Ivan Illich by Pier-Olivier Archambault and Kimberly Rodrigue


ivan-illichBorn in Vienne in 1926, Ivan Illich was a well respected man. He was described as being humanistic, and he did in fact deserve this quality. His writings on school, health, friendliness and energy caused several discussions throughout different countries. He moved to the United-States, in 1951, with the idea of studying Albertus Magnus’ alchemy at Princeton. He was soon intrigued by the Porto Ricans and their deep faith in catholic. In order to look deeper into their faith, he asked for a job in a Porto Rican parish in New-York. Then, in 1956, he became the vice-rector of the Catholic University of Porto Rico. Through this job, he notices two important things: the similarities between school and church and also the differences between the educational goals and the results. These two reflections brought Illich to write his Deschooling Society book.  Written in 1971,  this book brought Ivan Illich to public’s attention. It is a critical discourse on education in which is practiced in modern economies. This book gives examples of how ineffectual the institutionalized education is. Moreover, it gives several details on program and concerns in our modern schools.

First of all, Illich’s chapter two is based upon his theory of Phenomenology of school. He attacks, what is to him, the main parts of schooling. Elements in which he does not agree with and to whom he believes is a lie that society withholds towards children.  He first argues against the idea of a children’s age in order to attend school. Illich starts off by explaining the idea which our children must be at the point of their childhood in order to be attending school. However, childhood is a simple term that we have ourselves created in order to give a meaning to their age category. Before, childhood was inexistent. Childhood was once a term simply for the bourgeoisie. The rich versus the poor.

“The worker’s child, the peasant child’s, and the nobleman’s child all dressed the    way their fathers dressed, played the way their fathers played, and were hanged by     the neck as were their fathers.” (Illich, p. 21)

He demonstrated that the rich were always above the hierarchy in society. The sons of the rich would not need to work and would only follow their father’s foot step. In such, the sons of the bourgeoisie were given a childhood since they could attend school unlike the poor. They had to work in order to help their family income, stopping them from attending any type of educational institution such as school. Illich then defines childhood by being a term and a phenomenon created by school. Also, he adds that since most of the population lived outside industrial area, that most children did not have the chance to experience a childhood.

“In the Andes you till the soil once you have become “useful”. Before that, you      watch sheep. If you are well nourished, you should be useful by eleven, and             otherwise by twelve.” (Illich, p.21)

Most families needed their children at home in order to help with the work load. However, Illich’s book was written in the year 1971, meaning that time has changed and population has expanded throughout industrialized areas. Children are now obtaining the chance to experience a childhood, and they finally get the opportunity to attend school. It is easy to understand why Illich would believe that age was a factor in the wrongs of schooling, since not all children had to opportunity to experience childhood or to attend a school institution.

Ivan Illich brings up his second point, which discusses the subject of educators and their pupil. If we look up the word pupil in any dictionary, we would noticed that it automatically refers to a student in a school. Still, school is built of the axiom that all of the learning made by pupils is a result from their teaching. No matter how much evidence shows the contrary to his axiom, the institutions still refused to change their theory. However, Illich demonstrates the wrong in this idea perfectly. He argues the fact that pupils learn how to live outside of school.

“Everyone learns how to live outside school. We learn to speak, to think, to love,   to feel, to play, to curse, to politick, and to work without interference from a      teacher” (Illich, p.22)

Illich states that pupils do not learn from teachers, and they certainly do not learn from their fake education. He states that pupils learn from the outside of school, from peers, parents, comics, books, and by themselves. He argues that teachers are fake educators who credit themselves for the learning process of pupils, who in fact, have learned outside of school.

Afterwards, Illich states that an educator acts upon three different roles as a teacher. First, there’s the “teacher-as-custodian” who acts as a master of ceremonies and who guides his students through the assignments and work load given out. He is the main school master, who sets out a path for his pupils in order for them to learn. Then there is the “teacher-as-moralist” whose job replaces the ones of parents, God or the state. He indicates what is right or wrong in our society and assures that every students is the same. Last but not least, there is the “teacher-as-therapist” who can be easily defined by someone who interferes in the pupils personal lives while hoping that this will help them grow as a person. Illich states that teachers are not the only professionals to act upon this way. As other professionals are doing these three aspects. Teachers make their pupils feel as though they have done something wrong. For example, if a pupil is to “cheat” on an exam, he then becomes an outlaw, morally corrupted and a worthless student, simply because asking help and finding ways to answer a question is seen to be wrong in class. Classroom attendance forces children to attend school and miss out on the new Western World.

As we take analyze what Illich has said, we can easily understand where his thoughts and beliefs come from, since it was thirty years ago, but now time has changed. Teachers do educate pupils and are aware that pupils will learn more outside of school than in classroom walls. Teachers realize that pupils will learn their values, morals and learn about life from outside institutions. Pupils still learn more from peers and family members than they ever will from an educator. Although, school is no more for the bourgeoisie, nor for those who live in industrialized area. School has become an institution for every children and parents must send their children to attend school in order to obtain a minimum amount of education, such as a high school diploma. They will learn to read, speak and write at a young age and eventually learn more subjects. Illich’s idea of extinguishing school is understandable and will always remain debatable. However, our society has evolved, and our expectations are not the same as they were before. School has become a necessity in order to have success in life. Success related towards money and a career. However, society tends to forget about happiness and family values, which is why school will constantly remain a necessity instead of a choice.

In Illich’s Deschooling Society’s second chapter, Ivan Illich resumes the reasons why society needs to extinguish the school. He begins by stating that the term ‘’school’’ has no sense anymore and he continued by giving his own definition of it.