• Connect And Respect

Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich

This title kept coming up again and again as a "must read" if you are interested in education. So I bought the book and delved right in. I have to say, it's not a long book, but it's not the easiest most flowing book to read in places. But, it is very well worth persevering through.

Written in 1971, it surprised me that it was as relevant (and if not more so) today as it was then. Illich offers a savage critique of industrial society with institutional compulsory schooling getting it with both barrels. He outlines the damaging implications when learning is taken out of the hands of the learners and instead becomes controlled by institutions and imposed onto learners. His arguments really resonated with me and I was really struck by how accurately he calls it, even from 50 years ago.

Illich advocates for learning to be returned to learners. Whilst he doesn't use the term "self directed education" it is in effect what he describes. A learning paradigm that has community, connection, intrinsic motivation and life long learning at its heart. Anyone familiar with self directed education, unschooling, life learning, I think will resonate with his ideas.

He calls for the development of community "education webs" where people can be connected to exchange skills or knowledge, to find people wishing to impart their skills/knowledge, to find peers with whom to learn and discuss. On p77 he writes:

"What we need are new networks , readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching"

Since this was written in 1971, the internet has literally become that new network; connecting people and creating access to knowledge like nothing we have seen before. The rise of the internet, the ability to connect people physically or digitally, from anywhere in the world, has created a fertile ground for self directed education. The only potential blockers are the very institutions who would be bypassed by this paradigm.

In the final chapter particularly, Illich talks about dangers of the ever increasing production/consumption model on a finite planet with finite resources, he talks about humanity losing touch with itself enslaved by tools of its own creation, he talks about the plundering of the planet to the point of its (and our own) possible destruction, of the issues faced by being in a highly competitive rat race and he talks about inequity. This chapter particularly resonated with me. On one hand it left me feeling heavy with disappointment and sadness that 50 years ago he called this and things have only gotten worse in that time. But, on the other hand, it fills me with hope and excitement. There are a growing number of voices questioning the, normally unquestioned, assumptions that our lives today are built upon. There are a growing number of people offering alternatives in a wide range of areas whether it be in business, economics, education etc that would mean a real change for the better for humanity and the planet. It is books like this that fill me with hope for a future filled with more compassion, equity, connection and respect.

#connectandrespect #selfdirectededucation #unschooling #ivanillich #deschoolingsociety #educationalfreedom


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