Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Discomfort with Deschooling


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 15 seconds

It’s week 5 of #moocmooc, and we’re reading Illich.

I shouldn’t be uncomfortable with deschooling. After all, I can see all the ways in which the institution of school imposes state control and reproduces social inequality. I can see how edu policies focus more in measurement and standardization than the empowerment of active productive citizens (i guess even the term productive sounds neoliberal in nature). I should be comfortable with deschooling because i live in a country where state education is a total disaster and private education is an expensive, deceptive mess.

Let me just admit that while brainstorming readings for #moocmooc, I am the one who suggested Illich. I had not read him (had a copy of the book, had never gotten around to reading it) but in a discussion with Chris, he seemed like a good fit for what he was looking for. I told Chris later that I had always feared reading Illich would drive me nuts because i couldn’t  homeschool my child here in Egypt. It’s against the law for Egyptian kids (this is well-intentioned, to ensure poor families don’t pull their kids from school and make them work and never get an education; though I know there is a concept called “manazel” as in learning from home, it’s not looked upon positively). Besides, i never understood how working moms managed to homeschool their kids, anyway. From a recent article on the topic on Hybrid Pedagogy (and by an academic mom, no less) it seems that families work together to homeschool, have several curricula to work with and lots of freedom in between, as well as online material (i knew about this from expat friends here who homeschool their kids). I know from conversation with people in the US who homeschooled that they had flexible work schedules or could work from home.

I honestly don’t know if replacing the teacher’s authority and the social complexity of a classroom by the slightly safer (?) authority of a parent (ok, who obviously cares so much more about their own child) and the safer (?) social life of neighboring friends/kids is a good thing. Sure, kids in rich neighborhoods probably go to schools that are bubbles, and those in poor neighborhoods or who are poor go to schools with similar other kids. But still those kids are not handpicked and they become exposed to different kinds of people. To an extent.

I know there is something wrong with my argument here somewhere. I just don’t think homeschooling necessarily is a utopia… That it risks even more indoctrination than schooling. I’m thinking my kid might be better off going to a school, but learning from me to question the authority of the school (and later questioning mine) than only having a handful of close adults as teachers and having no one to help her question them. Or something. And yet I fear what schooling could kill in my child. That it might do damage I cannot undo myself. I went to a great school in Kuwait; I don’t see many like it in Egypt. And none that I can given my current circumstances send her to. As a friend said on facebook, it’s torture being an educator who knows everything that’s wrong with school.

And I mean, kids are natural learners; adults are NOT natural teachers. I think the hybridped article argues for both homeschooling and schooling to create space for kids to pursue their own interests at their own pace. Sounds awesome. How easy is it for parents not trained in supporting that kind of learning to actually scaffold it? Someone recently told me about how he encourages loved ones to pursue their interests and curiosities even if he does not agree with their direction… how many people can honestly do that?

Trained teachers who care about learners can be really truly inspiring influences on children. The opposite, of course, is true, and institutions that stifle teachers who wish they could give more to their students compound the issue.

But is deschooling the solution?

One reason i am very uncomfortable with Illich’s argument is that he seems to advocate for libertarianism. Skip the state because we’re better off without it. On p. 6 he says:

Only by channeling dollars away from institutions which now treat health, education, and welfare can the further impoverishment resulting from their disabling side effects by stopped.

I beg to differ. Healthcare? Really? What is he advocating here? How will poor people get healthcare if the state didn’t offer it? Even bad state healthcare is better than none, surely? I get the dependence argument, but really, what’s he advocating? Or have I soooo internalized modern social structures that I cannot imagine life without them?

And Scandanavian and European socialist healthcare and education systems seem to be doing ok. I think they just put their money in different places, like on training teachers and giving them autonomy instead of focusing on standardized testing (i’m thinking of Finland).

I don’t know, those are my initial thoughts… and I haven’t finished Illich yet, or read the other stuff….

Looking forward to more #moocmooc 🙂


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