Notes on “Deschooling Society” by Ivan Illich (1971) – Part One

There was so much awesome in this book. I wish I had started writing out these notes while I read! I’m going to be here awhile re-thinking and writing, but maybe that’s good for me. I’m not just reading, noting, and letting go. I’ve got to spend time going back through, thinking, and making my notes clear. Here we go!

From my first notes on the book, “It’s going to be hard to make notes on this book. I want to underline every word.” That’s how I felt through the whole first half of the book. I did end up filling up an entire piece of printer paper with tiny scribbles. By the end of the book, I wasn’t really agreeing, though. It seems we may agree on the problem with school but not the solution. The thing I very much enjoyed right from the start was that he really spent time separating the meanings of the words “school” and “education”. That’s something we all really need to think about.

From the introduction, “Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school.”

Page 1 “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.” It goes on but you get the idea. Think about how we automatically assume these things and that they can’t be separated. It’s one of the things that I’ve had the hardest time explaining to people new to the idea of homeschooling. They typically want to recreate these things at home, as if a family can do them better. Over time they learn and lose these notions and replace the meanings of the words to match their reality.

Page 2 “Rich and poor alike depend on schools and hospitals which guide their lives, from their wold 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 organization, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion.” Here I’m reminded about our local “Enrichment Club”. We’ve formed a group of families that can rely on each other to help us educate ourselves and our children. It’s cheap and easy to keep going but yet people want it to be “free” and they don’t consider it real learning because we have no classroom, teacher, or grades. The consider it extra or just social.

Page 4 “The poor in the US…are making the discovery that no amount of dollars can remove the inherent destructiveness of welfare institutions, once the professional hierarchies of these institutions have convinced society that their ministrations are morally necessary.”

“The program is known as Title One. It is the most expensive compensatory program ever attempted anywhere in education, yet no significant improvement can be detected in the learning of these “disadvantaged” children.” And this was in 1971. Can you imagine the money we spend today? Has it helped? We just keep hearing that we need to spend more to get any results. It’s like the roofer that says he’ll fix your roof for $1000 but it keeps leaking and when you ask him why, he only says it’s going to cost more to really fix it, yet it keeps leaking. At what point will we stop giving the money? In the case of education, never, because first of all we believe we are doing something good for the people and second because we don’t believe we are paying at all. We are spending someone else’s money, the so-called “rich” of our country.

Page 6 “…poor children lack most of the educational opportunities which are casually available to the middle-class child.” “…conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself…” This is why we, as a nation, need to stop spending money on school and encourage parents to learn for themselves. This was written in 1971, opportunities to get books and learn from the internet are so much easier now. Where the author and I differ is that he believes the government should do different things for people and I believe the government doing things for people is how this all got started down a terrible path. Get government out of trying to make things easier or better for people.

Page 8 “The failures of school are taken by most people as a proof that education is very costly, very complex, always arcane, and frequently an almost impossible task.” And it’s so not true. Government schools are impossible. Today, one family taking its children out, spending some money on an internet connection and a laptop computer, and having a library card, can change the world. The problem is that we all believe that isn’t education. That you must be corralled and fought to learn. That once you graduate, you don’t need to learn anymore. That it is someone else’s responsibility to educate your children. It makes me sad to watch so many people live like this. And it’s all a lie.

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