Illich : "Deschooling Society"
Chapter 1 :
Why We Must Disestablish School
Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby 'schooled' to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is 'schooled' to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools and other agencies in question.
In these essays, I will show that the institutionalisation of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social polarisation and psychological impotence; three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernised misery. I will explain how this process of degradation is accelerated when non-material needs are transformed into demands for commodities; when health, education, personal mobility, welfare or psychological healing are defined as the result of services or 'treatments'. I do this because I believe that most of the research now going on about the future tends to advocate further increases in the institutionalisation of values and that we must define conditions which would permit precisely the contrary to happen. We need research on the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats. We need counterfoil research to current futurology.
I want to raise the general question of the mutual definition of man's nature and the nature of modern institutions which characterises our world view and language. To do so, I have chosen the school as my paradigm, and I therefore deal only indirectly with other bureaucratic agencies of the corporate state; the consumer-family, the party, the army, the Church, the media. My analysis of the hidden curriculum of school should make it evident that public education would profit from the deschooling of society, just as family life, politics, security, faith and communication would profit from an analogous process.
I begin my analysis, in this first essay, by trying to convey what the deschooling of a schooled society might mean. In this context, it should be easier to understand my choice of the five specific aspects relevant to this process with which I deal in the subsequent chapters.
Not only education but social reality itself has become schooled. It costs roughly the same to school both rich and poor in the same dependency. The yearly expenditure per pupil in the slums and in the rich suburbs of any one of twenty US cities lies in the same range - and is sometimes favourable to the poor. Rich and poor alike depend on schools and hospitals which guide their lives, form their world view, and define for them what is legitimate and what is not. Both view doctoring oneself as irresponsible, learning on one's own as unreliable, and community organisation, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion. For both groups the reliance on institutional treatment renders independent accomplishment suspect. The progressive underdevelopment of self- and community-reliance is even more typical in Westchester than it is in the north-east of Brasil. Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs 'deschooling'.
Welfare bureaucracies claim a professional, political and financial monopoly over the social imagination, setting standards for what is valuable and what is feasible. This monopoly is at the root of the modernisation of poverty.
Every simple need to which an institutional answer is found permits the invention of a new class of poor and a new definition of poverty. Ten years ago in Mexico it was the normal thing to be born and to die in one's own home and to be buried by one's friends. Only the soul's needs were taken care of by the institutional church. Now to begin and end life at home become signs either of poverty or of special privilege. Dying and death have come under the institutional management of doctors and undertakers.
Once basic needs have been translated by a society into a demand for scientifically produced commodities, poverty is defined by standards which the technocrats can change at will. Poverty then refers to those who have fallen behind an advertised ideal of consumption in some important respect. In Mexico the poor are those who lack three years of schooling, and in New York they are those who lack twelve.
The poor have always been socially powerless. The increasing reliance on institutional care adds a new dimension to their helplessness: psychological impotence, the inability to fend for themselves. Peasants on the high plateau of the Andes are exploited by the landlord and the merchant - once they settle in Lima they are, in addition, dependent on political bosses, and disabled by their lack of schooling. Modernised poverty combines the lack of power over circumstances with a loss of personal potency. This modernisation of poverty is a world-wide phenomenon, and lies at the root of contemporary underdevelopment. Of course it appears under different guises in rich and in poor countries.
It is probably most intensely felt in US cities. Nowhere else is poverty treated at greater cost. Nowhere else does the treatment of poverty produce so much dependence, anger, frustration and further demands. And nowhere else should it be so evident that poverty - once it has become modernised - has become resistant to treatment with dollars alone and requires an institutional revolution.
Today in the United States the black and even the migrant can aspire to a level of professional treatment which would have been unthinkable two generations ago, and which seems grotesque to most people in the Third World. For instance, the US poor can count on a truant officer to return their children to school until they reach seventeen, or on a doctor to assign them to a hospital bed which costs sixty dollars per day - the equivalent of three months' income for a majority of the people in the world. But such care only makes them dependent on more treatment, and renders them increasingly incapable of organising their own lives around their own experiences and resources within their own communities.
The poor in the United States are in a unique position to speak about the predicament which threatens all the poor in a modernising world. They are making the discovery that no amount of dollars can remove the inherent destructiveness of welfare institutions, once the professional hierarchies have convinced society that their ministrations are morally necessary. The poor in the US inner city can demonstrate from their own experience the fallacy on which social legislation in a 'schooled' society is built.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas observed that 'the only way to establish an institution is to finance it'. The corollary is also true. Only by channelling dollars away from the institutions which now treat health, education and welfare can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects be stopped.
This must be kept in mind when we evaluate federal aid programmes. As a case in point, between 1965 and 1968 over three thousand million dollars were spent in US schools to offset the disadvantages of about six million children. The programme is known as Title One. It is the most expensive compensatory programme ever attempted anywhere in education, yet no significant improvement can be detected in the learning of these 'disadvantaged' children. Compared with their classmates from middle-income homes, they have fallen further behind. Moreover, in the course of this programme, professionals discovered an additional ten million children labouring under economic and educational handicaps. More reasons for claiming more federal funds are now at hand.
This total failure to improve the education of the poor despite more costly treatment can be explained in three ways:
1. Three thousand million dollars are insufficient to improve the performance of six million children by a measurable amount; or
2. The money was incompetently spent: different curricula, better administration, further concentration of the funds on the poor child, and more research are needed and would do the trick; or
3. Educational disadvantage cannot be cured by relying on education within the school.
The first is certainly true so long as the money has been spent through the school budget. The money indeed went to the schools which contained most of the disadvantaged children, but it was not spent on the poor children themselves. These children for whom the money was intended comprised only about half of those who were attending the schools that added the federal subsidies to their budgets. Thus the money was spent for custodial care, indoctrination and the selection of social roles, as well as education, all of which functions are inextricably mingled in the physical plants, curricula, teachers, administrators and other key components of these schools, and, therefore, in their budgets.
The added funds enabled schools to cater disproportionately to the satisfaction of the relatively richer children who were 'disadvantaged' by having to attend school in the company of the poor. At best a small fraction of each dollar intended to remedy a poor child's disadvantages in learning could reach the child through the school budget.
It might be equally true that the money was incompetently spent. But even unusual incompetence cannot beat that of the school system. Schools by their very structure resist the concentration of privilege on those otherwise disadvantaged. Special curricula, separate classes or longer hours only constitute more discrimination at a higher cost.
Taxpayers are not yet accustomed to permitting three thousand million dollars to vanish from the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as if it were the Pentagon. The present administration may believe that it can afford the wrath of educators. Middle-class Americans have nothing to lose if the programme is cut. Poor parents think they do, but, even more, they are demanding a control of the funds meant for their children. A logical way of cutting the budget and, one hopes, of increasing benefits is a system of grants such as that proposed by Milton Friedman and others. Funds would be channelled to the beneficiary, enabling him to buy his share of the schooling of his choice. If such credit were limited to purchases which fit into a school curriculum, it would tend to provide greater equality of treatment, but would not thereby increase the equality of social claims.
It should be obvious that even with schools of equal quality a poor child can seldom catch up with a rich one. Even if they attend equal schools and begin at the same age, poor children lack most of the educational opportunities which are casually available to the middle-class child. These advantages range from conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself, and apply, for the child who enjoys them, both in and out of school. So the poorer student will generally fall behind so long as he depends on school for advancement or learning. The poor need funds to enable them to learn, not to get certified for the treatment of their alleged disproportionate deficiencies.
All this is true in poor nations as well as in rich ones, but there it appears under a different guise. Modernised poverty in poor nations affects more people more visibly but also - for the moment - more superficially. Two-thirds of all children in Latin America leave school before finishing the fifth grade, but these 'desertores' are therefore not as badly off as they would be in the United States.
Few countries today remain victims of classical poverty, which was stable and less disabling. Most countries in Latin America have reached the 'take-off' point towards economic development and competitive consumption, and thereby towards modernised poverty: their citizens have learned to think rich and live poor. Their laws make six to ten years of school obligatory. Not only in Argentina but also in Mexico and Brasil the average citizen defines an adequate education by North American standards, even though the chance of getting such prolonged schooling is limited to a tiny minority. In these countries the majority is already hooked on school, that is, they are schooled in a sense of inferiority towards the better schooled. Their fanaticism in favour of school makes it possible to exploit them doubly: it permits increasing allocation of public funds for the education of a few and increasing acceptance of social control by the many.
Paradoxically, the belief that universal schooling is absolutely necessary is most firmly held in those countries where the fewest people have been - and will be - served by schools. Yet in Latin America different paths towards education could still be taken by the majority of parents and children. Proportionately, national savings invested in schools and teachers might be higher than in rich countries, but these investments are totally insufficient to serve the majority by making even four years of school attendance possible. Fidel Castro talks as if he wanted to go in the direction of deschooling when he promises that by 1980 Cuba will be able to dissolve its university since all of life in Cuba will be an educational experience. At the grammar-school and high-school level, however, Cuba, like all other Latin American countries, acts as though passage through a period defined as 'school age' were an unquestionable goal for all, delayed merely by a temporary shortage of resources.
The twin deceptions of increased treatment, as actually provided in the United States - and as merely promised in Latin America - complement each other. The Northern poor are being disabled by the same twelve-year treatment whose lack brands the Southern poor as hopelessly backward. Neither in North America nor in Latin America do the poor get equality from obligatory schools. But in both places the mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world the school has an anti-educational effect on society: school is recognised as the institution which specialises in education. The failures of school are taken by most people as a proof that education is a very costly, very complex, always arcane and frequently almost impossible task.
School appropriates the money, men and goodwill available for education and in addition discourages other institutions from assuming educational tasks. Work, leisure, politics, city living and even family life depend on schools for the habits and knowledge they presuppose, instead of becoming themselves the means of education. Simultaneously both schools and the other institutions which depend on them are priced out of the market.
In the United States the per capita costs of schooling have risen almost as fast as the cost of medical treatment. But increased treatment by both doctors and teachers has shown steadily declining results. Medical expenses concentrated on those above forty-five have doubled several times over a period of forty years with a resulting 3 per cent increase in life expectancy in men. The increase in educational expenditures has produced even stranger results; otherwise President Nixon could not have been moved in the spring of 1970 to promise that every child shall soon have the 'Right to Read' before leaving school.
In the United States it would take eighty thousand million dollars per year to provide what educators regard as equal treatment for all in grammar- and high- school. This is well over twice the thirty-six thousand million dollars now being spent. Independent cost projections prepared at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the University of Florida indicate that by 1974 the comparable figures will be 107 thousand million dollars as against the forty-five thousand million now projected, and these figures wholly omit the cost of what is called 'higher education', for which demand is growing even faster. The United States, which spent nearly eighty thousand million dollars in 1969 for 'defence' including its deployment in Vietnam, is obviously too poor to provide equal schooling. The President's committee for the study of school finance should ask not how to support or how to trim such increasing costs, but how they can be avoided.
Equal obligatory schooling must be recognised as at least economically unfeasible. In Latin America the amount of public money spent on each graduate student is between 350 and 1500 times the amount spent on the median citizen (that is, the citizen who holds the middle ground between the poorest and the richest). In the United States the discrepancy is smaller, but the discrimination is keener. The richest parents, some 10 per cent, can afford private education for their children and help them to benefit from foundation grants. But in addition they obtain ten times the per capita amount of public funds if this is compared with the per capita expenditure made on the children of the ten per cent who are poorest. The principal reasons for this are that rich children stay longer in school, that a year in a university is disproportionately more expensive than a year in high school, and that most private universities depend -at least indirectly- on tax-derived finances.
Obligatory schooling inevitably polarises a society; it also grades the nations of the world according to an international caste system. Countries are rated like castes whose educational dignity is determined by the average years of schooling of its citizens, a rating which is closely related to per capita gross national product, and much more painful.
The paradox of the schools is evident: increased expenditure escalates their destructiveness at home and abroad. This paradox must be made a public issue. It is now generally accepted that the physical environment will soon be destroyed by biochemical pollution unless we reverse current trends in the production of physical goods. It should also be recognised that social and personal life is threatened equally by HEW pollution, the inevitable by-product of obligatory and competitive consumption of welfare.
The escalation of the schools is as destructive as the escalation of weapons but less visibly so. Everywhere in the world school costs have risen faster than enrollments and faster than the GNP; everywhere expenditures on school fall even further behind the expectations of parent, teacher and pupils. Everywhere this situation discourages both the motivation and the financing for large-scale planning for non-schooled learning. The United States is proving to the world that no country can be rich enough to afford a school system that meets the demands this same system creates simply by existing, because a successful school system schools parents and pupils to the supreme value of a larger school system, the cost of which increases disproportionately as higher grades are in demand and become scarce.
Rather than calling equal schooling temporarily unfeasible, we must recognise that it is, in principle, economically absurd, and that to attempt it is intellectually emasculating, socially polarising and destructive of the credibility of the political system which promotes it. The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limits. The White House recently provided a good example. Dr. Hutschnecker, the 'psychiatrist' who treated Mr. Nixon before he was qualified as a candidate, recommended to the President that all children between six and eight be professionally examined to ferret out those who have destructive tendencies, and that obligatory treatment be provided for them. If necessary, their re-education in special institutions should be required. This memorandum from his doctor the President sent for evaluation to HEW. Indeed, preventive concentration camps for pre-delinquents would be a logical improvement over the school system.
Equal educational opportunity is, indeed, both a desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate it with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the Church. School has become the world religion of a modernised proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age. The nation-state has adopted it, drafting all citizens into a graded curriculum leading to sequential diplomas not unlike the initiation rituals and hieratic promotions of former times. The modern state has assumed the duty of enforcing the judgement of its educators through well-meant truant officers and job requirements, much as did the Spanish kings who enforced the judgements of their theologians through the conquistadores and the Inquisition.
Two centuries ago the United States led the world in a movement to disestablish the monopoly of a single church. Now we need the constitutional disestablishment of the monopoly of the school, and thereby of a system which legally combines prejudice with discrimination. The first article of a bill of rights for a modern, humanist society would correspond to the First Amendment to the U S Constitution: 'The State shall make no law with respect to the establishment of education.' There shall be no ritual obligatory to all.
To make this disestablishment effective, we need a law forbidding discrimination in hiring, voting or admission to centres of learning based on previous attendance at some curriculum. This guarantee would not exclude performance tests of competence for a function or a role, but would remove the present absurd discrimination in favour of the person who learns a given skill with the largest expenditure of public funds or - what is equally likely - has been able to obtain a diploma which has no relation to a useful skill or job. Only by protecting the citizen from being disqualified by anything in his career in school can a constitutional disestablishment of school become psychologically effective.
Neither learning nor justice is promoted by schooling because educators insist on packaging instruction with certification. Learning and the assignment of social roles are melted into schooling. Yet to learn means to acquire a new skill or insight, while promotion depends on an opinion which others have formed. Learning frequently is the result of instruction, but selection for a role or category in the job market increasingly depends on mere length of attendance.
Instruction is the choice of circumstances which facilitate learning. Roles are assigned by setting a curriculum of conditions which the candidate must meet if he is to make the grade. School links instruction - but not learning - to these roles. This is neither reasonable nor liberating. It is not reasonable because it does not link relevant qualities or competences to roles, but rather the process by which such qualities are supposed to be acquired. It is not liberating or educational because school reserves instruction to those whose every step in learning fits previously approved measures of social control.
Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank. At times it could be pre-natal: karma ascribes you to a caste and lineage to the aristocracy. Curriculum could take the form of a ritual, of sequential sacred ordinations, or it could consist of a succession of feats in war or hunting, or further advancement could be made to depend on a series of previous princely favours. Universal schooling was meant to detach role assignment from personal life history: it was meant to give everybody an equal chance to any office. Even now many people wrongly believe that school ensures the dependence of public trust on relevant learning achievements. However, instead of equalising chances, the school system has monopolised their distribution.
To detach competence from curriculum, inquiries into the man's learning history must be made taboo, like inquiries into his political affiliation, church attendance, lineage, sex habits or racial background. Laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of prior schooling must be enacted. Laws, of course, cannot stop prejudice against the unschooled - nor are they meant to force anyone to intermarry with an autodidact - but they can discourage unjustified discrimination.
A second major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching. Teaching, it is true, may contribute to certain kinds of learning under certain circumstances. But most people acquire most of their knowledge outside school, and in school only in so far as school, in a few rich countries, has become their place of confinement during an increasing part of their lives.
Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. Normal children learn their first language casually, although faster if their parents pay attention to them. Most people who learn a second language well do so as a result of odd circumstances and not of sequential teaching. They go to live with their grandparents, they travel, or they fall in love with a foreigner. Fluency in reading is also more often than not a result of such extra-curricular activities. Most people who read widely, and with pleasure, merely believe that they learned to do so in school; when challenged, they easily discard this illusion.
But the fact that a great deal of learning even now seems to happen casually and as a by-product of some other activity defined as work or leisure does not mean that planned learning does not benefit from planned instruction and that both do not stand in need of improvement. The strongly motivated student who is faced with the task of acquiring a new and complex skill may benefit greatly from the discipline now associated with the old-fashioned schoolmaster who taught reading, Hebrew, catechism or multiplication by rote. School has now made this kind of drill teaching rare and disreputable, yet there are many skills which a motivated student with normal aptitude can master in a matter of a few months if taught in this traditional way. This is as true of codes as of their encipherment; of second and third languages as of reading and writing; and equally of special languages such as algebra, computer programming, chemical analysis, or of manual skills like typing, watchmaking, plumbing, wiring, TV repair; or for that matter dancing, driving and diving.
In certain cases acceptance into a learning programme aimed at a specific skill might presuppose competence in some other skill, but it should certainly not be made to depend upon the process by which such prerequisite skills were acquired. TV repair presupposes literacy and some maths; diving, good swimming; and driving, very little of either.
Progress in learning skills is measurable. The optimum resources in time and materials needed by an average motivated adult can be easily estimated. The cost of teaching a second Western European language to a high level of fluency ranges between four and six hundred dollars in the United States, and for an Oriental tongue the time needed for instruction might be doubled. This would still be very little compared with the cost of twelve years of schooling in New York City (a condition for acceptance of a worker into the Sanitation Department) - almost fifteen thousand dollars. No doubt not only the teacher but also the printer and the pharmacist protect their trades through the public illusion that training for them is very expensive.
At present schools pre-empt most educational funds. Drill instruction which costs less than comparable schooling is now the privilege of those rich enough to bypass the schools, and those whom either the army or big business sends through in-service training. In a programme of progressive deschooling of US education, at first the resources available for drill training would be limited. But ultimately there should be no obstacle for anyone at any time of his life to be able to choose instruction among hundreds of definable skills at public expense.
Right now educational credit good at any skill centre could be provided in limited amounts for people of all ages, and not just to the poor. I envisage such credit in the form of an educational passport or an 'edu-credit card' provided to each citizen at birth. In order to favour the poor, who probably would not use their yearly grants early in life, a provision could be made that interest accrued to later users of cumulated 'entitlements'. Such credits would permit most people to acquire the skills most in demand, at their convenience, better, faster, cheaper and with fewer undesirable side-effects than in school.
Potential skill teachers are never scarce for long because, on the one hand, demand for a skill grows only with its performance within a community and, on the other, a man exercising a skill could also teach it. But, at present, those using skills which are in demand and do require a human teacher are discouraged from sharing these skills with others. This is done either by teachers who monopolise the licences or by unions which protect their trade interests. Skill centres which would be judged by their customers on their results, and not on the personnel they employ or the process they use, would open unsuspected working opportunities, frequently even for those who are now considered unemployable. Indeed, there is no reason why such skill centres should not be at the work place itself, with the employer and his work force supplying instruction as well as jobs to those who choose to use their educational credits in this way.
In 1956 there arose a need to teach Spanish quickly to several hundred teachers, social workers and ministers from the New York Archdiocese so that they could communicate with Puerto Ricans. My friend Gerry Morris announced over a Spanish radio station that he needed native speakers from Harlem. Next day some two hundred teenagers lined up in front of his office, and he selected four dozen of them - many of them school dropouts. He trained them in the use of the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI) Spanish manual, designed for use by linguists with graduate training, and within a week his teachers were on their own - each in charge of four New Yorkers who wanted to speak the language. Within six months the mission was accomplished. Cardinal Spellman could claim that he had 127 parishes in which at least three staff members could communicate in Spanish. No school programme could have matched these results.
Skill teachers are made scarce by the belief in the value of licences. Certification constitutes a form of market manipulation and is plausible only to a schooled mind. Most teachers of arts and trades are less skillful, less inventive and less communicative than the best craftsmen and tradesmen. Most high-school teachers of Spanish or French do not speak the language as correctly as their pupils might after half a year of competent drills. Experiments conducted by Angel Quintero in Puerto Rico suggest that many young teenagers, if given the proper incentives, programmes and access to tools, are better than most school teachers at introducing their peers to the scientific exploration of plants, stars and matter, and to the discovery of how and why a motor or a radio functions.
Opportunities for skill-learning can be vastly multiplied if we open the 'market'. This depends on matching the right teacher with the right student when he is highly motivated in an intelligent programme, without the constraint of curriculum.
Free and competing drill instruction is a subversive blasphemy to the orthodox educator. It dissociates the acquisition of skills from 'humane' education, which schools package together, and thus it promotes unlicenced learning no less than unlicenced teaching for unpredictable purposes.
There is currently a proposal on record which seems at first to make a great deal of sense. It has been prepared by Christopher Jencks of the Centre for the Study of Public Policy and is sponsored by the Office of Economic Opportunity. It proposes to put educational 'entitlements' or tuition grants into the hands of parents and students for expenditure in the schools of their choice. Such individual entitlements could indeed be an important step in the right direction. We need a guarantee of the right of each citizen to an equal share of tax-derived educational resources, the right to verify this share and the right to sue for it if denied. It is one form of a guarantee against regressive taxation.
The Jencks proposal, however, begins with the ominous statement that 'conservatives, liberals and radicals have all complained at one time or another that the American educational system gives professional educators too little incentive to provide high-quality education to most children'. The proposal condemns itself by proposing tuition grants which would have to be spent on schooling.
This is like giving a lame man a pair of crutches and stipulating that he uses them only if the ends are tied together. As the proposal for tuition grants now stands, it plays into the hands not only of professional educators but of racists, promoters of religious schools and others whose interests are socially divisive. Above all, educational entitlements restricted to use within schools play into the hands of all those who want to continue to live in a society in which social advancement is tied not to proven knowledge but to the learning pedigree by which it is supposedly acquired. This discrimination in favour of schools which dominates Jencks's discussion on refinancing education could discredit one of the most critically needed principles for educational reform: the return of the initiative and accountability for learning to the learner or his most immediate tutor.
The deschooling of society implies a recognition of the two-faced nature of learning. An insistence on skill drill alone could be a disaster; equal emphasis must be placed on other kinds of learning. But if schools are the wrong places for learning a skill, they are even worse places for getting an education. School does both tasks badly, partly because it does not distinguish between them. School is inefficient in skill instruction especially because it is curricular. In most schools a programme which is meant to improve one skill is chained always to another irrelevant task. History is tied to advancement in maths, and class attendance to the right to use the playground.
Schools are even less efficient in the arrangement of the circumstances which encourage the open-ended, exploratory use of acquired skills, for which I will reserve the term 'liberal education'. The main reason for this is that school is obligatory and becomes schooling for schooling's sake: an enforced stay in the company of teachers, which pays off in the doubtful privilege of more such company. Just as skill instruction must be freed from curricular restraints, so must liberal education be dissociated from obligatory attendance. Both skill-learning and education for inventive and creative behaviour can be aided by institutional arrangement, but they are of a different, frequently opposed nature.
Most skills can be acquired and improved by drills, because skill implies the mastery of definable and predictable behaviour. Skill instruction can rely, therefore, on the simulation of circumstances in which the skill will be used. Education in the exploratory and creative use of skills, however, cannot rely on drills. Education can be the outcome of instruction, though instruction of a kind fundamentally opposed to drill. It relies on the relationship between partners who already have some of the keys which give access to memories stored in and by the community. It relies on the critical intent of all those who use memories creatively. It relies on the surprise of the unexpected question which opens new doors for the inquirer and his partner.
The skill instructor relies on the arrangement of set circumstances which permit the learner to develope standard responses. The educational guide or master is concerned with helping matching partners to meet so that learning can take place. He matches individuals starting from their own, unresolved questions. At the most he helps the pupil to formulate his puzzlement since only a clear statement will give him the power to find his match, moved like him, at the moment, to explore the same issue in the same context.
Matching partners for educational purposes initially seems more difficult to imagine than finding skill instructors and partners for a game. One reason is the deep fear which school has implanted in us, a fear which makes us censorious. The unlicenced exchange of skills - even undesirable skills - is more predictable and therefore seems less dangerous than the unlimited opportunity for meeting among people who share an issue which for them, at the moment, is socially, intellectually, and emotionally important.
The Brasilian teacher Paulo Freire knows this from experience. He discovered that any adult can begin to read in a matter of forty hours if the first words he deciphers are charged with political meaning. Freire trains his teachers to move into a village and to discover the words which designate current important issues, such as the access to a well or the compound interest on the debt owed to the 'patron'. In the evening the villagers meet for the discussion of these key words. They begin to realise that each word stays on the blackboard even after its sound has faded. The letters continue to unlock reality and to make it manageable as a problem. I have frequently witnessed how discussants grow in social awareness and how they are impelled to take political action as fast as they learn to read. They seem to take reality into their hands as they write it down.
I remember the man who complained about the weight of pencils: they were difficult to handle because they did not weigh as much as a shovel; and I remember another who on his way to work stopped with his companions and wrote the word they were discussing with his hoe on the ground: 'agua'. Since 1962 my friend Freire has moved from exile to exile, mainly because he refuses to conduct his sessions around words which are preselected by approved educators, rather than those which his discussants bring to the class.
The educational matchmaking among people who have been successfully schooled is a different task. Those who do not need such assistance are a minority, even among the readers of serious journals. The majority cannot and should not be rallied for discussion around a slogan, a word or a picture. But the idea remains the same: they should be able to meet around a problem chosen and defined by their own initiative. Creative, explorative learning requires peers currently puzzled about the same terms or problems. Large universities make the futile attempt to match them by multiplying their courses, and they generally fail since they are bound to curriculum, course structure and bureaucratic administration. In schools, including universities, most resources are spent to purchase the time and motivation of a limited number of people to take up predetermined problems in a ritually defined setting. The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern.
Let me give, as an example of what I mean, a description of how an intellectual match might work in New York City. Each man, at any given moment and at a minimum price, could identify himself to a computer with his address and telephone number, indicating the book, article, film or recording on which he seeks a partner for discussion. Within days he could receive by mail the list of others who recently had taken the same initiative. This list would enable him by telephone to arrange for a meeting with persons who initially would be known exclusively by the fact that they requested a dialogue about the same subject.
Matching people according to their interest in a particular title is radically simple. It permits identification only on the basis of a mutual desire to discuss a statement recorded by a third person, and it leaves the initiative of arranging the meeting to the individual. Three objections are usually raised against this skeletal purity. I take them up not only to clarify the theory that I want to illustrate by my proposal - for they highlight the deep-seated resistance to deschooling education, to separating learning from social control - but also because they may help to suggest existing resources which are not now used for learning purposes.
The first objection is: Why cannot self-identification be based also on an 'idea' or an issue? Certainly such subjective terms could be used in a computer system. Political parties, churches, unions, clubs, neighborhood centres and professional societies already organise their educational activities in this way and in effect they act as schools. They all match people in order to explore certain 'themes'; and these are dealt with in courses, seminars and curricula in which presumed 'common interests' are prepackaged. Such theme-matching is by definition teacher-centred: it requires an authoritarian presence to define for the participants the starting point for their discussion.
By contrast, matching by the title of a book, film, etc., in its pure form leaves it to the author to define the special language, the terms, and the framework within which a given problem or fact is stated; and it enables those who accept this starting point to identify themselves to one another. For instance, matching people around the idea of 'cultural revolution' usually leads either to confusion or demagoguery. On the other hand, matching those interested in helping each other understand a specific article by Mao, Marcuse, Freud or Goodman stands in the great tradition of liberal learning from Plato's Dialogues, which are built around presumed statements by Socrates, to Aquinas's commentaries on Peter the Lombard. The idea of matching by title is thus radically different from the theory on which the 'Great Books' clubs, for example, were built: instead of relying on the selection by some Chicago professors, any two partners can choose any book for further analysis.
The second objection asks: Why not let the identification of match seekers include information on age, background, world view, competence, experience or other defining characteristics? Again, there is no reason why such discriminatory restrictions could not and should not be built into some of the many universities - with or without walls - which could use title-matching as their basic organisational device. I could conceive of a system designed to encourage meetings of interested persons at which the author of the book chosen would be present or represented, or a system which guaranteed the presence of a competent adviser; or one to which only students registered in a department or school had access; or one which permitted meetings only between people who defined their special approach to the title under discussion. Advantages for achieving specific goals of learning could be found for each of these restrictions. But I fear that, more often than not, the real reason for proposing such restrictions is contempt arising from the presumption that people are ignorant: educators want to avoid the ignorant meeting the ignorant around a text which they may not understand and which they read 'only' because they are interested in it.
The third objection: Why not provide match seekers with incidental assistance that will facilitate their meetings - with space, schedules, screening and protection? This is now done by schools with the inefficiency characterising large bureaucracies. If we left the initiative for meetings to the match seekers themselves, organisations which nobody now classifies as educational would probably do the job much better. I think of restaurant owners, publishers, telephone-answering services, department-store managers, and even commuter-train executives who could promote their services by rendering them attractive for educational meetings.
At a first meeting in a coffee shop, say, the partners might establish their identities by placing the book under discussion next to their cups. People who took the initiative to arrange for such meetings would soon learn what items to quote to meet the people they sought. The risk that the self-chosen discussion with one or several strangers might lead to a loss of time, disappointment or even unpleasantness is certainly smaller than the same risk taken by a college applicant. A computer-arranged meeting to discuss an article in a national magazine, held in a coffee shop off Fourth Avenue, would obligate none of the participants to stay in the company of his new acquaintances for longer than it took to drink a cup of coffee, nor would he have to meet any of them ever again. The chance that it would help pierce the opaqueness of life in a modern city and further new friendship, self-chosen work and critical reading is high. (The fact that a record of personal readings and meetings could be obtained thus by the FBI is undeniable; that this should still worry anybody in 1970 is only amusing to a free man, who willy-nilly contributes his share in order to drown snoopers in the irrelevancies they gather.)
Both the exchange of skills and matching of partners are based on the assumption that education for all means education by all. Not the draft into a specialised institution but only the mobilisation of the whole population can lead to popular culture. The equal right of each man to exercise his competence to learn and to instruct is now pre-empted by certified teachers. The teachers' competence, in turn, is restricted to what may be done in school. And, further, work and leisure are alienated from each other as a result: the spectator and the worker alike are supposed to arrive at the workplace all ready to fit into a routine prepared for them. Adaptation in the form of a product's design, instruction and publicity shapes them for their role as much as formal education by schooling. A radical alternative to a schooled society requires not only new formal mechanisms for the formal acquisition of skills and their educational use. A deschooled society implies a new approach to incidental or informal education.
Incidental education cannot any longer return to the forms which learning took in the village or the medieval town. Traditional society was more like a set of concentric circles of meaningful structures, while modern man must learn how to find meaning in many structures to which he is only marginally related. In the village, language and architecture and work and religion and family customs were consistent with one another, mutually explanatory and reinforcing. To grow into one implied a growth into the others. Even specialised apprenticeship was a by-product of specialised activities, such as shoemaking or the singing of psalms. If an apprentice never became a master or a scholar, he still contributed to making shoes or to making church services solemn. Education did not compete for time with either work or leisure. Almost all education was complex, lifelong and unplanned.
Contemporary society is the result of conscious designs, and educational opportunities must be designed into them. Our reliance on specialised, full-time instruction through school will now decrease, and we must find more ways to learn and teach: the educational quality of all institutions must increase again. But this is a very ambiguous forecast. It could mean that men in the modern city will be increasingly the victims of an effective process of total instruction and manipulation once they are deprived of even the tenuous pretence of critical independence which liberal schools now provide for at least some of their pupils.
It could also mean that men will shield themselves less behind certificates acquired in school
and thus gain in courage to 'talk back' and thereby control and instruct the institutions in which they participate. To ensure the latter we must learn to estimate the social value of work and leisure by the educational give-and-take for which they offer opportunity. Effective participation in the politics of a street, a workplace, the library, a news programme or a hospital is therefore the best measuring stick to evaluate their level as educational institutions.
I recently spoke to a group of junior-high-school students in the process of organising a resistance movement to their obligatory draft into the next class. Their slogan was 'participation - not simulation'. They wereauthor disappointed that this was understood as a demand for less rather than for more education, and reminded me of the resistance which Karl Marx put up against a passage in the Gotha programme, which - one hundred years ago - wanted to outlaw child labour. He opposed the proposal in the interest of education of the young, which could happen only at work. If the greatest fruit of man's labour should be the education he receives from it and the opportunity which work gives him to initiate the education of others, then the alienation of modern society in a pedagogical sense is even worse than its economic alienation.
The major obstacle on the way to a society that truly educates was well defined by a black friend of mine in Chicago, who told me that our imagination was 'all schooled up'. We permit the state to ascertain the universal educational deficiencies of its citizens and establish one specialised agency to treat them. We thus share in the delusion that we can distinguish between what is necessary education for others and what is not, just as former generations established laws which defined what was sacred and what was profane.
Durkheim recognised that this ability to divide social reality into two realms was the very essence of formal religion. There are, he reasoned, religions without the supernatural and religions without gods, but none which does not subdivide the world into things and times and persons that are sacred and others that as a consequence are profane. Durkheim's insight can be applied to the sociology of education, for school is radically divisive in a similar way.
The very existence of obligatory schools divides any society into two realms: some time spans and processes and treatments and professions are 'academic' or 'pedagogic', and others are not. The power of school thus to divide social reality has no boundaries: education becomes unworldly and the world becomes non-educational.
Since Bonhoeffer contemporary theologians have pointed to the confusions now reigning between the Biblical message and institutionalised religion. They point to the experience that Christian freedom and faith usually gain from secularisation. Inevitably their statements sound blasphemous to many churchmen. Unquestionably, the educational process will gain from the deschooling of society even though this demand sounds to many schoolmen like treason to the enlightenment. But it is enlightenment itself that is now being snuffed out of the schools.
The secularisation of the Christian faith depends on the dedication to it on the part of Christians rooted in the Church. In much the same way, the deschooling of education depends on the leadership of those brought up in the schools. Their curriculum cannot serve them as an alibi for the task: each of us remains responsible for what has been made of him, even though he may be able to do no more than accept this responsibility and serve as a warning to others.