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Response to Illich

Anyone who read my previous blog post on popular education knows that I agree pretty much whole heartedly with what Illich talks about in Deschooling Society.  I’m not sure I would go as far as he does in his condemnation of the traditional classroom style, but his ideas about removing “the curriculum” are dead on I think.  I also don’t know if I agree with his belief in the master apprentice system as being the best way to learn.  I don’t think that it is necessary for any member of a group to be an expert on a particular subject in order for the group to collectively learn about it and help each other shape their understanding of concepts.  One of my most positive high school experiences was in AP Literature senior year when our teacher had a medical emergency that forced the class to have a long term substitute teacher for most of the year.  It was an interesting dynamic because the substitute knew just as little about the subject matter as we did, but her eagerness to understand the material in turn made us feel more willing to put our opinions forward without fearing disagreement from the always-right teacher.  I think this unguided discourse was ultimately a more effective educational tool than listening to the teacher lecture on the standard interpretations of canonical texts.

My main disagreement with Illich however, comes from his ideas about peer matching.  Although it would certainly be useful to easily group together people with similar educational (and recreational) interests, I feel that this has the potential to cause factioning which could ultimately create new institutions along different but equally limiting borders.  Illich’s main complaint against the social aspect of the classroom seems to be that students are placed together arbitrarily.  Although I understand where he is coming from, I think encouraging diversity is more important than grouping together only with people that have similar goals and interests.  People should have the opportunities to follow whatever course of study they choose in their life, but it is also important to surround yourself with people that have vastly different interests and ideas because seemingly unrelated topics almost always connect in some sort of interesting way if you look at them hard enough.  Communities are often very diverse, and this diversity should be reflected in the classroom because it should be an extension of the community as a whole.

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