It's a fictional streetscape we wander, here, a metropolis whose buildings, boulevards, and back alleys are in a constant state of flux. This is every place, and yet, no place at all - a city of dreams and a dream of a city.

Here, we explore the life and work of Ivan Illich and his circle of collaborators. There's no comprehensive index to the articles published, but we invite you to use the Search box, to the left, and to explore the Archive links that appear at the bottom of each page. Comments are welcomed.

Monday, December 31, 2012

A "wandering Jew, a Christian pilgrim"

We often wish we had even a fraction of the linguistic skills that Ivan Illich had for that would enable us to appreciate more of the writings about him -- and by him, as well -- that are to be found here and there on the Web.

As noted a few days ago, for example, we recently discovered a fascinating document written in Croatian that concerns Illich’s ordination as a priest, as described in a number of church documents from the 1940s and 1950s on file in Split, the Dalmatian city that Illich’s father called home. Google’s translation robot provides some help in understanding the document, but only some.

Here, as grabbed from that Croatian document, is something that requires no translating, a photo of young Ivan (and one of several in the document) seen during a visit to Sutivan, on the island of Brac, where his grandfather lived:

Illich Donkey

This is the island Illich would later remember as gaining its first loudspeaker when a Victrola arrived on the same boat as he did, brought there as an infant to meet his grandfather. Now promoted as a seaside resort, Brac has a population of 13,000. One of its churches is that of St. Ivan, from the 6th century. The Ilic name is one of the island's oldest; a windmill and a 16th-century complex of houses is attributed to the family.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Almo collegio Capranica, and a fascinating document in Croatian

Looking into Almo Collegio Capranica, the seminary in Rome that Ivan Illich attended, we have come across a remarkable document.

Sources on the Web say this is the oldest college in Roma, founded in 1457. And it has a reputation:

On page 23 of her 1991 book, The Undermining of the Catholic Church, Mary Ball Martinez, speaking of the Capranica, says "In the 1890's this seminary was known up and down Italy to be the headquarters of the kind of theological radicalism soon to be labeled 'Modernism'. To our day the school has upheld that reputation, feting the "Red Abbot" Franzoni after his suspension a divinis in the 1970's and CIDOC's Ivan Illich while neighbors continue to complain of all-night celebrations spilling out into the darkened old streets at each major Leftist triumph from the abortion victory in the Italian Parliament to referendum results in Chile."
800px Almo Collegio Capranica prospect

The college offers a short version of its history in English, here.


While looking for more information about the college and Illich's time there, we discovered a lengthy document (in PDF) about Illich that is written in Croatian. We cannot understand the text, but it appears to concern Illich and his ordination as a priest in Rome and his move to New York. It is based on research in archives in Split, aka Grad Split, the coastal city in Dalmatia that was home to Illich's father. The document looks closely at the communications between church administrators in Split, where Illich was baptized, and those in Rome and New York.

If nothing else, the illustrations are fascinating. They include copies of many original documents, some of them signed by Illich, some of them letters between clergy written in Latin, as well as photos of a young Illich and his family and even a photo of the Illich home in Split.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Everett Reimer book available online

What appears to be the full text of Everett Reimer's book School is Dead is available on the Web in PDF format, right here. The pages are not numbered and it is not clear how the text was obtained, by scanning or retyping.

According to Wikipedia, School is Dead was published in 1971. Deschooling Society, published that same year, opens with these lines:

I owe my interest in public education to Everett Reimer. Until we first met in Puerto Rico in 1958, I had never questioned the value of extending obligatory schooling to all people. Together we have come to realize that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. The essays given at CIDOC and gathered in this book grew out of memoranda which I submitted to him, and which we discussed during 1970, the thirteenth year of our dialogue. […] Since 1967 Reimer and I have met regularly at the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
At Google Books, one can read a somewhat critical 1972 essay entitled "Confronting the Educational Philosophies of Ivan Illich and Everett Reimer," written by a Paul R. Reid.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An interview, 1974

We recently stumbled onto this article about Ivan Illich and since it is a new one to us, we thought we'd share it. Published in The New Scientist for Dec., 1974, it shows some of Illich's thinking about publishing and about the response of his audience.

Ivan Illich will now write a book

“I have not written a book yet,” said Ivan Illich last Thursday, the day of British publication of his Medical Nemesis by Calder and Boyars (see Review, last week, p 835). He claims that all he has published so far is a draft for seminars to be held at CIDOC in Cuernavaca, Mexico, which is Illich’s home base, and he hopes to produce a revised manuscript -- taking into account criticisms made at these seminars and elsewhere -- by the end of the next year. This, he says, will be first book.

Currently, Illich, who writes in French, English, Spanish, and German, is working on the French draft of Medical Nemesis. To be published early in 1975, it will differ in parts from the English draft, because his thoughts have developed and changed since the English version was completed.

Surprisingly, in view of the orientation of its attack on medicalisation, there are no plans to publish Medical Nemesis in the United States now. Illich is disappointed by the lack of reaction form the US to his previous “draft” publication, Energy and Equity (which is still selling 300 copies a day in the UK, nearly a year after publication). It produced virtually no American comment, although he received many comments on the manuscript from European countries, and several people in France and Germany are now following up his ideas in greater detail.

Illich is taken very seriously in France, although not always with great understanding. He went to Paris in Spring 1973 with three draft essays, which were to form the basis of Energy and Equity, in order to get the critical comments of a friend. One of France’s leading newspapers heard of the existence of these essays and told Illich that they wished to publish them. When he remarked that they did not even know what the essays were about, he was told that did not matter; they were by Illich, they must therefore be important. So he agreed to their publication. Shortly thereafter, one of the senior staff on the paper contacted Illich and said he hoped that Illich would not mind being offered some advice, but it was really not a good idea to open an important newspaper article with a phrase which no-one would understand. The phrase in question was “la crise de’energie.”

Illich is concerned about becoming a cult figure. He says that he gave up lecturing at American universities because he felt that students were making a cult of him. In England, he says, he does not feel that yet, although, when he lectured at York earlier this month, “for the first time, I realised the ghost was there.”

He is also concerned about the way in which some of his ideas have been taken up so that they strengthen what he sees as the abuses of industrial society. His ideas on deschooling, he says, have been used to bolster the hold of the institutional educators on lifelong learning -- called by them “education permanente”, by Illich “education interminable”. Education is now being geared, he says, “to increasing people’s capital value to society through the whole of their lives.”

Much of his published material contains hints of what is to follow. Medical Nemesis was foreshadowed, for example, by a few paragraphs in Tools for Conviviality. At the end of Medical Nemesis, Illich writes about some of what he sees as being wrong with modern agriculture. Will this be his next subject? He refuses to commit himself, saying that he must first complete the work he is doing on Medical Nemesis.

“I am now 48; that’s already old. And there are several other things I want to do.” But what those things are, Illich does not say, although he leaves the impression that they are perhaps of a more personal, spiritual nature than the work he has been going during the past few years.

He writes and talks, he says, for anyone who will read or listen, and make intelligent comments. He was delighted, for example, by the space which the British Medical Journal gave to three critiques of Medical Nemesis a fortnight ago. This type of criticism, he says, was just what he wanted, and he seemed surprised that the British medical establishment should pay him that much attention. On the other hand, although always impeccably polite he shows little patience towards questioners who want specific answers about how their lives and society should be run.

He is a man who provides ideas on the basis of which other people ought to be able to find their own answers, and he refuses to be drawn into the particular. But then the whole basis of his thought is a belief in personal autonomy -- that industrial society saps our potentialities by providing too many ready-made answers. It is difficult to come away from a conversation with him without a strong feeling that one could be a better person if only one tugged one’s own bootstraps a bit harder.

-- Martin Sherwood.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Illich and the f-word

In 1970, Illich's thinkery in Cuernavaca, CIDOC, published a book (CIDOC Cuaderno 57) with the title: Formative undercurrents of compulsory knowledge: Some comparative historical observations on learning and school. The co-editors were Jordan Bishop, a liberation theologist, and Joel Spring, a professor of education at CUNY's Graduate Center.

Perhaps that title strikes you, even if only subliminally, as suspect. If so, you win a cigar. If not, look again. (Alas, the book is out of print and, as far as we can tell, not available in a used copy, either.)

This reminds us of an anecdote that Ivan Illich used to relate to his audiences in the early 1970s. On one recording we've heard, of a talk given at UC Berkeley's Newman Center, it went like this:

Let’s distinguish two sets, two different levels of radical analysis of the educational system. One is, recognize what schools really do.

Now, all over the world, schools school.

There is a titter of laughter in the audience.

I’ll never forget when I first realized what this means with a group of Black Power leaders in Chicago some three years ago, and suddenly somebody said to me, “You know, yeah, you’re right, schools are made to school you." And I understood that schools are made to school you, and everybody laughed when in the afternoon they showed up with buttons saying, “School you.”

Illich and his audience have a good laugh at this and then, he continues:

You cannot go to school for a year without believing that, without learning at least one thing, that the society as it is considers that it would be better if you had gone on to the second or the third year.

Therefore, the people who drop out -- the concept of drop-out is also a beautiful one -- who drop out of the school system are already deeply schooled. They are schooled into their inferiority. ...

In another talk, recorded around the same time, he tells the story as follows:

School is losing its legitimacy. The very great danger, about which we finally now get a lot of people to consent with us that it exists, is that we seek new devices for education.

There is an enthusiasm, a recognition, a first early recognition that the school system as it stands doesn’t work, … uh, five, six years ago, seven years ago and people rushed out to find other ways of schooling up their neighbors.

I’m using that word because in a black community, once, somebody said, “Yeah, school, yeah, you’re right, school is made to school us". And I understood that school is made to school us. So in the afternoon, I understood what they had said when they all showed up with buttons, ”School you.”

Now, people rush out …

Again, Illich chuckles and there is much laughter from the audience.

Excuse me, this just what happened … that’s the reason why Deschooling Society has really a different meaning and I am very surprised that nobody caught it. But Bob Silver of the NY Review of Books crossed out that line. I usually don’t allow an editor to touch my manuscript but when it comes to good taste, I defer to Bob Silver.

Illich laughs with his listeners and continues:

Now, the real danger at this moment is that we seek new ways of educating people for an environment in which school has lost its legitimacy, therefore more effective, more efficient, more subtle ways of education can be financed and become acceptable. For instance, teachers can escape the classroom and bother us like mosquitos all during our lifetimes, just as doctors now can tell us all day long what we have to do. …

We have to say, we cringe when hearing Illich, of all people, adopting here a fairly lame imitation urban black voice to quote the African-Americans.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Home movies

An extraordinary glimpse into, well, the extraordinary early life of Ivan Illich has turned up at, of all places, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C. There, in the Steven Spielberg Film and Video Archive, one of Illich’s relatives has deposited twenty reels of 16mm home movies shot in the momentous years 1936 to 1943.

Evidently, Ellen “Maexie” Regenstreif, Illich’s mother, was an avid movie-maker. She not only filmed Ivan and his twin brothers at home and on various vacations, she also took the time to edit her films and add titles throughout. She shot in black-and-white and in color (using Agfa and Kodak film); the footage is silent, with no audio. And she bothered to capture some remarkable scenes, perhaps most notably the family (mother and three boys) packing its belongings into a truck and handing over to leather-coated Nazi officials the keys to the expansive Regenstreif villa in Vienna.

We’ve not actually seen any of this footage, we’ve only read about it. The site labels the film reels as “rights restricted.” As we understand it, that means they may be available for viewing, in video format, by appointment but only at the museum itself. It’s not possible, except perhaps with special permission, to order copies.

Still, the Spielberg archive’s web pages provide fairly detailed descriptions of what each reel of film shows -- perhaps provided by Yvonne Illich, the daughter of Illich’s brother Sascha (1928-2009). She is listed as having given the films to the archive.

It’s hardly news that Ivan Illich grew up amongst wealth, tended to by a governess, an art tutor (from Bremen) and chauffeurs. Among other features, Villa Regenstreif had its own bowling alley and a “Chinese garden.” From the pictures we’ve seen, it was a remarkable place. Yet, the descriptions of these home movies hint at a particularly warm, playful, and art-filled family life. Judging by photos we’ve seen elsewhere and by these descriptions recently found on the Web, Illich’s mother must have been very special, a woman deeply engaged with, and much loved by, her three sons.

The archive has organized Maexie’s home movie reels into four groups. They are listed as Tape Numbers 2911, 2912, 2913, and 2914. Each reel is given its own page and description.

Here is the archive's general explanation of the family and films’s history (which we’ve broken into paragraphs for easier reading):

A collection of twenty reels [we count only 18 reels; perhaps a couple have been merged into one - ed.] of 16mm film dating from 1936 to 1943 illustrating the daily life of a prominent Austrian family named Regenstreif and Illich. The films were taken under the name Maexie.

Ellen (Maexie) Regenstreif Illich (1901-1965) came from a family of converted Sephardic Jews who had settled in Germany. Her industrialist father, Fritz (Pucki) Regenstreif (1868-1941), had a lumber business in Bosnia where he owned a sawmill at Zavidovic. He also owned an Art Nouveau villa on the outskirts of Vienna in Pötzleinsdorf built by Friedrich Ohmann.

Piero Ilic (1890-1942) came from a landed family in Dalmatia, Yugoslavia with property in Split and extensive wine and olive oil producing estates on the island of Brac.
Ellen and Piero married in 1925 and established a home in Split. There was a resurgence of anti-foreign and anti-Jewish sentiment in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav government made claims against her father as a landowner in Bosnia at the International Court in the Hague, so in 1932, Ellen returned to her father's villa in Vienna with their three children: Ivan (1926-2002), Michael (Micha) (b. 1928), and Alexander (Sascha) (1928-2009). The boys never saw their father again; Piero died of natural causes in Split in July 1942.

After the death of Ellen's father on May 8, 1941 and the forced sale of his splendid home to the Nazis in 1942, Ellen moved with the children to Florence, Italy by way of Split, where they lived for three months. In Nazi Austria, Ellen was considered an ethnic Jew although she was a baptized Christian, and the children were classified as half-Jewish.
The films were kept in a wooden cabinet in the basement of Sascha's New York home from 1961 to 2006, when they were preserved by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

And here is the archive’s description of the second reel in the collection, shot in 1936; Ivan would have been 10. All of the other reels get described in similar detail and are well worth reading. (We've added the hyperlinks seen here, by the way.):

Introduced with German titles throughout, some are comical. This film is titled "Dreibubenhaus" [The House of the Three Boys] in honor of a then current theatrical presentation in Vienna. CUs [close-ups], the twin boys don hats and joke for the camera. Sequence of the boys waking up, saying prayers, washing faces, getting dressed, and ready for school. The three Illich boys eat breakfast and exit their home (filmed from mother Ellen (Maexie) Regenstreif's room on the top floor of the villa), walking the grand grounds of Villa Regenstreif. The governess "Selli" Frauer escorts the boys onto a tram and kisses them goodbye as they enter school. Pan of the city square with the school on one end, panning up to the grand Baroque Piarist Church of Maria Treu. The boys eat lunch with their grandfather, Fritz Regenstreif, and governess. Views of the ornate home. CUs of the boys eating.

01:05:34 Sascha and Micha play the piano and the violin with teacher and friend Olga Novakovic [a student of Arnold Schoenberg], and then sit at their desks and do their homework. Ivan holds a little bird named Hansi. The twins play with a wooden model house. The three boys say their prayers, kiss each other good night and go to sleep.

01:08:24 Part 2 - on Sunday. Pan of the Vienna skyline from the top of the landmark highrise building at Herrengasse ("Hochhaus Herrengasse", built in 1931-32 by architects Theiss and Jaksch, was Vienna's first highrise). The boys chase a car as it drives by the camera. The family makes a trip to the grave of their grandmother, Johanna Regenstreif (d. 1934), in Potzleinsdorf.

01:09:43 The boys go sledding in winter on the meadow of "Wasserturm". For Three Kings Day, the family dresses in costume and act for the camera. The women -- Maexie, friend Vita Kuenstler [who worked at the Neue Galerie and apparently took over its management when it was Aryanized], and the governess -- playfully hassle one another. One of the twins is costumed as Hans Albers, and another as Michael Moser [probably 'Hans Moser', a prominent film and stage actor of the 1930s whose role as the muckraking civil servant ("Amtsdiener" as the intertitle suggests) were legendary].

01:12:56 Blossoms on the trees in springtime, followed by a sequence in autumn with the family visiting Vienna's most famous overlook at Leopoldsberg (a church and estate at the top of a hill). They continue on to the monastery at Klosterneuburg and pose for a photograph at St. Leopold with their grandfather.

01:15:10 Children gathered around a table with sweet treats for a birthday tea party. Ivan sits next to his friend, Marion Stein (daughter of Erwin Stein, a very important colleague of Mahler, Bartok, Weber).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Barcelona, too

We are pleased to hear from a reader, Silvia Grünig, who writes:

In this moment I'm finishing my Ph.D. thesis Ivan Illich: la ville conviviale at IUP-Institut d´Urbanisme de Paris, with M.Thierry Paquot.

Unhappily there is no Ivan Illich reader's group in Barcelona, but on 2th december a mess will take place at 11.30 at Parroquia Sant Jaume, Hermanitas del cordero, Carrer Ferrán 28, 08002 Barcelona, and a few friends will eat together.

Paquot, a professor of urban studies, authored a tribute to Illich in Le Monde in January, 2003. He also wrote the preface to the Ouvres completes collection of Illich's work. And he is one of the organizers of the 3-day Illich event scheduled to take place next week in Paris. Additional information about that colloquium has been made available here and a program is available here. Ms. Grünig will be one of the speakers, providing an update on her research.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

And another, in Bozen - "For a friendly future!"

Another Illich event - Dec. 17, in Bozen, aka Bolzano, Italy

Bozen, 17. Dezember 2012 um 17.30 Uhr (Altes Rathaus): Für eine freundliche Zukunft! - Eine Überlegung zur Ökologische Wende und deren Wünschbarkeit, nach Rio 2012 und zum Todesjubiläum von Ivan Illich. Franz Tutzer, Franz Egger, Riccardo della Sbarba, Alberto Filippi, Hans Schmieder, tauschen Meinungen und Lösungsvorstellungen mit dem Publikum.

Illich bio available in Italian

Martina Kaller-Dietrich's biography of Ivan Illich has been translated into Italian. What appears to be a review is published here.

Any plans for an English translation?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An event in Bologna

And yet another Illich event, planned for Monday, Dec. 17. Mr. Franz Tutzer -- a longtime Illich scholar and author of this impressive bibliography of Illich's work -- kindly sent us this:

Lettura Dossetti 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yet another celebration, in Bern

We've been informed of another celebration of Ivan Illich, scheduled to take place Dec. 6 in Bern, Switzerland. A flyer for the event reads like so:

Ivan Illich interpretiert das Gleichnis vom Samariter

Donnerstag, 6. Dezember 2012, 20 Uhr, im Berner Münster

Ivan Illich, geboren 1942 in Wien und verstorben vor 10 Jahren, am 2. Dezember 2002, studierte Naturwissenschaften, Philosophie und Theologie. 1961 gründete er in New York das «Center oft intercultural Formation». In der Folge setzte er sich in der Lehre und in seinen Tätigkeiten in Nord- und Zentralamerika und in Europa (auchin seinem Schrifttum) intensiv mit den Grundlagen der abendländischen Kultur und der Rolle des Christentums auseinander. Vieles davon stellte er radikal in Frage. Er empfiehlt, das theologische Wirken und das spirituelle Leben als lebendige Sorge für die Menschen in unserer Zeit zu verstehen.
Zu seinen wichtigsten Schriften gehören: ‚Entschulung der Gesellschaft‘, ‚Die Nemesis der Medizin‘, ‚Genus. Zu einer historischen Kritik der Gleichheit’ und ‚In den Flüssen nördlich der Zukunft. Letzte Gespräche über Religion und Gesellschaft‘.

Das Gleichnis vom barmherzigen Samariter (Lk 10, 25-37) aus dem Lukas Evangelium war der Leitstern im Leben des Historikers und gläubigen Christen Ivan Illich, eine Textstelle, um die sein Denken und Tun kreiste. Dabei interpretierte er die Geschichte, mit welcher Jesus die Frage eines Schriftgelehrten „Wer ist mein Nächster?“ beantwortete, in einer neuen und radikalen Weise. Der Samariter, der den geschlagenen Juden aufhob und seine Wunden verband, handelte nicht nach einer Regel oder einem vorher gesetzten „Soll“, als er sich dem Mann aus einem fremden oder gar feindlichen Stamm zuwandte. Er handelte in freier, frei gewählter Zuwendung. Diese Zuwendung birgt seitdem die Möglichkeit, ein einzigartiges Verhältnis zu einem anderen Menschen herzustellen, ein Verhältnis jenseits aller Normen. Für Ivan Illich stiftete also Jesu Auskunft im Lukas Evangelium eine bis dahin undenkbare, ja anstössige Grundlage, um die höchste Form der Bezüglichkeit zu einem anderen Menschen durch einen freien Akt herzustellen.

Barbara Duden, Professorin für Soziologie an der Universität Hannover und langjährige Le-bensgefährtin von Ivan Illich, stellt die Texte vor und kommentiert sie.

Henriette Cejpek, Schauspielerin am Stadttheater Bern, liest Texte von Ivan Illich.

Sandra Mangini, Sängerin und Schauspielerin, Venedig, singt traditionelle italienischeLieder.

Der Abend ist gleichzeitig Abschluss der fünfjährigen Auslegung des Lukas Evangeliums durch Maja Zimmermann-Güpfert, Münsterpfarrerin.

Jean Robert video

Some video has appeared on YouTube showing Jean Robert discussing his friend and collaborator, Ivan Illich. The animated Robert is seated in a plush arm chair that swivels, talking in Spanish with several other people seated around a coffee table. There are two clips, actually, one 28 seconds long, the other nearly 8 minutes. Both have the title: "Seminario Iván Illich." Here's the longer one:

And the shorter one:

A Recent Paper Available Online

Last month, here, we noted the publication of a paper, "Ivan Illich's Late Critique of Deschooling Society: 'I Was Largely Barking Up the Wrong Tree'," by Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Jon Igelmo Zaldívar. We've just noticed that the full text of this paper, in a journal called Educational Theory, is available on line right here.

[CORRECTION: As of Jan. 1, 2013, the link we provided here no longer works.]

Monday, November 19, 2012

More celebrations, at State College and in Antwerp

Just as we were saying to a friend that it seemed no events were planned in the U.S. to mark the tenth anniversary of Ivan Illich's death, word has arrived that there will, in fact, be a small celebration at Penn State. And we've also been informed of an event planned for Antwerp, Belgium.

The Penn State affair will take place Dec. 3, from 7 to 8:30PM, with a panel of faculty members remembering Illich's life and contributions. All are welcome to attend, light refreshments will be served. The event will be held in 112 Walker Building. More information is available from the estimable Dana L. Stuchul.

The Antwerp event is to take place Dec. 1 at the university there. One of our spies, reporting from Holland, writes:

It's from 10 till 16, and the speakers will explore the legacy of Illich. The flyer says they "wish to explore whether Illich left us a utopia, or a guide we're currently missing in the jungle of alternatives for the crisis" (free translation). There will be three lectures, concluded with a debate between the speakers. Of the speakers, the only one I'm familiar with is Hans Achterhuis, our "denker des vaderlands" (thinker of our country, some sort of title they give to a philosopher each year). Occasionally I stumble across an article or interview with him, in which he quite regularly quotes Illich. In the Netherlands, he is somewhat famous for his book De markt van welzijn en geluk (The market of well-being and happiness, I don't know wether it is translated in other languages) in which he gives a critique on our welfaresystem, based on Illich.

Illich flyerIllich 2

Monday, November 05, 2012

Illich in Russian

We've just stumbled onto a crowd-sourced translation project whose goal is to produce a Russian translation of Ivan Illich's Tools for Conviviality (Инструменты для добрососедства). Only 2% of the book has been translated, so far. All who can help are invited to join in. The same website,, also is hosting a similar English-to-Russian translation of Deschooling Society, or Дешколирование общества.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

David Cayley 's Latest: "The Myth of the Secular"

Canadian Broadcasting has just made David Cayley's latest series of programs, "The Myth of the Secular," available for downloading as MP3 podcasts. There are five parts, each one about 54 minutes long. They are available here, off the Web, or via iTunes. Or, the shows may be listened to on the Web, starting here.

Part 1

Western social theory once insisted that modernization meant secularization and secularization meant the withering away of religion. But religion hasn't withered away, and this has forced a rethinking of the whole idea of the secular. IDEAS producer David Cayley talks to Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, and Rajeev Barghava of India's Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Part 2

The secular is often defined as the absence of religion, but secular society is in many ways a product of religion. In conversation with IDEAS producer David Cayley British sociologist David Martin explores the many ways in which modern secular society continues to draw on the repertoire of themes and images found in the Bible.

Part 3

Early in the post-colonial era, politics in most Muslim countries were framed in secular and nationalist terms. During the last thirty years, the Islamic revival has dramatically changed this picture. Anthropologist Saba Mahmood talks with IDEAS producer David Cayley about her book, The Politics of Piety.

Part 4

The Fundamentals was a series of books, published by the Bible Institute of Los Angeles between 1910 and 1915, which tried to set the basics of Christianity in stone. Fundamentalism now refers to any back-to-basics movement. Malise Ruthven's Fundamentalism asks what all these movements have in common, in this feature interview with David Cayley.

Part 5

"All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts." So wrote German legal theorist Carl Schmitt in a book called Political Theology. American legal theorist Paul Kahn has just published Political Theology: Four New Chapters in which he argues that the foundations of the American state remain theological. He explores this theme with IDEAS producer David Cayley.

Also available from CBC in podcast form is Cayley's five-part program, "The Scapegoat: René Girard's Anthropology of Violence and Religion." It is an excellent introduction to Girard's thinking:

Human beings, according to French thinker René Girard, are fundamentally imitative creatures. We copy each other's desires and are in perpetual conflict with one another over the objects of our desire. In early human communities, this conflict created a permanent threat of violence and forced our ancestors to find a way to unify themselves. They chose a victim, a scapegoat, an evil one against whom the community could unite. Biblical religion, according to Girard, has attempted to overcome this historic plight. From the unjust murder of Abel by his brother Cain to the crucifixion of Christ, the Bible reveals the innocence of the victim. It is on this revelation that modern society unquietly rests. Girard's ideas have influenced social scientists over his long career as a writer and teacher.

Ivan Illich mentions Girard at some length in his notes at the back of Shadow Work, and in the book The Challenges of Ivan Illich, Jean-Pierre Dupuy attempts to find some common ground between the two men, both of whom Dupuy has worked with closely. We'd be curious to know what, if anything, Illich and Girard thought of each other's thinking and analysis of history and Christianity.

One hint: Gene Burkart wrote this in an email last January: "I remember Ivan once saying […], in an off hand remark, that Girard had made the concept of sacrifice hopelessly confusing for people."

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More celebrations of Illich, in Austria and Italy

We've just learned of two more Illich events planned for the coming weeks. In Lucca, Italy, Dec. 1 and 2:



a cura de Il Granchio di Kuchenbuch

And in Eisenstadt, Austria, Nov. 7-9:

Ivan Illich, Gedenktagung

Among those participating will be Barbara Duden, Marianne Gronemeyer, and Martina Kaller, Illich's biographer.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Recalling a visit to CIDOC

Now a design consultant, writer and educator, Rodney Clough visited CIDOC in 1971, to attend a seminar on "interpersonal relational networks," organized by cybernetician Heinz von Foerster. (We wrote about this CIDOC event early last year.) At a website serving as a Festschrift for the Austrian von Foerster, Clough remembers his visit, which had its moments:

I did not know Heinz, nor did I know the other seminar participants, save one, Gordon Pask, a "cybernetician," whom I had heard lecture in New York two months earlier. I can blame June 21 [the day he arrived at CIDOC] on cybernetics, for it was cybernetics that lured me, caught me and beached me on the Mexican plateau.

"You're a day late."

I was listening to my other Cuernavaca host, Ivan Illich, with whom I had corresponded briefly and who suggested I attend this seminar.

"You printed the wrong day in the catalog," I countered, pointing to the catalog, which read, "Interpersonal Relational Networks, June 22." Ivan Illich shrugged me off and launched an "annoying-and-at-the-same-time-charming" non sequitur, "We have something for everybody."

He did. ...

Clough ranks as the first person we've ever seen use the word effulgent.

Traffic report

We were pleased, this morning, to discover from the Blogger dashboard that New Scare City's total page view count has crossed the 15,000 mark. The bulk of our visitors are from the US, followed by Canadians, Britons, and those from Germany, France, and Italy.

Ivan Illich, 10 years later

Ivan Illich died in December, 2002, and now, 10 years on, a number of get-togethers are being planned here and there to celebrate his life and work.

Affiche  Ivan Illich copie

In Paris, Nov. 29 and 30, École Normale Supérieure - Vivre et penser avec Ivan Illich. Dix ans après

Colloque organisé par Martin Fortier, Nicolas Nely et Thierry Paquot dans le cadre du Club de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève

29 novembre
« Une vie en exemple, une pensée en héritage »

30 novembre, 1er décembre
« Devenirs et avenirs de la critique illichienne »

Plus d’informations prochainement

In Mexico, Dec. 13-15 - information here:

2012 ivan 72

And in Croatia, at the University of Rijeke - details are tentative, but probably Dec. 6, according to Iva Rincic (irincic [at] medri [dot] hr), Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences and Medical Humanities.

Finally, as we wrote earlier, there will a symposium in Bremen in early December, and here are the details. (The title translates roughly as "Jester in Absurdistan?")

Einladung1 2 Dezember2012 FIN

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Recent Papers on Illich

We've just learned of some newly-published papers about Ivan Illich. We've not had a chance to read them, but we look forward to doing so. Until then, here's what we know:

In April, 2011, Western New England University's School of Law held an all-day symposium devoted to Ivan Illich. The title: Radical Nemesis: Re-envisioning Ivan Illich's Theories on Social Institutions.

Now, that school's law review has published a set of papers presented at the conference, as follows. All of these are available in PDF format for downloading at no charge:

Jennifer L. Levi

Giovanna Shay

Erin E. Buzuvis

Jared Gibbs

Martha M. Ertman

Bridgette Baldwin

Davarian L. Baldwin

Akilah N. Folami

Bruce K. Miller

Meanwhile, a journal published by Wiley called Educational Theory has published this paper: "Ivan Illich's Late Critique of Deschooling Society: 'I Was Largely Barking Up the Wrong Tree'," by Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Jon Igelmo Zaldívar. The Wiley abstract states:

In this article, Rosa Bruno-Jofré and Jon Igelmo Zaldívar examine Ivan Illich's own critique of Deschooling Society, and his subsequent revised critique of educational institutions and understanding of education, within the context of both his personal intellectual journey and the general epistemological shift that started to take shape in the early 1980s. Bruno-Jofré and Zaldívar consider how, over time, Illich refocused his quest on examining the roots (origin) of modern certitudes (such as those related to education) and explored how human beings are integrated into the systems generated by those “certainties.” Illich engaged himself in historical analysis rather than providing responses to specific contemporary problems, while maintaining an interest in the relation between the present and the past. Under the metaphors of the word, the page, and the screen, he identified three great mutations in Western social imaginaries and the reconstruction of the individual self. Bruno-Jofré and Zaldívar argue that while his written work, including Deschooling Society, generally had an apophatic character, his critique of education, particularly in the late 1980s and 1990s, is intertwined with his analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan and his belief that modernity is an outcome of corrupted Christianity.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Iatrogenesis - "retained surgical items"

New York Times - Sept. 24, 2012 - When Surgeons Leave Objects Behind:

On an overnight shift in 2005, Sophia Savage, a nurse in Kentucky, felt a crushing pain in her abdomen and started vomiting.

The next day she underwent a CT scan, which led to a startling diagnosis: A surgical sponge was lodged in her abdomen, left behind, it turned out, by a surgeon who had performed her hysterectomy four years earlier.

Ms. Savage’s doctor ordered immediate surgery to remove the sponge.

“What they found was horrific,” Ms. Savage said. “It had adhered to the bladder and the stomach area, and to the walls of my abdominal cavity.”

The festering sponge had spread an infection, requiring the removal of a large segment of Ms. Savage’s intestine. She sued the hospital where the hysterectomy had taken place, and in 2009 she won $2.5 million in damages. But the award has been appealed, and her life has been in tatters. Suffering from severe bowel issues and unable to work, Ms. Savage, 59, has been racked by anxiety and depression. Most days, she said, she cannot bring herself to leave home.

“I never dreamed something like this would happen to me,” she said.

Every year, an estimated 4,000 cases of “retained surgical items,” as they are known in the medical world, are reported in the United States. These are items left in the patient’s body after surgery, and the vast majority are gauzelike sponges used to soak up blood. During a long operation, doctors may stuff dozens of them inside a patient to control bleeding.

Though no two cases are the same, the core of the problem, experts say, is that surgical teams rely on an old-fashioned method to avoid leaving sponges in patients. In most operating rooms, a nurse keeps a manual count of the sponges a surgeon uses in a procedure. But in that busy and sometimes chaotic environment, miscounts occur, and every so often a sponge ends up on the wrong side of the stitches. ….

Friday, September 07, 2012

After Atheism, a 5-part radio series by David Cayley

Friend and interviewer of Ivan Illich, David Cayley has produced a series of quite interesting radio programs about religion for the CBC. They don't specifically mention Illich, but anyone who has listened to Cayley's The Corruption of Christianity radio program or read the accompanying book, The Rivers North of the Future, will likely appreciate this new program a good deal. We have, anyway.

The program is called After Atheism, and it consists of five interviews with thinkers, some believers, some not, who have been delving into religion and faith from a modern point of view. For instance, John Caputo is an expert in the philosophy of deconstruction, as put forth by Jacques Derrida, and he finds that method of analyzing texts very helpful in understanding Christianity. Indeed, he came to the surprising conclusion that Derrida himself had been thinking along religious lines right from the beginning, a thought that the radical and presumably atheistic philosopher eventually confirmed quite explicitly.

William Cavanaugh, meanwhile, has looked carefully at how religion and state relate to each other. Put simplistically, he finds that in certain ways, the state itself has created religion as a foil, as something whose clutches it can claim to have saved society from and thereby justify itself.

James Carse wonders what religion is and finds that belief actually has little to do with it. Instead, the great religions look to him like never-ending conversations, endlessly fascinating to those involved -- and to those on the outside, too -- because they attempt to answer questions -- could a guy nailed to a cross, for instance, really be god? -- that seem impossible to answer. The intent is not actually to answer these questions conclusively -- that would end the conversation -- but to make sure that the questions remain in play, so to speak. This leads Carse to some interesting thoughts on death, too -- and much more.

We're unable to do Cayley or his interview subjects justice. Anyone interested, however, can download and listen to his program as a set of five podcasts, available (at no charge) through the iTunes store or here on the CBC Ideas podcast page.

We highly recommend these shows, and especially to anyone who, like us, has sought to grapple with the religious aspects of Illich's thought. Like many people, we suspect, we came to Illich through his early books, about tools and schools, about hospitals and cars. There, Christian thought was quite implicit, lurking very far in the background. Only the occasional hint shined through - an intriguing citation of Thomas Aquinas in the introduction to Tools for Conviviality, for instance. It was clear enough to his readers that Illich was a Christian believer, but he made a point of never relying on biblical references, for instance, to buttress his critiques of major institutions. He knew better, he would later admit, than to lose his audience that way. Towards the end of his life, though, and largely in the interviews he gave to a well-informed and deeply appreciative David Cayley, he made his religious beliefs more explicit. And looking back, it's quite clear that those beliefs were always there, informing his thought, shaping his understanding much as we, for one, suspected all along but never were quite able to pin down.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Mother Jerome

A Web page devoted to Mother Jerome, Ivan Illich's friend and collaborator, can be viewed here. She was born Melanie “Muska” von Nagel in 1908, in Germany. She entered the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis, in Hartford, Connecticut in 1958, and died there in 2006. According to this biographical page, which is part of the Abbey's own website, she had quite a life. And the Abbey itself looks to be a lively place.


Illich wrote his paper, "The Scopic Past and the Ethics of the Gaze" (available at the Pudel site in Bremen), he states, "after discussions with Barbara Duden, Mother Jerome, O.S.B., and Lee Hoinacki." Matthias Rieger, a collaborator and friend in Bremen, talks at some length about Mother Jerome in his paper, "The disembodiment of the utterance" (also available from the Pudel site). We've always assumed that Illich's 1989 paper, "Posthumous Longevity, An open letter to a cloistered community of Benedictine nuns" (also at Pudel), was addressed to Mother Jerome. "Dear Mother Prioress," it opens. But we may be wrong about that. (Can anyone help?)

Under the name Muska Nagel, she translated the works of Paul Celan, who was possibly Illich's favorite poet.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Medical Nemesis redux

We just saw this in The New York Times, August 27, in a blog called The Well Column, and it made us think of Medical Nemesis:

Overtreatment Is Taking a Harmful Toll

When it comes to medical care, many patients and doctors believe more is better.

But an epidemic of overtreatment — too many scans, too many blood tests, too many procedures — is costing the nation’s health care system at least $210 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and taking a human toll in pain, emotional suffering, severe complications and even death.

“What people are not realizing is that sometimes the test poses harm,” said Shannon Brownlee, acting director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation and the author of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer,” a 2007 book.

“Sometimes the test leads you down a path, a therapeutic cascade, where you start to tumble downstream to more and more testing, and more and more invasive testing, and possibly even treatment for things that should be left well enough alone.”

Have you experienced too much medicine? As part of The New York Times’s online series The Agenda, I asked readers to share their stories. More than 1,000 responded, with examples big and small.

The article continues to examine many instances of overtreatment. More than 140 readers posted comments. Of course, Illich's concern was not so much over-expenditure on medical care but the harm and extra suffering that the medical system causes those in its care.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Eugene J. Burkart, R.I.P.

We're deeply saddened to learn that Gene Burkart, a devoted and articulate reader of Ivan Illich, died this past Saturday. Gene visited CIDOC in the early 1970s and years later got in touch with Illich and his circle at Penn State. He worked as a lawyer in Waltham, Mass., mainly representing immigrants and other have-nots, as he put it. He was hoping, we understand, to see a gathering of the Illich crowd at Penn State this year, the tenth anniversary of Illich's death.

Gene contributed a piece to The Challenges of Ivan Illich with the title, "From the Economy to Friendship: My Years Studying with Ivan Illich." We recommend it as one of the better responses to Illich that one can find, dealing with the essential question: What should I, what can I, do with the knowledge and awareness of the world that I have obtained through Illich's work?

His essay is available for reading here, at the website Scribd. It opens with a quite remarkable anecdote about Gene's first encounter with Illich at CIDOC in 1973. He had gone to CIDOC quite enthusiastically but soon found Illich to be arrogant and hypocritical, a "phony … enmeshed in his own cleverness." But then, while giving a talk to an audience seated on a porch at CIDOC, Illich turned to look at Gene, who was far off to the side: " … he did not know me. I wondered, Had he sensed my anger? He continued speaking, all the while looking intensely at me, as if he really wanted me to understand what he was saying. I returned his gaze and although I did not understand a word he said, I felt the confusion of my thoughts and feelings inexplicably lifted from me. In those few moments I had the experience of intimately seeing this person, Ivan Illich, for the first time; I then knew he was someone I could trust. But I would not have a direct conversation with him for many years to come."

"I found myself in a quandary," he writes further on in the essay. "If all economic activity has a corrosive effect on society, how is one to act ethically? Modern life is tightly bound up by market relations. Illich contrasted the economic with premodern ways of living he called subsistence or the vernacular. He proposed a 'modern subsistence as an alternative to economics as a way to break the cash nexus.' But, I wondered, where were the examples? I knew that many of those who had attempted to live outside the economy in the back-to-the-land movement failed. I admired the success of the Amish but felt no calling to their way; further, I had friends and family I did not want to leave. Also, being married, I could not just force my ideas on my wife. What could I do? Was there no way out?"

"I eventually concluded," Gene writes, "that the best way to understand Illich's work is as a detailed study of the myriad and varied barriers to friendship that exist in modern life."

"Friendship does not lend itself to an accounting, to economics," Gene finishes his essay. "The only way I can hope to show my gratitude [to Illich] is to strive to be for others the kind of friend Ivan Illich has been to me."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Illich on Television

Here is a pair of photos made of Ivan Illich on television. He was appearing with John Holt. The photos appear on a site devoted to Holt's work. (Specifically, here.) We're not sure what year this was, but our best guess is the early to mid 1970s, when both men were in the news for their criticisms of the educational system.



One thing 'Deschooling' missed ...

… is the increasing use of schools as marketing channels for corporations trying to reach new generations of potential customer.

OK, this kind of thing was not going on when Illich wrote his book, so he can't be faulted for "missing" it. But look at what's happening as schooling "goes digital" and turns into a battleground fought over by traditional textbook publishers and now, reports the New York Times, media companies, too:

… And then there is the Walt Disney Company. It is building a chain of language schools in China big enough to enroll more than 150,000 children annually. The schools, which weave Disney characters into the curriculum, are not going to move the profit needle at a company with $41 billion in annual revenue. But they could play a vital role in creating a consumer base as Disney builds a $4.4 billion theme park and resort in Shanghai.

This is from a news story titled, "Media Companies, Seeing Profit Slip, Push Into Education." The story states: "Conventional textbooks for kindergarten through 12th grade are a $3 billion business in the United States, according to the Association of American Publishers, with an additional $4 billion spent on teacher guides, testing resources and reference materials. And almost all that printed material, educators say, will eventually be replaced by digital versions." The fight to capture the spoils is underway.

Using teaching materials as a way to market brands and branded products to young children is nothing new, of course. A few years ago, a textbook was published that taught children to count and do simply arithmetic in terms of Cheerios, a donut-shaped breakfast cereal. Apple and Microsoft have long been slugging it out in the market for school computers, too. Many brochures and textbooks supplied by corporations are used by cash-strapped high schools to teach other subjects, such as personal health. Marketing wisdom has it, of course, that if a brand manages to make a strong impression on people when they are young, they will quite likely to remain loyal to the brand as they grow older. Hence the billions spent on marketing to pre-teens and teens, albeit mostly outside of school.

If nothing else, using branded textbooks and developing branded schools fits into Illich's general observation that school is where children learn to be consumers. And the use of such teaching materials seems inevitable as the pressure for educational reform mounts, school budgets shrink, and society doubles down on education as a way to help "make America more competitive in the global economy." There is a kind of desperation in the air and corporations are more than glad to step in and help out, and to use the situation to their own ends, as well. It helps, too, that there is a growing call to privatize more of public schooling as a way to slash costs and make it more effective.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Illich's Journey to America, 1951

We've just found a passenger list for the steamship that brought Ivan Illich to America in 1951. On Oct. 27, in Bremerhaven, Germany, the newly-ordained priest got on board a former troop ship named USNS General Harry Taylor. It arrived in New York harbor on Nov. 6, evidently carrying many refugees and displaced persons.

Here is a portion of the passenger list showing a "John Illich" from Austria:

Illich Passenger List  1951

(We have to wonder if Illich stopped in Bremen on his way to Bremerhaven. Bremen, a few miles inland from the harbor, up the River Weser, was the home of his childhood drawing teacher. In the speech he gave in 1998 upon receiving the Culture and Peace Prize of Bremen, Illich remembered her:

I first heard of Bremen when I was six, in the stories told me by my drawing teacher, who came from one of your patrician families, and in Vienna was homesick for the North. I adopted the tiny, black-dressed lady as Mamma Pfeiffer-Kulenkampf. One summer, she came along with us to Dalmatia, to paint. Her watercolors still grace my brother's study. From her I learned how to mix different pigments for the contrasting atmospheres of a Mediterranean and an Atlantic shore.

Later in life, of course, Illich taught and lived in Bremen for much of the year, and he died there in December, 2002.)

Illich has listed his destination as 452 Madison Ave. in New York. This is the Cardinal's Residence, situated directly behind St. Patrick's Cathedral. We'd be surprised if Illich actually stayed there; it is a small building and he was a fairly junior person in the church hierarchy. In fact, he told interviewers such as David Cayley that upon arriving in New York, he stayed with friends of his family on the Upper East Side (or such is our memory.) And it was in speaking with a maid there, an African-American woman, that he learned of the Puerto Rican barrio in East Harlem. After visiting that place, he said, he decided not to proceed to Princeton University, where he had planned to study the history of medieval alchemy, but to work instead as a parish priest in Washington Heights, on the far upper west side of Manhattan.

USNS General Harry Taylor was built in 1943 for use as a transport ship. She served in the Pacific and then, after the war, helped to bring soldiers back from Europe. Here is a watercolor painting of the ship:


And below is the ship birthed in Staten Island, NY. It later was equipped with specialized radar instruments to help with the testing of ballistic missiles. In 2009, the ship was sunk in Key West Harbor to serve as the second-largest artificial reef in the world.


Monday, July 09, 2012

'Deschooling Society' available as an audiobook

Ivan Illich's book Deschooling Society has been turned into an audiobook by a pair of amateur readers. Their readings of the book's seven chapters are available here for downloading in MP3 audio format at no charge. (Combined, the files add up to 128MB.)

The readers are Robin Upton and Tereza Coraggio, associated with an online "talk radio" show called Unwelcome Guests. It's of a radical, subversive bent. Evidently, Illich has been the subject of several of its weekly programs. For example, a show broadcast in October, 2010, is titled "Ivan Illich and The Collapse of Power." It includes a recording of a talk about Illich given in England in 2009 by a Robert Hutchison, which we noted earlier, here. This show, too, is available for downloading.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Illich at the Newman Center, and 'Deschooling' Misunderstood

In 1973, with his book Tools for Conviviality about to be published, Ivan Illich spoke to an audience at Newman Hall Holy Spirit Parish, which is the Catholic community at the University of California's Berkeley campus. For all we know, this was the first time Illich publicly sketched out his notion of conviviality and its contrast with growth-oriented, consumer-focused industrial society. As part of this effort, he offered some compelling thoughts about education and deschooling, thoughts that shine revealing light on what we've long taken to be a widespread misunderstanding of his argument in Deschooling.

A recording of this talk was broadcast on KPFA, San Francisco's Pacifica station (listener-sponsored and renowned for its radical politics), and a recording of that broadcast recently came into our possession. Here is our transcription of the last few minutes of the broadcast, with Illich wrapping up his answer to a question from the audience:

… Let's recognize what schools really do. Now, all over the world, schools school. I never forget when I first realized what this means, with a group of Black Power leaders in Chicago three years ago, and suddenly somebody said to me, 'You know, yeah, you're right, schools are made to school you.' And I understood that schools are made to school you, and everybody laughed when in the afternoon they showed up with buttons saying 'School you.'

You cannot go to school for a year without learning at least one thing: that the society as it is considers that it would be better that you had gone on for the second or the third year. Therefore, the people who drop out -- the concept of drop out is also a beautiful one -- who drop out of the school system are already deeply schooled. They're schooled today into inferiority. You cannot have a pyramidal class education system no matter who gets up there - if he gets up there because his parents are rich, or he is particularly gifted, or because he's particularly in favor with the ideology which prevails - without teaching many more people that they are inferior.

So, one question is, How can we accept joyfully, even though somewhat with fright, the breakdown of the legitimacy of this particular ritual on which our society, growth society, has been relying on for a few generations?

The second question, which goes much deeper, is, Is education a legitimate enterprise, public education? Is it necessary that we live in a society in which you cannot become a citizen until you first have consumed a non-tangible product of an institution where other people have cooked up for you a program by which you will be educated?

This question is deeply connected with the origins of the concept of education. Until the Reformation, people were born in sin until baptized. They were born lacking something - they couldn't become citizens unless they had gone through a ritual which provided them that something.

Now, I'm personally, hopefully, a very traditional Catholic and I have no difficulty whatsoever with the concept of original sin, and grace, and baptism, and sacraments, and what have you. But the form which this took in the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th century was, you couldn't be a member of society, of civil society - in Spain, for instance - unless you were baptized.

This goes very much further. The treatment mentality then developed, the idea that there were institutions that would treat people into being as they have to be in order to fit into the society which we construct for them.

I thought … John McKnight showed me the transcript of a speech which a … pediatrician gave at a big meeting of the medical association in Chicago, in which he called on his colleagues to remember that children are born patients until certified healthy by the doctor.

Now, it is not only through school that people's inborn deficiencies as citizens can be remedied. We could invent, during the next 10 years, other methods of channeling an intangible commodity called education in varying degrees to different people according to their needs.

I ask, at this moment, with this paper, … I'm trying to ask a more radical question: Ought we not to call a desirable society one so designed - so transparent, so simple - that most people, most of the time, have access to most of the facts and policies and tools which shape their lives? If universal education means anything, it means that most people most of the time know what's going on around them. … It's pretty logical.

And we have used school, or education, as the means which makes it possible for society to develop tools and institutions to which most people have no access by saying they have all universal education and they know how to read and write, and then, they find it difficult even to teach them that.

As we see it, that second to last paragraph expresses an important refinement of Illich's deschooling argument that unfortunately is widely overlooked or ignored. Here, in fact, is the bridge between Deschooling and Tools for Conviviality, a key thought for understanding both books. Consider:

Deschooling is not a particularly easy book to read. It is dense and its rhetorical style takes some getting used to. And this, we believe, is one reason many readers come away from the book with the incorrect idea that Illich was just another school reformer, albeit more radical than most. Just make schools more "humane" or more "free," these readers understand him to be saying, or just find the right set of educational technologies, and all will be well. Schooling can be made more efficient in its ability to reach and "educate" more people more effectively. All that's needed is more research and perhaps some rethinking of grades, homework, or teacher training. This interpretation also informs many efforts and much thinking in the homeschooling and unschooling movements, many of whose parent-practitioners make no bones about their aim to outperform the "failing" public schools and supercharge their children's education, often with an eye on helping those children get into better universities and thereby earn more money as adults.

The most explicit and most egregious expressions of this shallow reading and the wishful thinking it encourages can be seen on the many websites that trumpet Illich's idea of "learning webs" as an endorsement of - and justification for - Web-based schools and computer-based instruction. Using technology to re-energize schooling as we know it is widely discussed, of course, among reformers such as Bill Gates and among a growing raft of technology entrepreneurs who are enjoying serious attention from Silicon Valley venture capitalists and other investors. Educational publishers have their own plans for harnessing computers for schooling, too. The push to privatize public schools is based largely on the idea that teaching can be done more effectively, and more profitably, were more classroom time turned over to computers.

But Illich never sought merely to reform public schooling. He argued for nothing less than its inversion - and an inversion of society as a whole, no less. A truly convivial society would be one in which there'd be no need for the traditional schooling and educational system that he dissects so skillfully in Deschooling. And by the same token, the deschooling measures that he describes, such as the fostering of "learning webs," could not take hold in the kind of industrial society we live in today, rooted deeply in what Illich called "knowledge capitalism."

Another way to put it is that the schooling system as we know it today leads to the destructive, anti-convivial society we're stuck with. And likewise, industrial society must have, and will always fight to maintain, the schooling system and essential arrangement (based on the assumption that knowledge is scarce and best provided by specially trained teachers) that it currently has. One begets the other, each needs and reinforces the other.

Convivial society, as we understand it, would, through political discussion and action, set limits on tools such that the kind of intensive training and constant re-training that we now take for granted would not be necessary. A convivial society, as Illich put it in his talk at the Newman Center, would be one in which "most people, most of the time, [would have] have access to most of the facts and policies and tools which shape their lives." Tools would be simple enough that the knowledge needed to use them and repair them would be widely available, not confined to scarce and costly schools and training classes. As it is, most producers of tools today depend on selling training courses for a major portion of their profits. Know-how is purposely kept scarce, both by limiting it through systems of certification and by continuously changing -- aka "enhancing" -- products in ways that require users of those tools to pay for periodic retraining.

The bicycle is perhaps the ideal example of a convivial tool. No individual's use of a bike infringes on anyone else's use of a bike; it's difficult to clog the roads with enough bicycles to cause a "traffic jam" of the crippling kind that often arises when too many cars show up in the same place. The bike, moreover, is a machine whose workings most people are able to understand simply by looking at it, and it's one that most people also can fix by themselves. And if they can't or don't want to bother fixing their bike, many others can do it for them precisely because knowledge about the machine and its workings is widespread; it's not scarce, in other words, as is the know-how needed to work on many modern car engines, for instance. (Indeed, many car makers, today, design their engines and other components such that only those with special training and with access to specialized wrenches and other tools can repair those engines. Scarcity is artificially imposed for the sake of extra profit.)

Unfortunately, most of those who proclaim their enthusiasm for Deschooling Society seem not to have even heard of Tools for Conviviality, much less read the book and understood how its argument relates to and extends that of the earlier book. One result is an endless stream of rhetoric about moving schools online and even the occasional dropping of Illich's name as justification for some techno-education project or another. Which is, in our book, a shame.

Illich criticized the school system as essentially an attempt to "funnel" students through a rigorous, near-industrial process of education. Year after year, school subjects them to pre-fabricated lessons taught by professionally trained and quite anonymous teachers. There's no room or regard for any student's particular interest or curiosity at any given moment, students are forced to consume what's served to them when it's served. Illich also criticized the notion, made explicit in certain engravings from the past, that education can be understood as a matter of pouring knowledge through a funnel lodged in the student's cranium.

The third paragraph of his book's introduction reads:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. 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. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.[emphasis in original]

The sixth chapter of the book is titled "Learning Webs," and it puts forth an alternative to the idea of school as "a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags." That alternative Illich describes using the terms "network" and "opportunity web." But he is careful to qualify his choice of words.

The essential idea underlying this chapter, as we understand it, is that people (and therefore society as a whole) would be better off if they were able to learn from each other as peers, or friends, free to engage with each other as and when they chose, not as student and teacher compelled by law or custom to sit together in a certain room at a certain hour each day. And to help out, Illich says, a simple matching service could be set up to help those who'd like to learn or teach certain skills or who would enjoy discussing a particular topic or book, for instance, to find each other. Illich briefly mentions the idea of using a computer to run such a "peer-matching" service, but he comes nowhere near suggesting that the computer itself be used as an educational tool or teaching medium.

In fact, the learning webs that Illich proposed could be - and indeed, have been - implemented using only a telephone or bulletin board and a box of 3x5 file cards.

Illich actually expresses a certain reluctance in using the term network:

I will use the words "opportunity web" for "network" to designate specific ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources ["things, models, peers, and elders"]. "Network" is often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to material selected by others for indoctrination, instruction, and entertainment. But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to one another. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such arrangement includes legal, organizational, and technical aspects. Not having found such a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available, using it as a synonym of "educational web."

Naturally, today's technology enthusiasts have latched on to this last phrase, some of them even crediting Illich explicitly for supposedly envisioning, if not "inventing," the World Wide Web as we know it, in principle, at least. Illich reportedly scoffed at this.

For the record, Illich describes four kinds of "learning web." In his words:

1. Reference Services to Educational Objects -- which facilitate access to things or processes used for formal learning. Some of these things can be reserved for this purpose, stored in libraries, rental agencies, laboratories, and showrooms like museums and theaters; others can be in daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to students as apprentices or on off hours.

2. Skill Exchanges -- which permit persons to list their skills, the conditions under which they are willing to serve as models for others who want to learn these skills, and the addresses at which they can be reached.

3. Peer-Matching -- a communications network which permits persons to describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope of finding a partner for the inquiry.

4. Reference Services to Educators-at-Large -- who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self-descriptions of professionals, paraprofessionals, and free-lancers, along with conditions of access to their services. Such educators, as we will see, could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients.

Compared to what it is today, the computer was a crude device when Illich was writing about education. Illich suggested it be used only as a sophisticated file-card matching system, we are quite sure, not as a machine facilitating "live" communications or "long-distance learning," as so many educational-Web enthusiasts yearn to implement.

In fact, the main technology Illich suggests using is the tape recorder - low-cost, easy to use, and able to convey lessons of all kinds:

What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.

To give an example: The same level of technology is used in TV and in tape recorders. All Latin-American countries now have introduced TV: in Bolivia the government has financed a TV station, which was built six years ago, and there are no more than seven thousand TV sets for four million citizens. The money now tied up in TV installations throughout Latin America could have provided every fifth adult with a tape recorder. In addition, the money would have sufficed to provide an almost unlimited library of prerecorded tapes, with outlets even in remote villages, as well as an ample supply of empty tapes.

This network of tape recorders, of course, would be radically different from the present network of TV. It would provide opportunity for free expression: literate and illiterate alike could record, preserve, disseminate, and repeat their opinions. The present investment in TV, instead, provides bureaucrats, whether politicians or educators, with the power to sprinkle the continent with institutionally produced programs which they-or their sponsors--decide are good for or in demand by the people.

Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or bureaucracy and teaching.

Clearly, today's Web is a technology that's doing both, helping individuals to share knowledge with each other, often for the love of it, and serving as a platform for the delivery of all kinds of commercially-packaged lessons and "educational resources" including even live, one-on-one tutoring for hard-pressed schoolchildren. Look on YouTube, for instance, and you can learn from others about everything from how to play guitar to fixing your own computer to playing soccer. At the same time, however, established educational institutions are scrambling to harness the Web as a low-cost means of conducting classes for credit. Illich, we suspect, would applaud the former while seeing the latter as a prime example of what he warned his Newman Center audience about 30 years ago, namely newly-invented "methods of channeling an intangible commodity called education in varying degrees to different people according to their needs" as a way to "remedy people's inborn deficiencies as citizens."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'After Deschooling, What?'

In 1971, Illich published Deschooling Society, and the book made him hugely popular as a public intellectual. Later that year, Illich published an essay in a journal called Social Policy that furthered his argument; it was titled "After Deschooling, What?". In subsequent years, that same journal published numerous responses to Illich and his critique of the educational system. They had titles like "After Illich, What?," and "Taking Illich Seriously."

In 1973, Social Policy published a paperback book, called After Deschooling, What? that included these various essays plus two others that had appeared elsewhere. An electronic scan of the book has been posted to the website called Scribd, right here. The book, we've just discovered, is available for browsing online or, for a fee, it may be downloaded. It's worth a look by anyone interested in the deschooling discussion or Illich in general.

One of the most widely noted essays in the book is the one by Herbert Gintis, a Marxist mathematician, economist, and social scientist. Its title: "Toward a Political Economy of Education: A Radical Critique of Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society." Years later, David Cayley interviewed Illich about Deschooling and its reception and Illich made some comments about this paper, as quoted here as well as in the book Ivan Illich in Conversation:

CAYLEY: You remark in Limits to Medicine that, if your critique of medicine is taken as an attack on doctors, the result will be analogous to what has already happened in the matter of schooling. Were you saying that because your attack was understood to be on schools, this actually helped the school to reconsolidate itself as a sort of universal schoolroom?

ILLICH: Correct.

CAYLEY: And this is what you feel you didn't see at the time you published Deschooling Society.

ILLICH: I did not see it when I wrote the article called "The Futility of Schooling in Latin America," which the Saturday Review published. Three years later, six articles of mine were put together in that book, Deschooling Society. The book was nine months at Harper's, because it takes nine months for a good book to go through its gestation period. During the last month, the prepublication month, I suddenly realized the unwanted side-effects the publication of my book could have. So I went to the editor of Saturday Review, Norman Cousins, a friend of my neighbor and friend Erich Fromm, and said, "Norman, would you kindly allow me to publish an article during the next month?"

"Yes," he answered, "but only if you write it in such a way that we can make it the lead article." So I wrote an article in which I basically said that nothing would be worse than to believe that I consider schools the only technique for creating and establishing and anchoring in souls the myth of education. There are many other ways by which we can make the world into a universal classroom. And Cousins was so kind as to allow me to publish what I consider the main criticism of my book.

CAYLEY: There have been many criticisms of Deschooling. I remember one by Herb Gintis, in the Harvard Educational Review, which I think typified a Marxist critique of your work. Gintis says that you have made schooling a matter of an initiation into the myth of unending consumption, but you have overlooked the way it is a mirror of the productive system. You have made people responsible for their own deschooling when in fact they are behaving rationally and appropriately within the system as a whole, and therefore you're giving them a counsel of despair. Because, he says, unless they can transform the system it's impossible for them to deschool, since the school is intrinsic to the system. That's a very rough paraphrase.

ILLICH: To Mr. Gintis I would have said, "You are worried because the poorer part of Americans - at that time, the blacks and Puerto Ricans in the ghettos - don't get enough schooling to know what's good for them and so remain independent. Poor people drop out of school before they can fall into your hands and be told that you know what's good for them." But I had literally hundreds of critics. John Ohliger collected three volumes of citations of these criticisms and discussions. And in all that stuff there was no attention to the only two chapters I wanted to have discussed, "The Ritualization of Progress" and "The Rebirth of Epimethean Man."

We're not sure if that accurately describes Gintis' argument or not. We'll make an effort to read the paper again; it has been a long time since we opened this book. Gintis is still around, writing books, papers, and a long-running series of erudite book reviews (and the occasional product review) appearing on

Monday, June 18, 2012

Schooling moves out of the classroom

If anyone has any doubts that Illich was correct in arguing that as schooling came in for criticism and questioning, the educational system would find new venues and channels for delivering its services, consider these remarks, made by some educational entrepreneurs speaking in New York recently. A website called GigaOm reports:

At the Founders conference in New York on Friday, author David Kirkpatrick asked the founders of startups Knewton, Codecademy, Skillshare, Kno and DimensionU, “Is anyone on this panel even close to making money?”

When no one piped up, he added, “I didn’t think so.”

However, given Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s projections that half of North American higher education will move online in the next ten years, followed by a significant portion of k-12 education a few years later, Knewton CEO Jose Ferreira said the margin creation opportunity is going to be “ridiculous.” As colleges and school districts increasingly adopt digital resources and course materials companies like Knewton, Kno and others have an opportunity to help provide the content.

The group also talked about the changing role of the traditional classroom teacher as students increasingly learn from virtual teachers, non-institutional teachers, games, software and potentially robots.

“[Technology] enfranchises everyone to become an educator,” said Codecademy co-founder Zach Sims. “[That] creates an interesting predicament for [traditional] teachers.” Since opening its platform all kinds of content creators in January, Codecademy has seen significant interest from people interested in teaching, he said.

Friday, June 15, 2012

My Dinner with Ivan

We're happy to present this memory of having Illich over for dinner as written up by one of our readers, Anne Marie Quin. (The title is ours, not hers.) Ms. Quin is currently looking into possible collaborations between Illich and Leopold Kohr.

On July 23 and 24 of 1984, Ivan Illich, at the invitation of Arthur Johnson, PhD, President of the University of Maine, spoke at the Augusta and Orono campuses of the university. One of the major focuses of his discussions was water and its multidimensional nature as spiritual force, domestic necessity, and cleansing agent.

Following the presentation in Orono, Ivan and ten of his friends joined Robert and Anne Marie Quin and ten of their friends at the Vickers-Quin home at 72 West Broadway in Bangor. It was a joyous occasion with surf and turf (Maine lobsters and roast beef) as the entrées de jour. Conversation was high-spirited and congenial as two groups of newly-acquainted people shared their experiences and thoughtful insights in the light of Ivan's writings.

Ivan’s mastery of many languages is well known. It is also true that he was able to communicate on many levels within a language, on this particular evening, English. Some guests held doctorates in, e.g., Engineering, Philosophy, Theology and Education; some were farmers, teachers, gardeners and entrepreneurs. One was Father D. Joseph Manship of Bangor, who was about to undertake a four-year program at the Jungian Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. Ivan was able to converse easily with every person at the table and to create an atmosphere of conviviality and friendliness throughout the three-hour meal.

What sheer delight to have hosted such an extraordinary person, one who had been influencing my thoughts, graduate studies and teaching for the previous eleven years, and who would, through his writings, continue to have great impact on my work during the following decades, including now.

The following day, Ivan traveled to Chicago where he addressed pre-medical students and medical school faculty at several Chicago universities; one of these students was our son, Christopher, who was then a pre-med student, majoring in Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. Chris called that night to discuss with me the abstract nature of the human body, which Ivan had introduced during the Chicago seminars.

Oh, happy memory!!

Last year, we wrote briefly about Illich's visit to Maine.

Anyone with a memory of Ivan Illich, or of encountering or engaging with his work, is hereby invited to post a comment on this site, or even to write it up more formally for publication here. We've always thought that an oral history of Illich, who was, after all, such a remarkable person, would be an excellent idea, though we also tend to think he would have preferred to be remembered not for his personality and certainly not for his celebrity but for his work. The time is now, of course, to collect memories and observations, while the people who knew Illich best are still with us. What do you think?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

"You have loaned us to each other"

Starting in 1966, Ivan Illich found himself in escalating conflict with the Vatican. At the time, Illich held the title of Monsignor and he was deeply involved with his CIDOC "thinkery" in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The Church saw CIDOC as highly subversive, mainly because of its sharp criticism of the international development project and the flood of missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers heading from the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere into Latin America.

A detailed account of this conflict has been published by scholars Jon Igelmo Zaldívar and Patricia Quiroga Uceda in the International Journal of Illich Studies. They describe how Illich's publication of two controversial articles, "The Seamy Side of Charity" and "The Vanishing Clergyman" (both appearing later in Illich's Celebration of Awareness), triggered events that eventually led to Illich getting called into a sort of star chamber hearing in a basement room at the Vatican. He kept quiet about this until 1969, when he told newspapers that he essentially had dropped his formal association with the Church.

In 1971, Illich gave a speech to an audience at Rosary College, located in River Forest, Ill. (It has since become known as Dominican University.) His host was a Joel Wells, editor of The Critic - "a Catholic magazine that provided a literary and intellectual bridge between the church's past and its life after the Vatican II reforms of the early 1960s," according to his obituary published in 2001.)

"I am very happy," one hears Illich smiling on a recording of the speech, "to open my mouth again, more or less addressing myself to the problems that face the Church that I love, after four years of silence imposed on me, which I accepted, because of an article I wrote in The Critic." (This was "The Vanishing Clergyman," later to appear in Illich's book, Celebration of Awareness.) He goes on to describe some problems that he believes Christians face in any attempt to "hand on the faith" to a new generation.

A friend recently provided us with a copy of this recording, made from a cassette and titled "The Evolving Church," and we thought we'd transcribe and publish its last few minutes. (We'll try to transcribe more of the talk in coming weeks.) Here, Illich elaborates on his thoughts about de-schooling (his book was a sly criticism of the Church, he admits) and offers a rare glimpse into his own faith. Particularly interesting to anyone familiar with his later work is this discussion's touching on one of the main themes running through what was essentially his last book, The Rivers North of the Future. This is the idea that the Incarnation gets prolonged, if only for a moment, when people come together, or turn to each other, completely freely, with no prompting, guidance, or schooling from an institution, system, or ethical (or ethnic) rules. Illich contrasts this with a Church that he sees as managing itself as yet another industrial producer of services - an insurance company, as he puts it elsewhere, that relieves its customers of the need to live and act as true Christians.

Illich ends his talk with a quite beautiful Aztec poem, one that we've found on several websites concerned with comforting those who are dying and the like:

… therefore, we can see that during the last few decades ... people came to view the Church as one more service institution. This happened in an industrial society in which all goods can be mass-produced according to international standards and services also began to be produced by professionals in professional, standardized institutions providing health, social welfare, education. And the Church provided religious services.

It is important that we understand that the people who today are most concerned with how to hand on the faith are usually concerned on how to make the Church produce those intangible commodities, those institutional outputs which we can now plan by rewriting the catechism or doing anything like that you want, to make sure that even tomorrow its output still will be Catholic -- or faith or teachings.

In this, the Church is caught in the same bind in which the educational system was caught. In fact, just here, talking among friends, mostly fellow Catholics, my only reason, personally, intimately, for moving into an analysis of the the school was in order to provide an analysis for what happened really to the Church. Speaking about the peculiar form the Church, in its most degraded form had taken in our generation as worldwide Catholic obligatory school system.

There is no possibility of handing on a faith through an institution which is designed on an industrial, managerial mode of production. Just as in the field of education we have to ask ourselves how can we provide people who want to learn with the books, or the encounters, or the opportunities they need in order to learn while living a meaningful life, rather than doing what we now do -- provide packaged teachings, education, which is a form of secularized grace for people -- [audience laughs] I can come back to this later on -- so we must ask ourselves how can we provide the things, the events, the persons, to which somebody called by the Lord needs access if he wants to approach Him, leaving it up to the Lord to show those who come after us how this happened in our generation, abdicating, therefore, in this instance, again, both the social science and the Marxist ideals of writing now the history of the future.

The fifth difficulty, therefore, which I find in transmitting the faith, in handing on the faith today, is the industrial mode and structure, the funnel-like mode, structure, and form which the Church has assumed in order to provide the faith which is precisely the contrary to an atmosphere of freedom in which people who want to approach the Lord know that they can go to celebrate in a very traditional and therefore thoroughly trivial form in an ever-new way the encounter with the other in the Lord. Therefore, the parish must become -- the parish, or whatever takes its place, the diocese -- the place, the moment, the space which we by common agreement reserve in this passing world for the commemoration of the Lord by seating [?] as much as we can how traditionally this commemoration was performed.

Let me end here with the prayer I said this morning, in lieu of breviary if you want, because some of you don’t accept the saying of breviary in other forms, but the bishop of Cuernavaca said to us many years ago, well, you can also recite some good poetry. So I recited this morning a poem, again and again, which comes from Stone Age. In Mexico, you realize that the neolithic age lasted until Cortez came, and one great Franciscan, Friar Bernardino de Sahagún -- he should be named the grandfather patron of anthropology because he went around and sometimes copied in Nahuatl language, the language of the Indians, the same poem or the same saying or the same story as it came out of five or ten mouths and then compared them with each other, and he noted down this poem.

Before I translate it for you, I must say this comes from a language, Nahuatl, an Aztec language in which one-third of all roots, of all words, refer to flowers. And it is directed at a god who is the god in whom all have [?] consciousness -- that’s what his name means. But it also means in whose juice all of us grow. You can translate it the way you want. It is directed at him and it says:

Oh, only for so short awhile
You have loaned us to each other
Because we take form in your act of drawing us,
And we take life in your painting us,
And we breath in your singing us.
But only for a short while
You have loaned us to each other
Because even a drawing cut into crystalline obsidian fades
And even the green feathers ["the crown feathers," as Illich explains] of the quetzal bird lose their color
And even the songs of the waterfall die out in the dry season
So we, too,
Because only for a short while you have loaned us to each other.

I wish we could go now to discuss the five different problems which I have tried to present to you for which at this moment it has become so difficult to share the faith now, and such a big problem to hand it on to the future as if we were responsible for it.

Thank you.

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Santa Rosa, California, United States
Writer, photographer, music fan; father and husband living in northern Calif.