Deschooling’s Promise of Learning Webs Being Realized in Tucson
Decades ago Ivan Illich wrote Deschooling Society, a book that changed my thinking about what education could be. It offered a model for education that was the antithesis of the factory model that underpinned all of public education, a model that engaged community members into the schools and engaged students with the life of the community. One chapter of the book, titled “learning webs” envisioned a mechanism where students could seek out mentors in the community who shared similar passions and who worked in occupations that interested the students. Written in 1971, well before the age of the internet, Illich’s method for connecting students and community members was clunky and time consuming but it was workable.
An article by Jessica Mendoza in the Christian Science Monitor describes CommunityShare, a program in Tuscon AZ that realizes the illich’s vision of learning webs. To me, this is a very exciting direction for public schools to take, one that I intend to pursue locally. Here’s a couple of quotes from the article that give a context to the concept, and illustrate how our fears have overtaken our sense of community:
The paradigm views schools as components of an “ecosystem” – one that would show children the relevance of their classroom learning in the real world while encouraging members of the community to participate, says CommunityShare founder Joshua Schachter. The goal, he adds, is to create a shift in how communities view their children’s education, so that everyone feels like they have a stake in their future.
The notion of bringing the public to public schools is at least decades old. Researchers have long seen value in getting the community to work with schools to ensure the holistic development of the child, as well as more equitable access to education. The first public schools in the country, established in New England in the 1600s, developed around the idea that educating children is crucial to a society’s well-being.
That sense of ownership has faded somewhat today, in part because of security concerns, some say – a result of fears around school shootings, kidnappings, and other dangers.
A drive toward efficiency has also contributed to making schools more isolated than they were originally intended to be: “We used to think that the most efficient way to get people to know how to do things is to ‘download’ our information into their heads,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. “We tell them the things, give them the information, they practice, and then they ‘know’ it.”
Read Illich’s chapter on Learning Webs and read about Tuscon’s “Craigslist for Volunteers” and see how this program could change the way we think about schooling… how schools need to be thought of in terms of a community network instead of a hierarchical framework that segregates children from the community-at-large.