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


Deschooling Classroom [Self-education in the arts and culture] is a project that addresses the contemporary independent cultural scenes in the region, melanoma 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.

The project is organised by TkH (Walking Theory) platform for performing arts theory and practice from Belgrade ( in partnership with Kontrapunkt, from Skopje (

Its specific objectives are:

  • to raise the awareness of potentialities of self-education, and to develop methodologies for alternative education in contemporary art and culture;
  • to offer studying new and hybrid fields of contemporary culture and art and to help sharing the critical knowledge among art and cultural practitioners;
  • to stimulate collaboration among those who aim to intervene in the existing cultural system;
  • to challenge the conceptual and infra-structural set-up of cultural institutions; and
  • to create new supporting infrastructures for the independent cultural scenes.

The project builds upon international trends of alternative educational culture that appeared in late 20th century in the context of post-Fordist capitalist societies. The wide ranging initiatives try to critically reflect the mainstream education and to find various alternatives, more appropriate to the new social conditions and increased importance of the service industry. Our project is concentrated on independent cultural scenes in the age of transition in the Balkans, where self-organisation and self-education are necessary for the actors to act critically and to be socially relevant and engaged. Its theoretical background is contemporary critical theory, and some of the main references are: Jacques Rancier’s reflections from Ignorant Schoolmaster, Jean-Luc Nancy’s theses on collaboration and belonging, and Ivan Illich’s radical thoughts from Deschooling Society.

Programme of the project runs through two “vectors”:

  1. Content – the programme is orientated toward critical, inter-disciplinary, hybrid knowledge in the field of contemporary art and culture; wherein possible topics include: Curatorial practices in visual and non-visual arts, Interdisciplinary dramaturgy; Free software and digital technology; Inter-medial artistic production, etc;
  2. Methodology – various forms of research and learning about skills and principles of self-organisation and self-education will be organised, e.g. workshops about facilitation, practical advices for running an NGO, discussions about models of decision making processes and about non-hierarchical group work, etc.

In terms of activities, the project is organised in two cycles through which each “generation” will go through the process of collective self-education. Each generation consists of 3-4 working groups gathered around common themes in the above mentioned fields. All the groups have regional character and include 6-8 members from both Belgrade and Skopje. They will participate in following programmes:

  • Open Week is 3-day event, consisting of workshops, lectures and presentations, whose aim is to attract attention and raise awareness about self-education – therefore these will be open to the general public. The open weeks will be organised in Belgrade in 2009 and in Skopje in 2010, and they are departing points for each generation.
  • Incubator comprises a long-term (6 months) collaborative work of the working groups. Their curricula will be designed by the participants, and include a continual self-educational process of the groups in Belgrade and Skopje via video link, and programmes facilitated by invited guest lecturers every month.
  • Summer School is intense one-week educational event, held once per cycle/year. It is created by the participants of all groups from one generation, for themselves and also for the others interested in the topics, especially those from the region. The summer schools will be organised in Ohrid in 2009 and in 2010 probably in Montenegro (will be decided afterwards).
  • Timeshare Campus is accommodation/work structure that facilitates the collaboration between the participants during the time of preparing collective cultural productions with which each cycle is finalised. Two apartments in Skopje and Belgrade will be rented and made available to the groups in the period of two months. The collaborative products can be e.g. video, fanzine, installation, web site, etc. They will be publicly presented in the region afterwards.
  • The project will end with the production of a Toolbox. It includes a Handbook on self-education, written by the participants, organisers, and guests/lecturers. Also, we will make a documentary film, which presents the project and its potential for application in other contexts. The Toolbox will be publicly presented locally and regionally, aiming to obtain visibility and to impact other regional scenes.

I.e. the context of dominancy of immaterial labour, so called “cognitive capitalism”. See more in: Paolo Virno, Grammar of the Multitude; For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life (2004), New York: Semiotext(e).

Jacques Ranciere: The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1991), Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Illich, Deschooling Society (1971), London: Marion Boyars, available at

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