The Myth of Schooling

The desire for education has actually given way to the compulsion of schooling.

[School is] a new religion. Its doctrine is that education is a product of the school, a product which can be defined by numbers. There are the numbers which indicate how many years a student has spent under the tutelage of teachers, and other which represent the proportion of his correct answers in an examination. Upon the receipt of a diploma the educational product acquires a market value.

The school is now identified with education as the Church once was with religion.

[Scholastic ideology] reduces education to a combination of classrooms, curricula, funds, examinations and grades.

There is no intrinsic reason why the education that schools are now failing to provide could not be acquired more successfully in the setting of the family, of work and communal activity, in new kinds of libraries and other centres that would provide the means of learning.

The fear that new institutions will be imperfect, in their turn, does not justify our servile acceptance of present ones.

This plea to imagine a [country] without schools must, for many of you, come as a surprise. It is precisely for surprise that true education prepares us.

The basic purpose of public education should be to create a situation in which society obliges each individual to take stock of himself and his poverty. Education implies a growth of an independent sense of life and a relatedness which go hand in hand with increased access to, and use of, memories stored in the human community. The educational institution provides the focus for this process.

This presupposes a place within the society in which each of us is awakened by surprise; a place of encounter in which others surprise me with their liberty and make me aware of my own.

Our hope of salvation lies in our being surprised by the Other. Let us learn always to receive further surprises. I decided long ago to hope for surprises until the final act of my life - that is to say, in death itself.

[Ivan Illich]
Celebration of Awareness, p.106, 109, 113-114

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More and more, men begin to believe that, in the schooling game, the loser gets only what he deserves. The belief in the ability of schools to label people correctly is already so strong that people accept their vocational and marital fate with a gambler's resignation.

In cities, this faith in school-slotting is on the way to sprouting a more creditable meritocracy - a state of mind in which each citizen believes that he deserves the place assigned to him by school.

School inevitably gives individuals who attend it and then drop out, as well as those who don't make it at all, a rationale for their own inferiority.

Another illusion is that most learning is a result of teaching. Teaching may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. The strongest motivated student faced with the task of learning a new code may benefit greatly from the discipline we now associate mostly with the old-fashioned schoolmaster.

But most people acquire most of their insight, knowledge and skill outside school - and in school only in so far as school in a few rich countries becomes their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.

The radical deschooling of society begins, therefore, with the unmasking by cultural revolutionaries of the myth of schooling. It continues with the struggle to liberate other men's minds from the false ideology of schooling - an ideology which makes domestication by schooling inevitable.

[Ivan Illich]
Celebration of Awareness, p.151, 154-5

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