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.

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.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Call for Papers - Education and Poverty, San Francisco, May, 2013

The Ivan Illich Special Interest Group (SIG) of the American Education Research Association (AREA), has put out the following call for papers. (For those not familiar with it, the 1988 paper by Illich cited here is a powerful one, and one of the few written after Deschooling Society that explicitly discusses education.):

Ivan Illich SIG Call For Papers

AERA Conference, San Francisco 2013

When AERA convenes in San Francisco in May 2013, we warmly invite you to our table to add your voice in our discussions of Ivan Illich. May you find hospitality as you share our wine and embrace the ideas of Ivan Illich with us. We invite (and accept!) a wide variety of submissions, so please feel encouraged to submit!

Related to the conference theme – Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy and Practice – we encourage papers that utilize Ivan’s critical stance toward education and current views of poverty. Ivan saw clearly that education was not a path out of poverty; the educational enterprise is not the secular Church offering salvation. The atheists of this secular Church, the refuseniks we call drop-outs, offer their own indifference to the power of schooling. Yet, we still believe that all citizens need schooling; poverty is a sign that their secular Church has failed them.

Guided by Ivan’s The Educational Enterprise in the Light of the Gospel (1988) and other writings, we encourage papers that question the salvation of schooling, particularly salvation aimed at the poor.

How are we defining poverty? The AERA call for papers describes our fight against “economic, intellectual, and moral poverty.” How might our understandings of Ivan’s writing and teaching help to make these qualifiers of poverty more problematic? How might we come to learn from other Schindlers of our time, those who “expect nothing from an evil system in which they have made their career but the chance to make its total victims feel that they can beat it”? (Illich, 1988) What are we to learn from the refuseniks, the atheists of our secular Church, who live below middle class means by choice?

Do the poor need salvation? Does lower-class status preclude a meaningful life? What role do money and power have in finding conviviality? Also, how might we address ways that AERA increasingly features a poverty of hospitality, especially for junior or emerging scholars who lack the name capital to ring in guaranteed sessions? The Illich SIG hopes resolutely to distinguish itself and make a space at the table for those that would join it.

We encourage your interpretation of these and any other questions that Ivan Illich found interesting. Whatever path brings you to Ivan’s writings, we hope you will share your paper with us. Please submit!

Please be encouraged to ask any questions you have. Copied below are instructions from AERA on the submission process.


Your (possibly incoming) SIG Chair and Program Chair,

Kristin and Dana

Kristin D. Jones - Concordia University, Chicago

Dana Stuchul - Penn State


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