Tuesday 1 November 2016

LAWuN - Illich

Ivan Illich has argued for the creation of convivial, rather than manipulative institutions. Conviviality involves 'autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment' (ibid.: 24). In convivial institutions (and the societies they make up) modern technologies serve 'politically interrelated individuals rather than managers'. (Illich 1975: 12). Such institutions are characterized by 'their vocation of service to society, by spontaneous use of and voluntary participation in them by all members of society (Gajardo 1994: 716). In many respects, Ivan Illich is echoing here the arguments of earlier writers like Basil Yeaxlee who recognized the power of association and the importance of local groups and networks in opening up and sustaining learning. However, he takes this a stage further by explicitly advocating new forms of formal educational institutions. He also recognizes that the character of other institutions and arrangements need to be changed if the 'radical monopoly' of schooling is to be overturned.

Learning webs - new formal educational institutions. In Deschooling Society Ivan Illich argued that a good education system should have three purposes: to provide all that want to learn with access to resources at any time in their lives; make it possible for all who want to share knowledge etc. to find those who want to learn it from them; and to create opportunities for those who want to present an issue to the public to make their arguments known (1973a: 78). He suggests that four (possibly even three, he says) distinct channels or learning exchanges could facilitate this. These he calls educational or learning webs.

Exhibit 1: Ivan Illich on learning webs
Educational resources are usually labelled according to educators curricular goals. I propose to do the contrary, to label four different approaches which enable the student to gain access to any educational resource which may help him to define and achieve his own goals:

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 theatres; 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 freelances, along with conditions of access to their services. Such educators... could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients. (Illich 1973a: 81)

Such an approach to educational provision found some enthusiastic proponents within non-formal education (see, for example, the work of Paul Fordham et. al.1979). More recently, such themes have appeared in a somewhat sanitized form in some policy pronouncements around lifelong learning and the so-called learning society. Writers like Leadbeater (2000: 112) have rediscovered Ivan Illich and argued for a partially deschooled society: 'More learning should be done at home, in offices and kitchens, in the contexts where knowledge is deployed to solve problems and to add value to people's lives'. However, there can be a cost in this. The reference to 'adding value' hints at this. As Ivan Illich himself argued, 'educators freed from the restraint of schools could be much more effective and deadly conditioners' (Illich 1975: 74). Without a full realization of the political and ethical dimensions of conviviality, what can happen is not so much de-schooling but re-schooling. The activities of daily life become more deeply penetrated by commodification and the economic and social arrangements it entails. Learning becomes branded (Klein 2001: 87-105) and our social and political processes dominated by the requirements of corporations (Monboit 2001).

Informal education - changing the character of other institutions and formations. Ivan Illich argues for changes to all institutions so that they may be more convivial for learning.

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