Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Please Read Illych, Thank You

It will do much good for my sanity if the trend towards (re-)reading Ivan Illych, furthered here by Doug Noon, continues and gathers some steam. I haven't read much Illych, because his work was relatively difficult to find in used book stores circa 1992, when I was into reading social criticism from the 50's through the 70's. I was more of a Paul Goodman man. But anyhow, check this out from the "Web of Learning" chapter in Deschooling Society:

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

To give an example: The same level of technology is used in TV and in tape recorders. All Latin-American countries now have introduced TV: in Bolivia the government has financed a TV station, which was built six years ago, and there are no more than seven thousand TV sets for four million citizens. The money now tied up in TV installations throughout Latin America could have provided every fifth adult with a tape recorder. In addition, the money would have sufficed to provide an almost unlimited library of prerecorded tapes, with outlets even in remote villages, as well as an ample supply of empty tapes.

This network of tape recorders, of course, would be radically different from the present network of TV. It would provideopportunity for free expression: literate and illiterate alike could record, preserve, disseminate, and repeat their opinions. The present investment in TV, instead, provides bureaucrats, whether politicians or educators, with the power to sprinkle the continent with institutionally produced programs which they-or their sponsors--decide are good for or in demand by the people.

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

That was written in 1971, but clearly presages podcasting, iMovie, YouTube, etc. Which means you can drop all this crap about Tom Friedman, "digital natives," millenials, and every other damn argument that is based on the idea that something fundamentally changed in education the day flickr was launched. I'm beyond sick of reading shallow, technological, temporal arguments about fundamental philosophical principles. Does "School 2.0" == Illych? If yes, we need to consider how those ideas played out over the past 25 years:

Only hindsight will allow us to discover if the Great Cultural Revolution will turn out to have been the first successful attempt at deschooling the institutions of society.

Not so much...

And more to the point construct some arguments around how technology renews our opportunity to create Illych's vision. Or at least clarify the distinctions between people who share this vision and those for whom "School 2.0" or whatever is in fact, quite different.


Unknown said...

Funny, I'm just moving in this direction too. I'm deep into Neil Postman at the moment, and last night made a note: 'Goodman, New Reformation, "Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science." Both Goodman and Illych were on my list of possible next reads, along with a big stack on pragmatism.

I keep making notes for actual arguments, but get bogged down in revising. Soon, I'll have an academic reputation to worry about.

Doug Noon said...

One thing that fueled my interest in Illich was Neil Postman's pointed dismissal of him in Teaching as a Conserving Activity, in which he called Deschooling Society a "celebration of impotence." I've read several of Postman's books, but only excerpts of Illich's. Further into the book, Postman admitted some conditions that have grown more pronounced over the years, that do render schooling as-is nearly impossible, raising questions for me about his critique of Illich. So I'm onto Illich now, and glad to have the focus questions.

lucychili said...
If you can get beyond the labels and hear about the way chomsky is talking about free crafting as an alternative model for participation, and then the later bits about war as business, it does feel as if the thoughts which were had in 1970 are still in play.

Gary said...

Fantastic work! It's nice to see someone with a sense of history and big ideas.

By the way, I have an advanced copy of Herb Kohl's latest book, "Painting Chinese." It's an absolutely gorgeous meditation on learning. It ships August 27th and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Check out this article: