Deschooling Education

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

–Mark Twain

As I continue to try to wrap my head around the concept of formal education and why/how it needs to change, I’ve found it increasingly necessary to go back in history to read the arguments and proposals of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand.  Sizer and Postman & Weingartner have all put miles on my library card this year, and I’ve got Seymour Papert on deck sitting on my kitchen counter.

Several months ago I read Deschooling Society, written by Ivan Illich in 1971, in which Illich calls for a radical change in how education is delivered conducted.  I can’t do justice to his entire argument in a blogpost, but the gist of it is that the entire system needs to be completely destroyed (not as in, “everyone use computers now” destroyed; he means “raze it and salt the earth” destroyed) and re-built from the ground up.  I found one section oddly prescient in that it seems to predict the concept of online learning communities a good 30+ years in advance:

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.

(Illich, 1971, p. 56)

I see the potential for utilizing online tools to build these educational networks (dare I say Professional/Personal Learning Networks?) and databases such as Illich describes, and I would love to know the extent to which this has already started to happen in our schools (public, private, charter, home, or otherwise).  I don’t mean doing a long-distance wiki or blog project with a class in another state or country (not that those are without merit), but rather teaching kids to use these tools to pursue whatever it is they feel is worth knowing by connecting with other “real live” people around the neighborhood, state, or world, and then not only giving them license to do it, but encouraging it.


Illich, Ivan.  (1971).  Deschooling society. San Francisco: Harper & Row.


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