Deschooling Society LO1995

Jim Michmerhuizen (
Fri, 7 Jul 1995 20:35:25 +0059 (EDT)

A friend sent this. What's amazing about it is not just the congruence
of Illich's terminology with the present -- it's that, predating as it
does all of the web technology we're using, it articulates what in many
ways is a _clearer_ view of learning than we often see today.

There's hardly a sentence in this passage that doesn't make my hair stand
on end. Enjoy.

Jim Michmerhuizen
web residence at
. . . . There are far *fewer* things in heaven and earth, Horatio, . . . .
. . . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy... . . | _ .

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 7 Jul 95 17:46 EDT
From: Donald Vandenbosch <>

Deschooling Society


Ivan Illich, 1970

Chapter 6: Learning Webs

In a previous chapter I discussed what is becoming a common complaint
about schools, one that is reflected, for example, in the recent report of
Carnegie Commission: In school registered students submit to certified
teachers in order to obtain certificates of their own; both are
frustrated and both blame insufficient resources - money, time, or
buildings - for their mutual frustration.

Such criticism leads many people to ask whether it is possible to conceive
of a different style of learning. The same people, paradoxically, when
pressed to specify how they acquired what they know and value, will
readily admit that they learned it more often outside than inside school.
Their knowledge of facts, their understanding of life and work came to
them from friendship or love while viewing TV, or while reading, from
examples of peers or the challenge of a street encounter. Or they may
have learned what they know through the apprenticeship ritual for
admission to a street gang or the initiation to a hospital, newspaper city
room, plumber's shop, or insurance office. The alternative to dependence
on schools is not the use of public resources for some new device which
'makes' people learn; rather it is the creation of a new style of
educational relationship between man and his environment. To foster this
style, attitudes toward growing up, the tools available for learning, and
the quality and structure of daily life will have to change concurrently.

In this chapter I intend to show that the inverse of school is possible:
that we can depend on self-motivated learning instead of employing
teachers to bribe or compel the student to find the time and the will to
learn; that we can provide the learner with new links to the world
instead of continuing to funnel all educational programs through the
teacher. I shall discuss some of the general characteristics which
distinguish schooling from learning and outline four major categories of
educational institutions which should appeal not only to many individuals
but also to many existing interest groups.


A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide
all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in
their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those
who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to
present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their
challenge known. Such a system would require the application of
constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to
submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether
they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced
to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus
of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public's chances
for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the
market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free
assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully

Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to
everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that
secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that
only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a
schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages
accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. New educational
institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to
facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows
of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in by the door.
Moreover, such new institutions should be channels to which the learner
would have access without credentials or pedigree--public spaces in which
peers and elders outside his immediate horizon would become available.

I believe that no more than four--possibly even three--distinct 'channels'
or learning exchanges could contain all the resources needed for real
learning. The child grows up in a world of things, surrounded by people
who serve as models for skills and values. He finds peers who challenge
him to argue, to compete, to cooperate, and to understand; and if the
child is lucky, he is exposed to confrontation or criticism by an
experienced elder who really cares. Things, models, peers, and elders are
four resources each of which requires a different type of arrangement to
ensure that everybody has ample access to it.

I will use the words 'opportunity web' for 'network' to designate specific
ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources. 'Network' is
often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to material
selected by others for indoctrination, instruction, and entertainment.
But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are
primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to one
another. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular
structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less
degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such
arrangement includes legal, organizational, and technical aspects. Not
having found such a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available,
using it as a synonym of 'educational web.'

What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and
designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.

Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or
bureaucracy and teaching.


The planning of new educational institutions ought not to begin with the
administrative goals of a principal or president, or with the teaching
goals of a professional educator, or with the learning goals of any
hypothetical class of people. It must not start with the question, 'What
should someone learn? but with the question, 'What kinds of things and
people might learners want to be in contact with in order to learn?'

In a good educational system access to things ought to be available at the
sole bidding of the learner, while access to informants requires, in
addition, others' consent. Criticism can also come from two directions:
from peers or from elders, that is, from fellow learners who's immediate
interests match mine, or from those who will grant me a share in their
superior experience. Peers can be colleagues with whom to raise a
question, companions for playful and enjoyable (or arduous) reading or
walking, challengers at any type of game. Elders can be consultants on
which skill to learn, which method to use, what company to seek at a given
moment. They can be guides to the right questions to be raised among
peers and to the deficiency of the answers they arrive at. Most of these
resources are plentiful. But they are neither conventionally perceived as
educational resources, nor is access to them for learning purposes easy,
especially for the poor. We must conceive of new relational structures
which are deliberately set up to facilitate access to these resources for
the use of anybody who is motivated to seek them for his education.
Administrative, technological, and especially legal arrangements are
required to set up such web-like structures.

Educational resources are usually labeled according to educators'
curricular goals. I propose to do the contrary, to label four different
approaches which enable the student to gain access to any educational
resource which may help him to define and achieve his own goals:

1. Reference Services to Educational Objects--which facilitate access to
things or processes used for formal learning. Some of these things can be
reserved for this purpose, stored in libraries, rental agencies,
laboratories, and showrooms like museums and theaters; others can be in
daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to
students as apprentices or on off -hours.

2. Skill Exchanges--which permit persons to list their skills, the
conditions under which they are willing to serve as models for others who
want to learn these skills, and the addresses at which they can be

3. Peer-Matching--a communications network which permits persons to
describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope
of finding a partner for the inquiry.

4. Reference Services to Educators-at-Large--who can be listed in a
directory giving the addresses and self-desciptions of professionals,
paraprofessionals, and free-lancers, along with conditions of access to
their services. Such educators, as we will see, could be chosen by
polling or consulting their former clients.