Adonis Diaries

“De-schooling Society”? Quotes from Ivan Illich

Posted on: March 9, 2016

10 Provocative Quotes from Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society”

Ivan Illich’s groundbreaking book Deschooling Society (1971) offers a radical critique of the institutionalization of education within modern societies.

Illich believed that we wrongly identify education with schooling, since most of our education happens outside of the school environment.

He advocated restructuring education to provide people with multiple opportunities for learning outside of school. “What are needed,” he wrote, “are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.” 

1) “Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance.

Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value.

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.

Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.”

2) “The paradox of the schools is evident: increased expenditure escalates their destructiveness at home and abroad.”

3) “Most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only in so far as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.”

4) “Skill teachers are made scarce by the belief in the value of licenses… Most teachers of arts and trades are less skillful, less inventive and less communicative than the best craftsmen and tradesmen.

Most high-school teachers of Spanish or French do not speak the language as correctly as their pupils might after half a year of competent drills.”

5) “Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school.

Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school.

Only by segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit to the authority of a schoolteacher.”

6) “Once a man or woman has accepted the need for school, he or she is easy prey for other institutions.

Once young people have allowed their imaginations to be formed by curricular instruction, they are conditioned to institutional planning of every sort.”

7) “School initiates young people into a world where everything can be measured, including their imaginations, and, indeed, man himself.” (This is where I disagree: students never learn how to measure and what they can measure…)

8) “School prepares for the alienating institutionalization of life by teaching the need to be taught. Once this lesson is learned, people lose their incentive to grow in independence.”

9) “The public is indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are the result of formal schooling.”

10) “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”

Read the full text of Deschooling Society here.

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