Schooling for all the wrong reasons….
Writing a comprehensive “Critique of Public Education” has turned out to be my life’s work. Not by choice, mind you. I wanted to be a nuclear physicist or astronomer, as well as paleontologist in my early years. But the “public schools” made sure I’d never get there.
I did an undergraduate “thesis” at UCLA on the economics of public education – i.e., what sort of funding and political status should it have? My experience came from a town which was deeply divided between traditional Catholics and other ethnic minorities/faiths who wanted to maintain their own schools, and a public system which was excellent, but intent on destroying all competition. Originally, it was also intent on making sure that “liberal secular values” were maintained, along with “mainstream Christianity” which would be presented as only one of many valid belief systems or cultures..
I began to run afoul of this “progressive” system early-on. I wasn’t athletically-inclined or even very well-socialized, having spent my first 6 years almost entirely in the company of adults on a ranch, 8 miles from the nearest store or school, and none of whom were particularly sane or contented with their present status.
High school seemed like a bad joke. Although I had always tested very high – among the highest in my class, and I was often the most “intelligent” person in a particular classroom, including the teacher. Looking in my 10th grade Roundup (yearbook), I found a comment by an English teacher, who said I was the best student in her class! Did I even get an A from her? I’ll have to look it up.
By 8th grade, I had learned not to argue with the teachers, or with the “pets” in the class, and to basically say nothing. A few teachers recognized my superior learning and understanding and tried to make it work for that class, but that didn’t happen very often. It was not until I was a junior in high school that I finally formed a “peer group” of similar intelligence and status, but they were all “over-achievers” and active in many school activities, although usually not sports beyond one they thought they might need for a scholarship.
In any case, they were in the honors and AP classes, while I was not, because my “aptitude tests” had no effect in the social pecking order of the high school, which tracked the high achievers and socially connected (e.g., children of teachers, doctors, lawyers, political & business leaders) while trying to exclude dissidents and “trouble-makers” – especially those who might be gay, minorities, etc.
Why I never read Ivan Illich’s De-Schooling Society until after 2000…
Whatever happened to Ivan Illich? The last most of us heard was that he finally succumbed to a facial tumor about the size of a grapefruit which he refused to have treated because of his fear of the medical profession, as a consequence of “Medical Nemesis”, probably the greatest single indictment of “modern medicine” out there. Others have since told me that he was simply letting nature take its course, and he was happy to die of a natural process rather than from chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
I doubt that Fr. Illich “feared” the medical profession as such. He simply didn’t support the high-tech, drug-and-scalpel style of medicine, along with millions of other Americans, Europeans, and other highly-educated and scientific people.
His views on education are parallel in all respects. What the public schools provide is anything but “education.” It is the prevention of education; the creation of a class society of “workers”, “managers”, and “professionals” along with an “investor class” which ultimately owns and controls everything – especially the mechanisms of the state, whether local, regional, or national governments. And this “State” exists by force and confiscation, most of which ultimately goes to protect the wealth and power of those presently in control, and to expand the control of the State over any part of society which isn’t presently monitored and controlled by its police powers.
Any idea of a “welfare state” is likely to be a fiction, and vastly unpopular in any case. It is only by constantly offering more “services” and “protection” that the ruling two-party system can maintain its position and support. In other words, we are all “bribed and coerced” to support the status-quo.
Although I heard of Illich when I was first exploring the anarchist tradition c. 1970, I was then a free-market libertarian and anti-religious, so Illich’s work didn’t much interest me. My father, who was then working for the Department of Indian Affairs in Canada, was immediately receptive, and subscribed to the CIDOC publications (explained below), and we discussed Illich a few times in the early 70’s. He was also extensively published in the New York Review of Books, which I would later subscribe to for a couple of decades, and still read on-line, but where I first read Illich extensively was in Stewart Brand’s Co-Evolution Quarterly. That was my Bible (the Whole Earth Catalog and associated projects) in those days (the 1970’s).
I didn’t actually own a copy of De-schooling Society until after 2000. For one thing, I never saw one in a book-store. It seems to have been censored from the outset, since it completely undermines the whole basis for one of the largest “industries” – public schools and universities – in the modern world. The same is true of Medical Nemesis, and how it has been totally ignored or suppressed in all the discussions of “health care reform.”
— Paul Stephens
Here is the introduction to “De-schooling Society” and a link to read the rest of it or download it for future reference. It is probably the greatest statement of education reform of the 20th century, if not any century. Paolo Freire worked closely with Illich for many years, and many of his insights are included…
by Ivan Illich
1. WHY WE MUST DISESTABLISH SCHOOL
2. PHENOMENOLOGY OF SCHOOL
3. RITUALIZATION OF PROGRESS
4. INSTITUTIONAL SPECTRUM
5. IRRATIONAL CONSISTENCIES
6. LEARNING WEBS
7. REBIRTH OF EPIMETHEAN MAN
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ivan Illich was born in Vienna in 1926. He studied theology and philosophy at the Gregorian University in Rome and obtained a Ph.D. in history at the University of Salzburg. He came to the United States in 1951, where he served as assistant pastor in an Irish-Puerto Rican parish in New York City. From 1956 to 1960 he was assigned as vice-rector to the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where he organized an intensive training center for American priests in Latin American culture. Illich was a co-founder of the widely known and controversial Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and since 1964 he has directed research seminars on “Institutional Alternatives in a Technological Society,” with special focus on Latin America. Ivan Illich’s writings have appeared in The New York Review, The Saturday Review, Esprit, Kuvsbuch, Siempre, America, Commonweal, Epreuves, and Tern PS Modernes.