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.

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

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