Deschooling Society

Ivan Illich

Yet another book whose hypothesis I so desperately want to agree with, if only it weren't for the obvious flaws. This book continues that sorry tradition in my library from Epstein's The Case Against Adolescence, even though it is several decades its senior. The primary flaw of Illich here is that he is naught but a free marketeer, demanding that all forms of government in society be broken down into market forces, whatever the consequences may be. Those who are more familiar with Illich and the rest of his work might balk at the suggestion—he is, after all, so much more than that—but for his first book published in 01970 during the lull of the Cold War, anti-communism is what he decided to couch his argument within. Unironic mention of Milton Freedman during the first chapter might have been perfectly fashionable for the time, but knowing the dark history of what came next with deregulatory neoliberalism, I cannot help but see in this book the seeds of some ideas that eventually swelled into something monstrous.

This frustrates me, because what he has to say clearly has merit. His points on the phenomenology of school and the ritualization of progress are shining gems in what might be a sea of nonsense, all slapped together using several mutually-exclusive ideas from both right-wing and left-wing realms of thought. He is an individualist. He clearly wants to believe in each person's own capacities to do what is best for themselves, without the need to impose an institutional monopoly upon it. (Because without social embedding, the institution will forget who it is meant to serve, and will begin making decisions that will only meet the institution's ends alone.) He wants learning to become a purely personal activity. I can see where he's coming from, but I'm still unsure. I too wish there could be a thing known as “education” without the need for “school,” but the more I ponder it the more I fear that might just be an appeal to some higher authority which simply doesn't exist.

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