In the contemporary society, many people believe that as an integrated part of society, the purpose of education is to capacitate individuals to reach their full potential as human beings, individually and as members of a society. These individuals will receive education which will enable them to think and act intelligently and prepare them for community life (Literacy Philosophy, 2012). However, Ivan Iillich proposes the notion of ‘deschooling’ which he thinks the rights of learning for most people are taken away because of the obligation to attend school (Illich, 1971).
The deschooling thesis calls for “the disestablishment of the norm mandating institutionalized education” (Kahn & Kellner, 2007, p. 438). The school is in crisis and will not last for much longer. In this essay, I intend to provide a critical overview of Illich’s main ideas of ‘deschooling’, and explain how his vision is relevant to today’s views on the purpose of education. The thesis of Illich’s notion of deschooling is “universal education through schooling is not feasible” (Illich, 1971, p. vii).
He explains if people are educated in the institutions which are built on the style of present schools, education will be no longer feasible (Illich, 1971). Instead of facilitating knowledge to learners, school takes away people’s abilities and desire to learn. More precisely, the increase on educational expenditure is gradually growing inefficiently which makes some children do not have the opportunity to study at school (Illich & Verne, 1976). Most people wrongly believe the more money spends on education, the better education students can receive.
Nevertheless, Illich (1971) contends the money spends on education is insufficient to improve the teaching quality and the performance of students who have disadvantages. Aiming at increasing the equality of receiving education, many governments provide funds to those schools with many students from low- income families. However, the tremendous costs of schools force the governments to provide more funds to those schools. The poorer students need funds to enable them to learn, but normally the funds are spent on the development of the school rather on the poor students themselves (Illich, 1971).
Illich (1971) indicates that school gives “unlimited opportunity for legitimated waste, so long as its destructiveness goes unrecognized and the cost of palliatives goes up” (p. 10). So the money is insufficiently spent. As a result, children from poor families still cannot receive the opportunity to go to school. In some developing countries, some children even do not have the opportunity for the most basic education. However, Illich (1971) states that even in schools with equal quality, the poorer students still cannot catch up with the rich as an effect of relative poor financial conditions.
The poor parents cannot afford to pay their children’s tuition fees and books. Some filed trips or vacation travels which are good for students’ learning, are unreachable for the poorer children. It is obvious that the poorer children are self-abased. In general, the poorer students fall behind as long as they depend on school for learning (Illich, 1971). Moreover, in some nations, some parents even do not allow their children to attend school. Even more essentialis the fact that some parents deliberately keep their children at home, or wink at their staying away from school.
Sometimes this is a matter of sheer economic necessity. Parents are often forced to rely on children as a means of supplementary support. They need their children to work. So in those countries, only a small number of children attend to school although hundreds of thousands money have been spent to make the school attendance higher (Illich, 1971). Reimer (1971) who has the same opinions about school as Illich describes “schools are simply too big to treat concretely” (p. 10). There are too many people in the school institutions. In turn, individuals may have bad habits which they learn from others in the school.
So some parents may worry about the harmful habits that their children may learn from school. In sum, schools limit students’ abilities to learn to a certain extent. Another illusion, which Illich thinks most people have, is “learning is the result of teaching” (Illich, 1971, p. 12). He argues schools cannot possibly achieve their goal of promoting learning. Schools often teach students that instruction produces learning; yet learning is the result of personal activity, not the result of instruction (Illich, 1971; Gintis, 1972).
Specifically, most people not only acquire knowledge inside school but also need to learn more about extracurricular knowledge outside the formal schools, which cannot be taught by teachers in the class. For example, if a person wants to learn a second language, he can travel to other countries and live with local people. Speaking under a good language environment can make him speak well than just sitting in the classroom and listening to the teacher. Therefore, individuals can reclaim responsibility for their own learning away from the constraints of the educational institutions.
People are often taught that valuable learning is the result of attendance, the more classes students attend, the better grades they will get. However, some students attend school and study every day, but they still cannot get good grades and certificates. School takes away people’s desire to learn. Thus, like all other bureaucratic service institutions, “schools fail by their very nature” (Gintis, 1972, p. 85). Illich also emphasizes his opinions about alternatives to schools.
In terms of alternatives in education beyond the official system, Illich considers learning exchanges as an effective way for people to learn where people are able to make contact with each other to teach or learn, “without the need to enrol at some institutions offering formal courses” (R. Small, Ivan Illich and de-schooling, April 5, 2013). He proposes the network of ‘learning webs’ to replace school. Moreover, he regards skill exchanges as an essential way to “provide people who want to learn a skill with access to those persons who have mastered the skill and have the ability to demonstrate it” (Arsdall, 1975, p. 31).
Training skill teachers are quite expensive. A person who wants to be a teacher needs to get the certificate for teaching. Therefore, there are merely a small number of teachers who have potential skills. From Illich’s point of view, everybody who has a skill can also teach it and share with others. Even the best businessmen and artists are more skillful, talented and creative than most of the arts and business teachers (Illich, 1971). Consequently, people do not need to learn skills from teachers. He also states the professionals who engage in operating educational institutions must be replaced by a new breed of “educators”.
The proposed educators should be able to “create and operate the various educational networks” (Arsdall, 1975, p. 32). Further, the opportunities for skill-learning are multiplied. People are able to learn skills effectively from different people. Additionally, learning exchanges are more economical than schools, and they are cheaper or even free so that everyone can share in them (Reimer, 1971). The sharing of skills can easily motivate people to learn by guaranteeing freedom to teach or exercise them on request (Arsdall, 1975).
On the other hand, some people staunchly oppose Illich’s idea of deschooling society. In contrast to Illich’s opinion of againsteducational institutions, those opponents argue that schools are necessary for the society. Many people respond to the controversial theses against schools published in Deschooling Society (Zaldivar, 2011). Amongst those critics who take part in the debate, Paul Goodman most radically oblige Illich to revise his thinking. Goodman thinks there are some problems for schools, but schools should be improved instead of being disestablished.
Other critics claim that Illich’s opinion of alternatives is ideal and unable to be applied in practice. As a matter of fact, the alternatives offered by Illich are “often disqualified, seen as utopian and with no practical direction” (Zaldivar, 2011, p. 621). Besides, according to Greer (1971), the most pivotal mistake in Deschooling Society is that Illich upholds disestablishing school, but he does not propose the effective instruction for transforming the most important educational institutions (cited in Zaldivar, 2011).
Further, as one of the most significant critical texts against Illich theses, Gintis represents the most articulated critique of Iillich studies in his essay entitled Toward a Political Economy of Education: A Radical Critique of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (Zaldivar, 2011). Gintis (1972) critiques Iillich’s Deschooling Society, argue that, “from the fact that schools do not promote learning, however, Illich does not conclude that schools are simply irrational or discardable. Rather, he asserts theircentral role in creating docile and manipulable consumers for the larger society” (p. 3). In addition, according to Small (2013), the solutions such as increased funding, special programmes and new curriculum approaches, which Illich thought inefficient are still being advocated today. With respect to learning exchanges system, it has been proved work reasonably well with arts and crafts, as well as learning other languages, but it might be useless for sciences or other academic subjects. However, some of Illich’s opinions are relevant to today’s education. His negative definition of schooling indicates the problems of education in the present day.
Everybody should have an equal chance to education. Yet, it is undeniably true that in the poor nations, especially in some poverty-stricken rural areas, some school-age children cannot go to school because of lack of financial support. Many kids drop out of school because they cannot pay the fee every year. In this case, Illich’s view of education offers a multi-pronged critique of schooling, reflects the shortcomings and defects of modern education in equality. Furthermore, with respect to public purpose of schooling, schools are supposed to educate positive values to students (Reimer, 1971).
It is a general recognition that the purpose of modern education is to cultivate qualified talents in both ability and integrity. Nevertheless, in the specific educational practices, schools cannot fully play a positive role in education; sometimes even have a negative effect on students. For example, teachers tell students to be friendly with others, but outside the classroom, some teachers even denigrate other teachers in public. It has a negative influence on students. In addition, Ivan Illich’s concern with learning webs, which he calls educational or learning webs, has struck a chord among many people.
According to Smith (2001), Illich’s propose of learning exchange is an approach to find some enthusiastic proponents within non-formal education. As the best example of a learning exchange, the world-wide web enables people to gain access to any learning resource which may help him to define and reach his own goals (Smith, 2001; Small, 2013). It appears certain that technologies like computers have driven the current construction of education. With the development of technology, it is possible for students to develop their own weblogs and get resources on line by themselves.
With Internet students can share their personal diaries, discuss what they are reading, learning and doing in relation to coursework, post hyperlinks to useful Internet sites, debate over issues being discussed in class or of current topical interest(Kahn & Kellner, 2007). As a consequent, communications among young peers are highly developed. According to Nussbaum (2004), online learning exchanges become a highly involved and interesting cultural forum (cited in Kahn & Kellner, 2007).
So Illich’s conceptions of ‘webs of learning’ have a significant implication on education in the present age. Illich’s notion of deschooling reflects today’s view of education. In conclusion, Illich’s critiques of the school and call for the deschooling of society have caused great repercussions among many workers and alternative educators (Smith, 2001). Although many people oppose his vision of deschooling society and some of his ideas have been proved to be unsuccessful, his work can provide “new insight into ongoing studies of modernity” (Zaldivar, 2011, p. 24). Further, his propose of educational webs or networks connected with an interest in ‘non-formal’ approaches has a considerable influence on people’s understanding of searching for new formal educational institutions except schools. It is no doubt that some of his views retain considerable and thought-provoking power (Smith, 2001). What we should consider carefully is to think how we can improve modern education effectively in the future with Illich’s suggestions and proposals.