Legos by Illich

The past two weeks has seen an explosion of learning in my home. Take Legos, add computer and a few teens/pre-teens, and a program called Robot-C, and the sky is the limit.

My progeny have the gift of living in a peaceful neighborhood, with a home that is comfortable and nurturing. It has been intentionally stocked (and stacked) up with all manner of art, music, construction, problem solving, and other supplies. A broad array of experiences is provided outside of the home as well. Most of what lies about my living space has been gleaned from “pirate missions” to St. Vincent de Paul, where we seek out a number of items to combine to the synergy of our play and learning.

In his work “Deschooling Society”, Ivan Illich calls for the abolition of public schooling, and calls for a web of inter-related strands of education for citizens. I see as I read things like peer tutors, craftsman–apprentice types of training, and gatherings of skilled folk who would all share their knowledge, and in turn be enriched by others so doing.  As I envision his vision, and reflect upon the moments of greatest learning in my own life, I must admit that public schooling was rarely the venue.

So what are we left to do about the education (as opposed to schooling) of our children? Do we abolish public schools tomorrow, in hopes that citizens will give freely of their time to instruct others based upon interest and need? Do we “Go Full Tammy Wynette” and “Stand By our Man” (school in this case) right or wrong….surely the experts with teaching and administrative licenses know more about learning than a common citizen could hope to. I want to one-up Yogi Berra, and instead of coming to a fork in the road and taking it, argue that we need to add another tine, or path.

Public schools in America are a grand experiment, and have so much good in them in spite of their many shortcomings. What if we were to engage our communities, teachers, and students, into moving toward an Illich-inspired model? I can see classrooms becoming workshops, with a blend of young and old in a mutually beneficial learning environment. The effect would be nothing shy of transformational for all involved.

As state budgets for education drop sharply, and a system already straining under its own weight approaches “institutional diabetes”, we could simply wait and do nothing, in which case private and online schools will have filled most of the void left when the last school teacher turns out the lights on the last day of American k-12. Alternately, we as citizens could help to start the dialogue about what equates to powerful learning, how it is within all of us to create and to share, and then engage school employees in how to help them to create this….


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