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Deschooling Society Essay


This term paper is about De schooling Society which is a book written by Ivan Illich. The book is more than a critique – it contains suggestions for changes to learning in society and individual lifetimes. Particularly striking is his call for the use of advanced technology to support “learning webs”. In this paper, we will first see what is meant by de schooling society and then what is the need for de schooling and is it necessary to disestablish a school. After seeing the reasons for de schooling, we look at the phenomenology of school which gives the phenomenon of school. Then we will see the rituals in the current school system and discuss about them. Later we look at the model for evaluating institutions and then propose the idea of learning webs and thus conclude with the requirements of a good education system and what an educated person should be able to do.

What is De schooling Society?

The process of receiving education or training especially done at School is called Schooling. The main goal of Schooling is to learn things from what is taught by teachers in the school. Here learning, education, training, guidance or discipline is derived from experiences and through lessons taught by teachers. De schooling society is a critical discourse on education as practised in modern economics. It is replacing school with natural learning. It specifically refers to that period of adjustment experienced by children removed from school settings. It is the initial stage where one gets rid of schoolish thoughts about learning and life in general. If one is given time to adjust to the freedom of no school routines and not being told what to do every minute of the day, then they have lots of time to relax, try new things, to discover their interests and rediscover the joy of learning. This is the idea of de schooling. It is like a child recovering from school damage. “SCHOOLING IS THE SYSTEM DESIGNED FOR TEACHING……. ……. DE SCHOOLING IS THE SYSTEM DESIGNED FOR LEARNING.”

Why we must disestablish a school (why de schooling???)

Ivan Illich feels that there is a need to disestablish school by giving examples of ineffectual nature of institutionalized education. According to Illich “Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor proliferation of educational hardware or software, nor the attempt to expand teacher’s responsibility will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing and caring.

“ The present school system believes that more the treatment, better are results and leads to success. It confuses teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence and fluency with ability to say something new. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Illich shows that institutionalization of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence and most of the research now going on further increases in the institutionalization of values and we must define conditions which would permit precisely the contrary to happen. He believes that care only makes students dependent on more treatment and renders them increasingly incapable of organising their own lives around their own experiences and resources within their own communities.

With the present system poor children lack most of the educational opportunities which are casually available to middleclass people. To solve this they started a program “Title One” which is the most expensive compensatory program ever attempted anywhere in education, yet no significant improvement can be detected in learning of these disadvantaged children. Special curricula, separate classes or longer hours only constitute more discrimination of poor. Thus this system has failed to improve the education of the poor. Advantages of rich over poor range from conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself and apply for the child who enjoys them both in and out of school. So a poor student will generally fall behind so long as he depends on the school for advancement or learning. Poor needs funds to enable them to learn.

Neither in North America nor in Latin America do the poor get equality from obligatory schools but in both the places, the mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world, school has an anti educational effect on society: school is recognized as the institution which specializes in education. The failures of school are taken by most people as proof that education is very costly, very complex, always mysterious and almost impossible task. Education disadvantage cannot be cured by relying on education within school. Neither learning nor justice is promoted by schooling because educators insist on packaging instruction with certification. Learning and assignment of social rules are melted into schooling. The major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching only contributes to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances.

But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school. Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. For example, normal children learn their first language (mother tongue) casually, although faster if their parents pay attention to them. But the fact that a great deal of learning even now seems to happen casually and as a by-product of some other activity defined as work or leisure does not mean that planned learning does not benefit from planned instruction and that both do not stand in need of improvement. Illich illustrates the idea of learning with a practical example. “In 1956 there arose a need to teach Spanish quickly to several hundred teachers, social workers, and ministers from the New York Archdiocese so that they could communicate with Puerto Ricans.

Gerry Morris announced over a Spanish radio station that he needed native speakers from Harlem. Next day some two hundred teen-agers lined up in front of his office, and he selected four dozen of them-many of them school dropouts. He trained them in the use of the U.S. Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Spanish manual, designed for use by linguists with graduate training, and within a week his teachers were on their own-each in charge of four New Yorkers who wanted to speak the language. Within six months the mission was accomplished. Cardinal Spellman could claim that he had 127 parishes in which at least three staff members could communicate in Spanish. No school program could have matched these results.”

Further experiments conducted by Angel Quintero in Puerto Rico suggest that many young teen-agers, if given proper incentives, programs, and access to tools, are better than most school teachers at introducing their peers to the scientific exploration of plants, stars, and matter, and to the discovery of how and why a motor or a radio functions. Opportunities for skill-learning can be vastly multiplied if we open the market. Schools are even less efficient in the arrangement of the circumstances which encourage the openended, exploratory use of acquired skills. The main reason for this is that school is obligatory and becomes schooling for schooling’s sake. Most skills can be acquired by drills, because skill implies the mastery of definable and predictable behaviour.

Education is the exploratory and creative use of skills, however, cannot rely on drills. It relies on the relationship between partners , on the critical intent of all those who use memories creatively, on the surprise of unexpected question which opens new doors. It is now generally accepted that the physical environment will soon be destroyed by biochemical pollution unless we reverse the current trends in the production of physical goods which is possible by de schooling. Instead of equalizing chances, the school system has monopolized their distribution. Equal educational opportunity is indeed both a desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the church. A de schooled society implies a new approach to incidental or informal education. Thus he says that not only education but society as a whole needs de schooling.

Phenomenology of School

In order to make the schooling process better and to search for alternative methods in education, we must start with an agreement on what do we mean by “school”. We need to have clear idea on what a “school” is and what is the difference between “teaching” and “learning”. We can do this by listing the functions that are performed by modern school systems, such as custodial care, selection, indoctrination, and learning. We could make client analysis and verify which of these functions render a service or a disservice to teachers, employers, children, parents, or the professions. We could survey history of western culture and information gathered by anthropology to get an idea of schooling.

And we could recall the statements made by many people before and discover which of these the modern school system most closely approaches. But any of these approaches would oblige us to start with certain assumptions about a relationship between school and education. Hence we begin with phenomenology of public school. We can define the school as the age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum. Age: School groups people according to age. This grouping rests on three unquestioned premises.

Children belong in school. Children learn in school. Children can be taught only in school. Illich thinks that these unexamined premises deserve serious questioning. If there were no age-specific and obligatory learning institutions, childhood would go out of production. The disestablishment of school could also end the present discrimination against infants, adults, and the old in favour of children throughout their adolescence and youth. Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself a product of schools because common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Teachers and Pupils: Here children are pupils. School is an institution built on the axiom that learning is the result of teaching.

And institutional wisdom continues to accept this axiom, despite overwhelming evidence to contrary. Illich says that most of the learning is without teachers. Most tragically, the majority of men are taught their lessons by schools, even though they never go to school. Everyone learns how to live outside school. We learn to speak, to think, to love, to feel, to play, to curse, to politick, and to work without interference from a teacher. Even orphans, idiots, and schoolteachers’ sons learn most of what they learn outside the educational process planned for them. Half of the people in our world never set foot in school. They have no contact with the teachers, and they are deprived of the privilege of becoming dropouts. Yet they learn quite effectively the message which school teaches. Pupils have never credited teachers for most of their learning. Schools create jobs for schoolteachers, no matter what their pupils learn from them.

Full-Time Attendance: The institutional wisdom of schools tells parents, pupils, and educators that the teacher, if he is to teach, must exercise his authority in a sacred precinct. This is true even for teachers whose pupils spend most of their school time in a classroom without walls. School, by its very nature, tends to make a total claim on the time and energies of its participants. This, in turn, makes the teacher into custodian, preacher, and therapist. In each of these three roles the teacher bases his authority on a different claim. The teacher as custodian sets the stage for the acquisition of some skill. Without illusions of producing any profound learning, he drills his pupils in some basic routines. The teacher as moralist substitutes for parents, god, or the state.

He instructs the pupil about what is right and what is wrong, not only in school but also in society at large. The teacher as therapist feels authorized to enter into the personal life of his pupil in order to help him grow as a person. Defining children as full-time pupils permits the teacher to exercise a kind of power over their persons. A pupil who obtains assistance on an exam is told that he is an outlaw, morally corrupt, and personally worthless. Classroom attendance removes children from everyday world of western culture and plunges them into an environment far more primitive, magical, and deadly serious. The attendance rule makes it possible for the schoolroom to serve as a magic womb, from which the child is delivered periodically at the end of the day and end of the year until he is finally expelled into adult.

Ritualization of progress:

Illich sees education as being about consumption of packages where the distributor delivers the packages designed by technocrats to the consumer. Here teacher is the distributor and pupils are the consumers. Thus in schools, children are taught to be consumers. Illich’s criticism of school is a criticism of the consumerist mentality of modern societies; a model which the developed nations are trying to force on developing nations. In this view a country is developed according to indices of how many hospitals and schools it has. In terms of school Illich criticises the system which offers a packaged education and awards credentials for the successful consumption of the packages. The packages are continually being re-written and adjusted but the problems they are supposed to address remain same.

This is much more than simply a racket to produce more textbooks and exam syllabuses; this is a commercial activity mirroring the marketing processes of the industry. Children are the obligatory recipients of these marketing efforts. As the teacher is the custodian of rituals of society so schools as institutions are the places for the promotion of myths of society. Illich is especially concerned with this in developing nations where he sees a wrong direction being taken as these countries adopt the consumerist model of the west/north. Education is the means by which these societies get sucked into the consumerist way of doing things.

More schooling leads to rising expectations but schooling will not lift the poor out of poverty; rather it will deprive them of their self-respect. Most basic schools operate according to the notion that “knowledge is a valuable commodity which under certain circumstances may be forced into the consumer”. Schools are addicted to the notion that it is possible to manipulate other people for their own good. For Illich, schools offer something other than learning. He sees them as institutions which by requiring full-time compulsory attendance in ritualised programmes based around awarding credentials to those who can consume educational packages and endure it for the longest. It is thus training in “disciplined consumption”.

Institutional Spectrum:

In this chapter Illich proposes a model for evaluating institutions. He contrasts convivial institutions (which mean friendly, lively and enjoyable institution) at one end of a spectrum (left side) with manipulative ones at the other (right side) to show that there are institutions which fall between the extremes and to illustrate how historical institutions can change colour as they shift from facilitating activity to organizing production. In line with the theme which occurs throughout the book that his criticism of schooling is more to the point than some traditional Marxist challenges to contemporary society Illich points out that many on the left support institutions on the right of his scale i.e. manipulative ones.

Of all “false utilities,” school is the most insidious. Highway systems produce only a demand for cars. Schools create a demand for the entire set of modern institutions which crowd the right end of the spectrum. A man who questioned the need for high-ways would be written off as a romantic; the man who questions the need for school is immediately attacked as either heartless or imperialist. Just as highways create the impression that their present level of cost per year is necessary if people are to move, so schools are presumed essential for attaining the competence required by a society which uses modern technology. Schools are based upon the hypothesis that learning is the result of teaching.

Irrational Consistencies:

He argues that educational researchers and thinkers are more conservative than in other disciplines. He argues that without a new orientation for research and a new understanding of the educational style of an emerging counter-culture the educational revolution will not happen. Our present educational institutions are at the service of the teacher’s goals. The relational structures we need are those which will enable each man to define himself by learning and by contributing to the learning of others. A key theme in this work is the criticism of the idea that learning is the result of teaching. In Illich’s analysis education is a funnel for educational packages.

Illich opposes this with an idea of ‘learning webs’ which are about “the autonomous assembly of resources under the personal control of each learner”. In this chapter Illich criticises some of the ideologies of schooling which he sees in apparently radical initiatives such as the free-school movement and the lifelong learning movement. He points out that free-schools still ultimately support the idea of schooling as the way of inducing children into society. Illich sees manipulative institutions as being those where “some men may set, specify, and evaluate the personal goals of others”. It is very clear that Illich means it when he calls for the de schooling of society.

Learning Webs:

Illich’s practical vision for learning in a de-schooled society is built around what he calls ‘learning webs’. Illich envisages 3 types of learning exchange; between a skills teacher and a student, between people themselves engaging in critical discourse, and between a master and a student. Illich also considers the de-institutionalisation of resources. He proposes that resources already available in society be made available for learning. For example a shop could allow interested people to attempt repairs on broken office equipment as a learning exercise. He suggests that such a network of educational resources could be financed either directly by community expenditure.

Whether he is talking about skills exchanges or educational resources Illich envisages non hierarchical networks. The professionals in Illich’s vision are the facilitators of these exchanges not the distributors of approved knowledge packages in the school system. He envisages two types of professional educators; those who operate the resource centres and facilitate skills exchanges and those who guide others in how to use these systems and networks. The ‘masters’ we have mentioned above he does not see as professional educators but rather as people so accomplished in their own disciplines that they have a natural right to teach it.

Illich’s programme is practical and thought out. He proposes new institutions of a convivial nature to replace the manipulative ones of the current schooling system. In these new institutions there is no discontinuity between ‘school’ and the world; (though this is most definitely not ‘lifelong learning’ which seeks to extend schooling throughout adult life). There is no ritual of induction of the next generation into the myths of society through a class of teacher-preachers. Illich is interested in learning as a human activity carried out for obvious purposes – to gain the benefits that learning the new skill brings.

Educational resources are usually labeled according to educators’ curricular goals. Illich 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:

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 theatres; others can be in daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to students as apprentices or on off hours.

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.

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.

Reference Services to Educators-at-Large – who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self-descriptions of professionals, paraprofessionals, and freelancers, 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 argued that the use of technology to create decentralized webs could support the goal of creating a good educational system. 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;

Furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

An educated child should be able to:   

Read, write, and communicate effectively; Think creatively and logically to solve problems; and Set and work toward goals.


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