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.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Deschooling, the film?

We've just learned of a newly-released film that questions severely the idea of compulsory schooling, especially as encouraged and abetted by Western experts operating in non-Western societies. It's called Schooling the World, The White Man's Last Burden, and naturally, it has its own website. There, a trailer and a clip from the film can be viewed along with other information and links to related resources.

Made by a television director and writer named Carol Black, the film takes as its main example schooling in Ladakh, India, but it also reviews the history of schooling in the U.S., particularly as relates to its use in purposely destroying Native American culture and furthering the empire abroad. The film made its debut last fall and, in fact, will be screened this very evening in Los Angeles, at the opening of The 2011 Awareness Film Festival.

Schooling the World has been endorsed by one of Ivan Illich's students and colleagues at Penn State, Dr. Madhu Suri Prakash, Professor of Education Philosophy. A press release for the film quotes here as calling it “challenging, courageous and thought provoking," “a film of profound insights and the quest for hope in the thick of much violence by mainstream cultures against the marginalized and the silenced peoples of the world.” Meanwhile, the film's website offers an essay by Illich, "To Hell with Good Intentions," written in 1968 but as relevant as ever.

We learned of the film at the website of Pat Ferenga, an advocate of deschooling, unschooling, and home-schooling who has continued the work of John Holt, with whom he worked for many years. Mr. Ferenga calls the film fascinating and notes a particular blog entry at the film's website that "summarizes well the critiques of mass education made by Goodman, Holt, and Illich from the sixties forward. Homeschoolers, unschoolers, and anyone interested in knowing more about the debilitating nature of unasked-for, or misguided, help in both education and foreign policy will be rewarded by reading the complete essay."

That essay concerns the scandal that has broken out around a book called Three Cups of Tea, written by a man named Greg Mortenson. The book purports to describe his experiences in building schools, funded by money from Americans and others, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how those schools have brought peace, harmony, and happiness to local communities. Some 4 million copies of the book have been sold, and it was chosen by the U.S. Army as must-reading for troops on their way to fight in Afghanistan. It turns out, however, that Mortenson may have made up much of what he wrote and that he has not been truthful in his accounts of where he has spent the money donated to his Central Asia Institute. CBS' 60 Minutes news program is credited with having broken the story of this fraud, as described here.

The essay about the book and scandal that Mr. Ferenga refers to is well worth reading. It begins so:

The recent revelation that Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea is based on fictionalized accounts of his experiences in Pakistan and Afghanistan, that his charity’s funds were misspent and its books were cooked, and that there was little or no followup or support for many of his schools once they were built – if they were built at all – has drawn a lot of media attention. But the larger fiction which goes unquestioned is Mortenson’s romanticized portrayal of education as a panacea for all the world’s ills, a silver bullet that in one clean shot can end poverty, terrorism, and the oppression of girls and women around the world.

Don’t get me wrong – I would never deny that there are individuals who benefit when money is spent on education, and I would never want to come between those individuals and that money. If a girl from rural Pakistan wants to go to school and has a knack for academics, she deserves support and I hope she gets it. But the idea that building schools and getting every kid on the planet inside them is a solution to the problem of global poverty, for example, is a real whopper.

Why? Well, for starters – and everybody knows this – a huge percentage of the children in those schools will fail.

Greg Mortenson, like everybody else, loves to tell the touching story of the girl from the village who studies hard, passes her school exams, and goes on to become the proverbial doctor-who-will-come-back-to-the-village-and-reduce-infant-mortality. He raises a lot of money with that story, and a lot of donors go to sleep at night feeling better about the world because they are helping it to happen. But what Greg doesn’t tell us, and what the donors don’t want to think about, is what happens to all the other children. The dirty underside of our system is that schools as we know them today are structurally designed to fail a reliable percentage of kids. Interestingly, they reliably fail a much higher percentage of kids in in low-income areas than they do in affluent areas, and this is true from Detroit to Gilgit-Baltistan. When we put children from traditional rural areas into school, what we’re doing is transitioning them from a non-cash agricultural economy where nobody gets rich but nobody starves into a hierarchical system of success and failure in which some lives may get “better,” but others will get much, much worse. Guess which club has more members? Welcome, boys and girls, to the global economy.

1 comment:

Simon R said...

Hi there, Just came across this blog. It is an absolute treasure trove for anyone studying Illich, so thank you and please keep it up. I'm currently doing PhD research at Cambridge University, UK, primarily on Illich. Some of the resources you've linked to here (e.g. the Lemmerer thesis) are proving invaluable.

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