On Illych’s “New Formal Educational Institutions” paragraph

The post is prompted by this reading: Illych, I. (1971) Deschooling society. (New York: Harper & Row). Chapter 6: Learning Webs.

The paragraph in discussion:

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. Such a system would require the application of constitutional guarantees to education. Learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum, or to discrimination based on whether they possess a certificate or a diploma. Nor should the public be forced to support, through a regressive taxation, a huge professional apparatus of educators and buildings which in fact restricts the public’s chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market. It should use modern technology to make free speech, free assembly, and a free press truly universal and, therefore, fully educational.”

While I sense where the author is coming from, there is a different angle to looking at this statement. In other words, all is true, while its interpretation would depend on the context.

First, the statement is indeed beautiful and somewhat utopian. And it would be wonderful if this is how educational system worked. However, for whom? “For all who want to learn”.  Well, doesn’t it (the statement) imply then that we’re talking about sophisticated educated public in the first place? How about those who don’t want to learn or don’t know that they want to learn? One might say “let that category of people choose their own paths”. Would this free flow of available information just bee ignored by a large mass of population, leading them into a worse off stage, triggering ever larger social disparity? As George Siemens rightfully states: “When knowledge is abundant, the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important”. And “The ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill” (Siemens, G. (2004) Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age.)

As interesting as learning is, it is often hard and requires not just curiosity, but also work (more of the latter). Being optimistic that anybody just grabs the resources and applies them where they need to be is a bit utopian. Facilitators of knowledge transfer are needed (the crafting of the facilitators is a whole different conversation). It is a two way process. Facilitators may create curiosity, triggering learner to go on with his/her desire to continue this journey.

Another point caught my attention is the statement that “learners should not be forced to submit to an obligatory curriculum”. Learners as a wider applied definition (anybody curious), perhaps. However, if we’re talking about basics of education, a minimum (or average?) knowledge that we think anybody (on average) should poses, there must be a curriculum. A solid curriculum. A unified curriculum. To the extent that there is a strong association of acquiring certain knowledge by certain time frame (age, grade, developmental stage, etc.). This does not apply to learners with special needs, of course. It would be a different conversation. But an average curriculum should be well defined and well understood (and, therefore, expected to be delivered and obtained). To this, basic, solid and well understood curriculum the learners (pupils) should submit in my opinion. This way we avoid deviations and speculations. Let’s just establish the solid average and expect it. How to deliver this knowledge and whether to add the premium to this average – is in hands of the facilitators of knowledge transfer. Such application has been in existence in various parts of the world and proves viable.

In other words, learners first have to be given the tools, with which some will go further, enjoying the three principles of education, Illych spelled out.



  1. Lindsey Bailey

    September 17, 2014 @ 7:44 pm


    I like your point about those who “want to learn.” It’s good to consider the flip side of things! I’m curious about what you think this required curriculum should be – are you thinking of civics, other specific subjects?

  2. athgse

    October 5, 2014 @ 4:41 am


    A bit belated, but a response. My thoughts on curriculum are rather provocative, I think, as I am an advocate of an outline (curriculum), almost centrally approved: one across the country, across the disciplines, with some deviations and elaborations. But the same core. Say, by grade such and such students have to know these aspects of math, physics, English, chemistry, etc. How to get to that point and whether to go at a faster pace – sky is the limit in terms of teachers’ creativity, but the minimum has to be met.
    Again, I admit, this sounds provocative, but I do believe this way is a good way to go about base education.

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