Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Education manifestos...part 5, Ivan Illich and John Holt

The late sixties and early seventies were marked by clarion calls from critics of public education. In 1971, an Austrian Catholic priest serving in the New York City diocese,Ivan Illich, published the radical book, Deschooling Society. He attacked the dehumanizing forces of western economies and the public institutions which served them. In an almost clairvoyant passage that seems to intuit a technological landscape that had the potential to reverse or mitigate these forces, he wrote:

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 the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes 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. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.


In 1969, John Holt published How Children Fail, an indictment of public education. Holt became the intellectual father of the home school movement. His 1981 book, Teach Your Ownn became a touchstone for the home school movement. What follows are some notable quotes from Holt which I cherry picked from Wikipedia:

"... the human animal is a learning animal; we like to learn; we are good at it; we don't need to be shown how or made to do it. What kills the processes are the people interfering with it or trying to regulate it or control it."[4]

"I want to make it clear that I don’t see homeschooling as some kind of answer to badness of schools. I think that the home is the proper base for the exploration of the world which we call learning or education. Home would be the best base no matter how good the schools were."[5]

“ Education... now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators, and 'fans,' driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve 'education' but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and to allow and help people to shape themselves. ”
“ The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners. ”
“ It's not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong, but a wrong idea from the word go. It's a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens, cut off from the rest of life. ”
“ No one is more truly helpless, more completely a victim, than he who can neither choose nor change nor escape his protectors. ”

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