolo Freire [...] discovered that any adult can begin to read in a matter of fourty hours if the first words he deciphers are charged with political meaning."

He suggests opening the market to for students to find appropriate teachers for them. Even more intriguingly, here's a startup idea. I've redacted some antiquated parts (the essay is written in 1970):

Each man [...] could identify himself to a computer, indicating the book, article, film, or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion [...] and arrange for a meeting with others who recently had taken the same initiative.

Imagine doing this today, restoring coffee shops as social infrastructure for intellectual conversation.

School, Illich argues, is divisive, splintering society into the schooled (white collar) and unschooled (blue collar). Education becomes unworldly and the world becomes noneducation.

Phenomenology of School

The school system is a modern phenomenon, as is the childhood it produces.

Fascinatingly, until the Second Vatican Council in 1962, each child was instructed that a Christian reaches moral discernment and freedom at the age of seven.

I think Illich unfairly claims that adults tend to romanticize their schooling, attributing their learning to a beloved teacher, not giving enough credit to teachers that really inspire their pupils, spot talent, provide encouragement. Surely many pupils end up pursuing higher ed in a field because of a high school teacher.

But he fairly critiques the institution of school for giving a single teacher too many roles: "custodian, preacher/moralist, and therapist".

Overall I find his take super idealistic. I wonder if he had kids? The fact that school provides childcare is like a super important aspect of it for most families, and increasingly so as more women are in the workforce.

I got through the third essay, but it was a slog. Overall, there are interesting tidbits but the overall tone is so anarchic, marxist and idealistic, I found it a draining read.