Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Colorized photo of 4 school girls in front of blackboard

Is it Time to De-School Society?


Today we have tools for freedom and learning that are more advanced than ever, but are we using them correctly in order to be freer and healthier?

We often confuse the word ‘education’ with a school system: in a joke often told in kindergartens, we say that children need to go to school ‘educated,’ with formative values that they have learned through repetition (or mimesis, as Aristotle liked to call it), and that at school they learn knowledge of a practical, scientific and, until recently, philosophical order. A good school does not guarantee a ‘good’ education, whether it be Plato’s Academy or Harvard, as the society on which such an education has an impact is constantly changing, and therefore all models of education should change, taking advanage of that change to improve.

In 1971 the philosopher and priest Ivan Illich published a book with the controversial title Deschooling Society, a challenging premise that recalls a certain kind of anarchy in the sense of freedom exercised with awareness. For Illich, the aim of achieving “universal education” is not feasible through a school system, where teaching and learning are centralized and managed by specialists, in addition to the fact that not everybody has the material resources to attend school or have access to educational technology.

Sketch of school children drawing with chalk

With a visionary outlook, Illich recommended substituting institutional education for “educational networks” that could be set up using technology. When he wrote his ideas, the Internet was still only a project for reviewing DARPA files. And what did those networks consist of? In personal relationships between people with the need to learn and a desire to teach, and vice versa, and which could be supported by technology to turn each moment of our lives into moments of shared learning.

In fact, Illich sketched a kind of educational social media whose model recalls certain forums for learning languages or for sharing content, from recipes to aircraft modeling. In the case of his learning network, it would not have anything to do with consumption or entertainment (values that have accelerated growth and the loss of meaning of the Internet), as it would be a network to connect people and not for substituting human contact with Likes. In his vision, Illich wrote:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.

Society has probably already entered a post-school phase as, despite all its failings, the Internet is a powerful educational tool that can do exactly what Illich described to achieve direct education: turn us into both teachers and students of everybody else. However, what has made Illich’s project be forgotten (and which led him to receiving much criticism) was its utopian character, its unrealness; it is sad, but we still live in a world where work requires high levels of schooling to carry out tasks that could be learned by doing them (as Aristotle, a notable pedagogue, also suggested), and which does not value idleness or conversation as sources of knowledge. Science and its advances, as well as art and beauty, do not usually come from a school as mass-produced products; in the great research centers and in practical problems of life, humans have advanced by having common links, asking each other for help and giving it when we are able to do so.


Image credits:

1. Beth Conklin 

2. Simon Prades

Related Articles