Saturday, 7 March 2009

Deschooling the Edublogosphere?

This post from NZ edublogger Leigh Blackall - which I picked up via Stephen Downes - hails (or at least hopes for) a comeback for Ivan Illich's 'Deschooling Society', which reminded me that I should blog the video of my Temporary School of Thought talk.

Many thanks to Vinay for filming that! He also blogged an audio recording of the event, which got picked up in a thoughtful post from Andrew J Cernaglia.

In a different key, I've just uploaded an article I wrote last year about Illich's influence on and warnings about the development of personal computing and the internet:

Carl Mitcham laughed when I told him I was working on an internet startup inspired by Deschooling Society. Now in his mid-sixties, Mitcham is a philosopher of technology, a professor at the Colorado School of Mines and former director of the Science-Technology-Society Programme at Penn State. He was also, from the late 1980s, a member of Illich's circle of friends and collaborators, the travelling circus which surrounded him from the closure of the Centre for Intercultural Documentation at Cuernavaca in 1976, until his death in 2002.

What made Mitcham laugh was his recollection of Illich telling him, in exasperation, “People are saying I invented this internet!” The thought of it was enough to make him throw up his hands in horror.

The story of Illich's influence on the internet and the reasons for his mistrust of it both deserve attention. Together, they present something like a paradox: how did a thinker whose vision of 'learning webs', 'educational networks' and 'convivial tools' inspired key figures in the development of personal computing come, by the late 1990s, to believe in 'the necessity of defending... our senses... against the insistent encroachments of multimedia from cyberspace'?


I just came across another blog that's picked up on Charlie Leadbeater's article on Illich and the DIY State this week, so it does feel like there's an appetite for these ideas at the moment. And if you were looking for more pieces of evidence, I guess you could say that us raising a second round of funding for School of Everything was also a good sign!


Another Photograph said...

Hi Dougald, you tweaked your blog .. I've been re-reading Illich over the last year after a hiatus of about 30 years; some representations here:
Tools For Conviviality
Energy & Equity
Celebration of Awareness
... Deschooling is being consumed again slowly.
Be good to have a chat in the not too distant future.

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks for the links (although, they are hard to differentiate between the brown and the black txt.. maybe I'm blind :)

Great to find another Illich thinker. A while back, a reading group started over in Wikiversity, looking at Deschooling Society. It kind of puts and spirts along.

The first time I thought about him in terms of Internet learning was when I gave a talk called "Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning". Since then I am slowly meeting people more knowledgable of Illich, and it is great to see how deep his thinking can take us. What an amazing person!

Leigh Blackall said...

Jus wanted to let you know I'm still watching the video.. its great. Well done.. I have 20 minutes or so left. Have been watching it off and on through work.

Dougald Hine said...

@AP - good to hear from you, Tony. Just been looking at those links. (I like the way you're using Flickr as a conversational space, btw - it has a different feel to a blog post + comment thread.)

This morning's mail brought a replacement copy of Illich's 'The Right to Useful Unemployment (and its professional enemies)', which seems particularly appropriate to what I've been writing about over the last couple of months.

We should definitely meet for a chat. I'm off to the States for SXSW later this week, then up north for a few days, but back in London from the 23rd. Let's catch up after that.

@Leigh - thanks for reblogging the video - and for taking the time to watch it. Glad you found it useful.

I first discovered Illich via Alastair McIntosh's book, 'Soil and Soul'. 'Deschooling Society' was a huge influence on School of Everything, the web startup I co-founded in 2006 - but personally I've been most influenced by his later work, much of it only available online at places like David Tinapple's site:

I had the good luck to go to the colloquium at Cuernavaca in December 2007, to mark the fifth anniversary of Ivan's death, where I got to hang out with a number of his friends and collaborators. Meeting them confirmed much of what I'd sensed about Illich as a person from his writings - and made me more aware of the network of remarkable people carrying on his legacy.

Like you, I've had the experience of gradually coming across more people who've been inspired and influenced by his thinking - sometimes it seems like there's a whole underground network of us! If it doesn't surface so often in the Edublogging world or elsewhere, I guess that may be because you have to reach a point of asking fundamental questions before his ideas make sense. I suspect that as the current global situation plays out, there will increasingly be the call for asking questions at that depth, and we may see a revival of interest in Illich's ideas in many areas, including education. Indeed, we may already be contributing to that revival.

Dougald Hine said...

@Leigh - Oh, and thanks for the feedback on the blog design! I've added an underscore on all links now, which should make them easier to find. Hopefully it doesn't clutter the text too much.

Nick Herman said...

Hey Dougald,
I'm wondering why you write so much about Illich but as far as I can tell, have not mentioned John Taylor Gatto, who has a lot of powerfully written words to say about deschooling (and I personally think he's a lot more readable and specific than Illich)? You should read some of what he's written, if you're not familiar. Keep the dream alive!

littlehorn said...

Hi; just wanted to post a stupid thought: terrible lighting. It looks like you guys were trying to shoot a horror/vampire movie.

Dougald Hine said...

@Nick - that is a very good question. I have heard a lot about Gatto (and also John Holt) over the years, but not done that much to follow up.

The truth is that what makes Illich less readable and less specific is precisely what interests me! My core interest is not "education" as such, but a set of deeper historical, philosophical and political questions, which might seem obscure, but which I think have great practical implications for whether our well-intentioned schemes end up simply paving the road to hell or not. Our education systems are one of the sites of obvious tension in which these questions come into focus. Illich sometimes talked about his work as an enquiry into the unexamined assumptions of our time - and that is a good summary of the kind of questions which I'm talking about.

So I'm sure you're right that Gatto makes many of the key points of the 'Deschooling' argument - and does so in a way that will convey them effectively to a wider audience. It just happens that Illich's larger and more esoteric project relates about as closely as any thinker I have yet encountered to the direction of my own curiosity. (As with most of my heroes, I'm also staggered by the extent of his frame of reference, and glad to be able to borrow from all the reading he did which I will never get round to!)

@littlehorn - you're right, it does have a rather Hammer Horror aesthetic. This wasn't deliberate, just the result of having to improvise with the lighting available in a grand but ramshackle squat. There was one decently bright lamp, but nothing to fix it to - hence the uplighting effect.

MsMarmitelover said...

Hi dougald,
Thinking of holding some kind of brainstorming summit at the underground restaurant about some of these issues, inspired by the talk I went to at The Company of Astrologers...
Perhaps with you, Vinay, Jack kenny, others....

Dougald Hine said...

@MsM - thanks for the invitation! Will pass it on to Vinay and be in touch.

Tor Hershman said...

Ahhhhh, the two kinds of people who shall fail totally,
1. Those that attempt to change the world
- & -
2. Those that try to keep it from changing.

We all fall down, it's a tie.

Openworld said...

Dougald, found you through Vinay's blog -- lots of resonance!

You may be interested in Openworld has gathered a number of transforming ideas on how microscholarships, micro X-prize style rewards for peer learning, and student-owned virtual and actual learning ventures could compete with failed and failing schools.


Mark Frazier
Openworld, Inc
@openworld (twitter)

Dougald Hine said...

@Tor - nice aphorism. Changing the world and trying to stop it changing are both fairly hubristic enterprises. That said, those who aim at either often have unusual passion, drive and independence of mind. If you can apply those same characteristics to riding the change that is always already going on in the world, I think it can lead to good things - though no guarantees. But if you're going to have anything to do with change and the state of world, then the worst thing you can do is take yourself too seriously - hence the title of the blog. (Thanks, by the way - you've just prompted me to formulate the subject of this blog more clearly than I have done before!)

@Openworld - good to hear from you, Mark. Vinay is a great source of connections. Do you have partners in the UK involved in your work? Or do you pass through London yourself ever? It would be interesting to connect. (I'm unreliable at online communication, but I like hanging out with people face to face.)

You might be interested in the connections we've been making around School of Everything with people experimenting with self-organised alternatives to higher education:

I'm convinced that the possibilities for self-organised alternatives go a long way down through the education system.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dougald;
thanks for all these references and keeping the Illich flame alive.
In reply to Nick (12 March) RE: Gatto; I've read Gatto and interviewed him, his work is indeed helpful, but his analysis does not extend much further than the futility of institutionilized schooling.
Illich (as you point out) covers so much more ground.
Holt covers a wider range too, but this only comes out in books like
"A Life Worth Living: Selected Letters of John Holt" (edited by Susannah Sheffer).

In any case I wanted to reinforce your observation that there is (thankfully) a resurgence of interest in Illich, which i think is hopefull, as Illich's analysis will help folks sort out a better understanding of our various situations and environmental crises. Illich's work influences Wolfgang Sachs ("Development Dictionary", "Global Ecology") and many other helpful thinkers. In my own work in Nunavut I have found Illich's perspective to be one of the only ways to understand the collision between completely-monetized Euro-Canadians and less- monetized Inuit society.

thanks again for your various online efforts.
(Ottawa, Canada).

Dougald Hine said...

Derek -

I've just seen that I never replied to your comment. I don't know whether you'll get a notification now, but if so, I would love to be in touch with you and hear more about the role of Illich's ideas in your work. There's a remarkable paper by David Rasmussen which draws on Illich and on his own experiences in Nunavut to denounce the assumptions of development in eloquent terms. Are you in touch with others from the ongoing community of Ivan's friends and collaborators? I know Dean Bavington at Nipissing University - we met in Cuernavaca in 2007 - and he and Sajay Samuel are due to visit Europe this summer.

If you get this, you can contact me through the email address on my current website:


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