Sorting through old papers, I rediscovered the 82-page Honors Thesis I wrote in 1979 as an undergraduate at Penn State. I re-read it for the first time in decades, and was astounded by how fresh and relevant it felt to me today. It focused on a radical analysis of the institution of education, and was predicated primarily on three books which blew my mind:
- Deschooling Society, by Ivan Illich
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paolo Freire
- Instead of Education, by John Holt
Here’s a piece:
All three authors condemn the existing educational system. … Illich accuses schools of making people overdependent upon institutional services (or treatments) and of initiating the entire culture into the Myth of Unending Consumption. Freire maintains that the banking concept of education reduces people to objects and submerges them in a “culture of silence,” thereby sustaining a state of oppression. Holt declares that S-chools act to stifle the intellectual and creative potentials of learners by placing them in a compulsory, competitive and coercive environment. … Superficial solutions—such as changing the curriculum—only divert our attention away from the root of the problem. The necessary radical alternative, says Illich, “is the creation of a new style of educational relationship between man and his environment”.
These writers questioned the legitimacy of the institutions I took for granted; they envisioned a world in which individuals were empowered to enjoy the freedom and responsibility of navigating their own worlds and making their own meaning. They opened my idealistic undergraduate eyes to a profound and ecstatic reevaluation of my political and spiritual perspectives. In the intervening decades, that thrill has never left me. Ivan Illich, Paolo Freire and John Holt have all died. But I still enjoy the gift they gave me, the thrilling idealism that a radically different world is both necessary and possible. Unfortunately, these inspirational heroes are not around to see how the new Internet technologies (and the emerging social relations they enable) could help to realize their ambitious visions.
That’s my job.
That’s our job.