Re: Deschooling Society LO2094
Thu, 13 Jul 1995 19:03:46 -0700

Replying to LO2059 --

Greetings back...

I'm pretty sure that, in the final analysis (and for whatever it's worth),
Fred Reed and I are rummaging around in the same trunk of ideas. I began
to write out another put-down of Illich, when I realized that we're all in
agreement that something is singularly rotten. In too many cases,
learning is not happening; in virtually all cases, teachers are
ill-treated (there's that old standby, the disparity in financial value
assigned to teachers versus doctors or accountants or...fill in the
blank); in too many cases there is at best an exhausted political will to
do much. Okay, in that regard I have no quarrel with someone like Illich.
Ultimately, though, my disinclination to "get down" with him is a function
of what I see as a kind of slumming that's going on, even in the material
quoted by Jim earlier: Illich paints a picture of learning that is
concurrent, complex, sometimes bungled, and then hurries off to a safe
house, therein to concoct some rather rigid structures that are totally at
odds with what he's just described, with three channels of this and
several networks of that.

For contrast's sake, and to get at what annoyed me so much about the
quotes from Illich, I dragged out of my library a couple of books from the
late '60s -- books that spoke more to me about learning than anything in
Illich's dissociated musings. One of them was James Herndon's "The Way it
Spozed to Be." Herndon does not explicate, as far as I can remember, any
grand theories about learning, networks, or anything else. Rather, he
describes what he did (and, one hopes is doing) in real classes with real
students who are particularized. And from those narratives -- those
stories -- the reader can begin to see what the issues are, what is
possible, what is impossible, and maybe even how he or she can help to
bring about structural change -- necessary structural change. In the end,
it came down to something as difficult to define as "empathy" -- the anger
and energy and power of books like Herndon's are made all the more
comprehensible because of how he is willing to ask, "Christ, what do I do
now with this student?" There are some others -- Peter Schrag's "Village
School Downtown," anything by Jonathan Kozol -- but you get the picture.

And -- just to pick up on another thread these days -- there's tacit stuff
galore in these books, which make them astonishing repositories of
knowledge. Or knowledgebases, if you will. Anyway, they're worth a shot.

And not from any O.K. Corral.

Sorry this took so long, Fred. It's good to talk to you. Take care.

Ron Mallis
12 Chestnut Street
Boston, MA  02108
Phone: 617-723-8362
Fax: 617-720-1935