Home > Uncategorized > Choice Advocate Kerry McDonald ALMOST Gets Illich’s Ideas on Schooling— But Misses Crucial Point

Choice Advocate Kerry McDonald ALMOST Gets Illich’s Ideas on Schooling— But Misses Crucial Point

The title of self-described school choice advocate Kerry McDonald’s article in Forbes, Public Education vs. Public Schooling, intimated that she might be familiar with education philosopher Ivan Illich… and sure enough her op ed piece DID use Illich’s ideas as the basis for the distinction between education and schooling. She opens her essay with this promising premise:

I am a true believer in, and a full supporter of, public education.

The trouble is that public education and public schooling have become synonymous. Schooling is one method of education; but it is certainly not the only one and, I argue, not the best one. Until we separate public education from public schooling–to truly “de-school” our perspective on learning–we will be mired in a debate about reforming one, singular method of education (that is, mass schooling), while ignoring other methods of education that could be better.

This appeared to be attuned to the thinking behind this blog, which is premised on the notion that learning networks should replace the outmoded factor model of education in place in our nation for over a century. And Ms. McDonald makes it clear that her use of the term “de-schooling” is drawn from the ideas of Ivan Illich, whose writings from 40 years ago resonate with me today:

In his path-breaking 1970 book, Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich wrote about the need to de-institutionalize learning and invest in decentralized education models that support learners in educating themselves. Illich said: “Universal education through schooling is not feasible…The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”

She builds on this promising argument by describing visionary public libraries that serve as educational webs and then draws a clear contrast between the function of libraries and public schools:

The primary difference between public education and public schooling is that the former is openly accessible and self-directed, while the latter is compulsory and coercive. Both are community-based and taxpayer-funded; both can lead to an educated citizenry. But public education–like public libraries, public museums, public parks, community centers, and so on—can support the education efforts of individuals, families, and local organizations with potentially better outcomes than the static system of mass schooling.

But Ms. McDonald goes off the rails when she attempts to support her argument for the replacement of education with schooling by using standardized test data. In doing so, she unwittingly reinforces “the static system mass schooling” that batches students into age-based cohorts and mandates that they take tests based on their age as opposed to taking tests that reflect skills they feel they have mastered. In doing so she misses Illich’s most important point: education holds time as a constant and allows learning to be a variable; schooling holds learning as a constant and allows time to be a variable. We will never be able to promote de-schooling until we use a different metric than standardized testing.

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