Deschooling Society/ Creating Learning Communities

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  • The Newsletter of Life-Long Learning Vol. 1 No. 2 Winter 2003

    By BILL ELLISBefore I read of Ivan Illichs

    death, I had started to write acommentary on his contributionsand the ideas in his bookDeschooling Society. Now thatIvan has passed on, I am drivento finish this piece.

    I have felt that many home-schoolers, and even many Illichfans, miss the message he wastrying to deliver. Perhaps myown interpretation is enhanced bythe numerous opportunities I hadto talk with him, to hear his lec-tures, and to visit with his trav-eling crap game that met in vari-ous universities around the globe.Or it may be that his way ofdeveloping an idea was to stimu-late the listeners own thought,rather than to lay an idea out soclearly that everyone capturedexactly the same message.

    Deschooling Society wasmore about society than aboutschools. Society needs deschool-ing because it is a mimic of theschool system that it engendersand that engenders it. In our cur-rent society, individuals areexpected to work in dull and stul-tifying jobs for future rewards, asthey are trained to do in schools.By deschooling, Illich did notmean taking schooling into thehome, nor did he mean freeschools in which curricula wasset by the students. Schooling ofany kind that limits a personscapacity and desire to self-learnat all times anywhere is detrimen-tal to that person living a full life.

    All life, according to Illich,should be convivial. That is, itshould be lived in joyous collabo-ration with friends and col-leagues. Learning and work alikeshould be fun and fulfilling.They should be entered into as,and not differentiated from, playand recreation. A society thatdoes not create that kind of con-vivial learning and living is notliving up to, nor fulfilling the

    potential of, humanity.In later works, like

    Tools for Convivialityand Shadow Work,Illich further developedhis theme of living thegood life. He tookgood in both of itsconnotations good asin moral and good as inpleasing. Vernacularwas the word Illichused to express thegood life. The vernacu-lar is the simple, thelocal, the communal.Every human and everycommunity has its ownnatural concept of thevernacular. It iswrapped up in what it isto be a human. It iswhat a person can dothemselves, in the placethey are, at the time itis, without dependenceon external assistance.

    The bicycle wasone hardware exampleIllich often used to exemplify thevernacular. The bicycle extendsones own capability and effortsfor transportation. It needs nomassive outside system beyondthat under its operators control.The automobile, on the otherhand, is not only a complex appa-ratus requiring a complex outsidesystem, but it also requires morework and effort than it producesin transportation. If you take intoaccount all the hours you spendworking to buy a car, to purchasegas and tires, to pay taxes for theroad, to insure and license it, toclean up its pollution, and pay forall of the other costs, your rate oftravel is less than that of a bicy-cle, and that doesnt count eitherthe hours, the costs, or the frus-tration spent in traffic jams andaccidents.

    In Medical Nemesis Illichtook the same concept to themedical system, showing that notonly did the medical profession

    not cure ills but it created them. In every aspect of our lives,

    conviviality and the vernacularhave been overwhelmed anddiminished by what Illich calledthe disabling professions.Lawyers have increased crime,economists have created scarcityand poverty, teachers have dumb-ed us down, the farming profes-sion has increased world hunger.With this loss of the vernacularhas come the loss of the familyand the loss of community. Thesingle goal of humans hasbecome to make it by accumu-lating things in a materialisticglobal economy.

    In one of his most recentessays, The Cultivation ofConspiracy, Illich brought hisconcepts to a fitting climax. Thisessay was published in the bookThe Challenge of Ivan Illich, a2002 collection of essays bymany of his colleagues, edited byLee Honacki and Carl Mitcham.

    Deschooling Society/ CreatingLearning Communities

    Continued on next page

    The book, Creating Learning Communities, and other material is available online

    Discuss the future of learning andactions one could take at: LearningCommunities@yahoogroups.comLearningCommunities list is to discussyour ideas on the concepts of 'co-opera-tive community life-learning'.

    Action groups and people whoare actually creating a learningcommunity can join:CCL-LLCs@yahoogroups.comCCL-LLCs is for those active in develop-ing actual learning communities. Thiscan be:

    holding local meetings of home-schooler and/or self-learners,

    being a member of an operatinglocal learning community,

    exchanging information with otherlearning communities,

    working cooperatively with others onthis list to promote LC,s

    reporting on active learning commu-nities,

    developing information on LCs forthe "Resources Section,"

    writing a "New Chapter" for theonline book,

    contributing money to help thisCoalition continue or operate.

    any thing else that will help bringLCs into operation.

    Also Inside:Deschooling

    LIGHThouse opens

    Co-ops Chart New Course for Education

    Learning systems: the good,the bad and the ugly

    Creating a CooperativeLearning Center

    Plus Newsbriefs

    http://www.CreatingLearningCommunities.orgmailto: LearningCommunities@yahoogroups.commailto:

  • Creating Learning CommunitiesIllich discusses friendship in this powerfulessay. The friendship he writes of is not justthat of being kind and cooperativewith your neighbors. It is a deeperconspiriatio.

    As in much of his writing, Illichgoes to great lengths to explore theoriginal meaning of the word, and ofideas and actions related to the word.Conspiriatio is breathing together.But breathing is not merely expellingair. It is about the breath of life the soul. Conspiriatio is the meld-ing of ones inner being with others. It is wellexemplified by the wedding kiss that symbol-izes, or more exactly is, the combining of twosouls. The wedding kiss is more than the cere-mony or the license of marriage. It is abovephysical love. It is the unification of twobeings by breathing together. This conspira-tio, or wedding of souls, (although Illich, aformer priest, doesnt use the word soul) is theroot of the vernacular and of the convivial.

    This exploration of Illichs concepts ismeant only to put his book and the idea ofdeschooling society into context.

    Homeschooling grew from the ideas ofIllich, Holt and others. During the 1970s, afew courageous scattered families broke awayfrom government schools and started home-schooling. By 1980, there were some 10,000to 20,000 such families homeschooling alone.As the numbers grew, these scattered home-school cells started linking up, establishingorganizations to provide resources, and to takeon special tasks like the legal defense of home-schooling. By 1990, the cells of homeschool-ers had become a soup and ad hoc linkingbecame normal. Homeschool support groupsspontaneously self-organized in many commu-nities and on the Internet. By 2000, there wasalmost no American community that did nothave a homeschool support group.

    But, in the practical day-to-day struggle tohomeschool their own children many, if notmost, early homeschoolers left behind thesocial idealism of Illich and Holt.

    Their universal cry was for government tojust leave us alone. They argued that theyhave parental rights to raise their children asthey wish. But as homeschooling is nowbecoming accepted by the mainstream, it isalso looking again at its roots and recognizingthat homeschooling alone is not enough.

    If deschooling is going to serve all ofsociety it must move beyond homeschooling.Fortunately, this new phase of deschoolingsociety is happening. Conviviality and the ver-nacular are arising within homeschool supportgroups. Some of them are searching out newways to organize. Some are considering howto extend the values of self-learning to all chil-dren and all adults. Others are filling in thegaps between the alternative education com-

    munity and the broader progressive movement,while from the other side many progressivesare recognizing that any social change will

    require a radically different learn-ing system and a way of introduc-ing future citizens into society.

    In 1971, Ivan Illichs bookDeschooling Society marked aradical shift in the way peoplethought about learning. His deathin 2002 marks a time for a radicalshift in the why, the how, and thewhat of learning. It is a time forall of us to throw off the remain-ing shackles of schools and all

    other disabling institutions and build our ownlives, our communities, and a new world root-ed in knowledge, self-learning and learningcommunities.

    Ivan Illichs works are available on anumber of websites. You can read or down-load Deschooling Society from: websites include:

    Illich wrote:Many students, especially those who are

    poor, intuitively know what the schools do forthem. They school them to confuse processand substance. Once these become blurred, anew logic is assumed: the more treatment there

    is, the better are the results; or, escalation leadsto success. The pupil is thereby schooled toconfuse teaching with learning, grade advance-ment with education, a diploma with compe-tence, and fluency with the ability to say some-thing new. His imagination is schooled toaccept service in place of value. Medical treat-ment is mistaken for health care, social workfor the improvement of community life, policeprotection for safety, military poise for nationalsecurity, the rat race for productive work.Health, learning, dignity, independence, andcreative endeavour are defined as little morethan the performance of the institutions whichclaim to serve these ends, and their improve-ment is made to depend on allocating moreresources to the management of hospitals,schools, and other agencies in question.

    Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1973: 9)

    Bill Ellis is a physicist, futurist, farmer. Hisproductive (moneymaking) years were spent inscience policy with organizations such as theU.S. National Science Foundation, staff mem-ber of Congress, UNESCO and the WorldBank. He and his wife left the rat race earlyand moved to the home he was born in in aremote rural New England town in the lakes,forests and mountains of Maine on theCanadian Border. Here they live, to a largeextent, off the land. For nearly 30 years, hehas volunteered with a number of alternativeand transformational movements and currentlyfor A Coalition for Self-learning.

    Continued from previous page

    2 Learning Cooperative Quarterly Winter 2003

    But as home-schooling is

    looking again at itsroots and recognizingthat homeschoolingalone is not enough.

    LIFE Fest 2003is on the Way!

    As LIFE of Florida moves into its sec-ond year, it continues to grow both in mem-bership (now nearly 140, with twenty affili-ate groups throughout the state) and ininfluence. In November, Home EducationMagazine featured the story of LIFE Fest2002, and how we pulled together ininimitable grassroots fashion a small butsuccessful state gathering at no cost, in justtwo months.

    Our website,,has become a fantastic and continuallyevolving resource for state home and alter-native learners. Weve recently added aPrivate Schools for Homeschoolers page,expanded and updated state legislativeinformation, and feature the only compre-hensive listing (that we know of!) of directlinks to county school boards throughoutthe state.

    Our biggest news, though, is that LIFEFest 2003 is on the way, and promises to bea great event. LIFE Fest will be held

    Saturday, March 22, from 10 AM to 4 PM,at the downtown branch of the OrlandoPublic Library, near food and parks (a bighelp for our frugal brown bag conference!),the history center and more. We have agreat line up of speakers and presentationsthat includes J.C. Bowman, director of theFlorida Department of Educations Office ofChoice; Rosemary DuRocher of the FloridaVirtual School; Susan Hubscher, of theKennedy Space Center (who is also provid-ing tickets to KSC as door prizes); engagingscience teacher Doug Scull; childrens his-tory book author, Alan Kay; an introductionto Earth Scouts, childrens programs andmore.

    Well also have a wealth of informa-tion on an incredible variety of resourcesfrom across the state and the nation at ourInformation Buffet. Affiliates are welcometo set up information tables and while therewill be no vendors, well happily set outany brochures, flyers or information aboutresources or products that are of interest tohome learners. And all for the same lowcost as last year: Absolutely Free!

    For more information, contact Terri

  • Winter 2003 Learning Cooperative Quarterly 3

    Our Mission The mission of the Learning CooperativesQuarterly (LCQ) is to utilize the format ofa newsletter as a means to inform and net-work between individuals, groups, andorganizations seeking to create transforma-tion and change in education and learning.

    The basic premise of this change lies in theperception that we are progressing towardsan eco-society, an evolutionarily new socialorder or Gaian culture, in which all mem-bers of that society have a voice in the for-mation and maintenance thereof. Throughthis developing social order, members seekto live in harmony with the world aroundthem, decisions are made on local levelswith the consensus of local individuals, andevery individual has the right and respon-sibility to determine his/her own learningprocesses and vocations.

    Learning in such a society occurs at allages with students accepting responsibili-ties of a higher order, being problemsolvers, participating in democratic discus-sions and cooperative processes, and initi-ating their own learning. In order to sup-port this transformation and maintain sucha social order, learning techniques thathave successfully explored and developednew models of learning and new curricu-lum need to be encouraged and authors ofyet unknown forms need to be given avoice.

    As with all societies, parents, mentors,facilitators, and so forth, play a role inpassing on the ethical, moral, and socialfoundations of the society. These may attimes be unique to one group or another.LCQ does not promote or endorse any ofthese. In a free and open learning system,all options for learning and all informationare available by choice of the learner. Thisalso applies to articles and news briefs con-tained herein.

    It is the foundation of Cooperati...