collective self-education in the arts and culture…

Deschooling :: Suzana Milevska

related terms: deinstitutionalisation, disease self-education, search informal education, here homeschooling, life-long-learning, networked learning / learning webs, self-organisation, vernacular

The critical term deschooling is not at all about a kind of Pink Floydian “we don’t need no education”. It is not about being done with education all together and it does not entail any calling to riots against schooling. Before all it questions what kind of education should replace the institutionalised, monopolised, hierarchicised and commodified education as we know it for centuries. Although deschooling resonates a kind of poststructuralist and deconstructionist model of critical interpretation of the power regimes of knowledge based control society and education system of control (think Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze) we actually owe the term “deschooling” to Ivan Illich. He coined the term deschooling in 1971 in his “old-skool” book Deschooling Society. [i]

Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, social critic, polymath and polyglot. As a priest (actually he resigned the Roman Catholic church later in his life) he travelled and lived in various places (Mexico, United States, Germany) where he committed to different human causes. He was a precursor of postcolonial critique of the church interpreting its emissaries and foreign missions as a form of industrial hegemony and, as such, an act of “war on subsistence.” More importantly, he has argued for the creation of convivial, rather than manipulative institutions, for universal and self-directed education and intentional social relations in fluid, informal arrangements. Although sometimes referring to already exhisting ideas of Everett Reimer and Basil Yeaxlee, his work is uniquely bold and reflects his critical stances on the corrupted institutions of contemporary Western culture and their effects based on the provenance and accepted practices of education, medicine, work, traffic, energy use, and economic development. He has clearly pointed out the frequent confusion of teaching with learning, grade pursuing with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

One comes to several interconnected ideas within the call for deschooling. One of the most important and most advanced of all alternatives to the institutionalised education is the early concept of networked learning found in Illich’s work. Before even Internet was widely spread he wrote that 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. [ii]His description of the eventual networked learning system sounds extremely innovative and at moments even prophetic for the period:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity. [iii]

Neetworked learning is an important leap that helps us understand the relevance of Illich’s radical thinking regarding changes needed in education for the launch of more contemporary discussions on self-education. It is a process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information, and communicating in such a way so as to support one another’s learning. If the institutionalisation of education is considered to tend towards the institutionalisation of society, coversevely he held that the ideas for de-institutionalising education are the starting point for a de-institutionalised society.

Network learning (similarly to community based learning) was coined much later and is based on the principles of learning where individuals establish an online identity and formulate relationships with other people and information to communicate and develop knowledge. However, regardless to its technological difference it sounds exactly as Illich’s profecy:

The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. [iv]

The concept of vernacular is related mostly to the way in which thought language neglects mother tongue but obviously for Illich the process of destabilization of the vernacular language was also the starting point for establishing control society through education.

Although very important in the late 60s and 70s, from the 80s Illich’s work has been often neglected for being too radical and controversial. Some of the other attributes applied to his personality read: reactionary, leftist, conservative, Marxist, anarchist, liberation theologist, prophet, guru, convivial guru, teacher, dreamer, thinker, philosopher, non-conformist, critic of institutions, intellectual sniper, even ‘libertarian.’ However his own complex and universal education and his amazing erudition make his texts continously surprising and relevant readings within different contexts, particularly in contemporary projects focusing on self-education such as Deschooling Classroom: . [v]

[i] Illich, Ivan, Deschooling Society, Harrow; 1st Harrow Edition, edition 1972, or Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd, 2000

[ii] Illich, Ivan, “Introduction” Deschooling Society, <>, Accessed on 2009-05-15 .

[iii] Illich, Ivan, Deschooling Society, chapter six <>, Accessed on 2009-05-15 .

[iv] Ibid., chapter six

[v] See more about Illich’s concept of deschooling and his other works in Smith, M. K. (1997, 2004, 2008), “Ivan Illich: deschooling, conviviality and the possibilities for informal education and lifelong learning”, The encyclopedia of informal education,, Accessed on 2009-05-17

Category: Dictionary of Self-education

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Deschooling Classroom

Deschooling Classroom is a project that addresses the contemporary independent cultural scenes in the region, researching and offering an alternative to the hierarchical models of education in the art and culture. Methodologically, the project moves away from the concepts of individual authorship and expertise, and advocates open collective educational structures where self-organised communities facilitate horizontal production, exchange and distribution of knowledge.