5 Radical Quotes from Ivan Illich's 'Deschooling Society'

It came to light earlier this year that we have been trying and failing to close the opportunity gap in Seattle Public Schools since the 1950s.

For 70 years, we've known our schools are factories of racial discrimination, and for all of our awareness and talk, the gaps have only grown in those 70 years. Things are getting worse.

I've got to admit that hopelessness has set in. But actually, hopelessness isn't quite accurate. It's more like a flushed feeling in my cheeks and the back of my neck — the kind of feeling I get when I realize I'm being lied to and toyed with.

Something's not right.

 What if we keep getting stall tactics and lip service because that's all there is?

What if we can't close the opportunity gaps because they are an inherent part of obligatory public school? What if all this advocacy is completely Sisyphean?

Seventy years of utter failure is a blistering reality for Seattle's schools. Combine that with an awareness of what our public school system was designed to do, and a now an increasingly bitter mistrust of American society and its government, and I've searched deep and wide for answers that I can't find within the system.

deschooling society.jpg

Ivan Illich is a writer who has really spoken to me in trying to unpack and understand the reality of our government-mandated system of public schooling. He published "Deschooling Society" in 1970. Here are five quotes from that first essay that have had me thinking:

1. “Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby ‘schooled’ to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.”

2. "The very existence of obligatory schools divides any society into two realms: some time spans and processes and treatments and professions are 'academic' or 'pedagogic,' and others are not. The power of school thus to divide social reality has no boundaries: education becomes unworldly, and the world becomes noneducational."

3. "Equal educational opportunity is, indeed, both a desirable and a feasible goal, but to equate this with obligatory schooling is to confuse salvation with the Church. School has become the world religion of a modern proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age. The nation-state has adopted it, drafting all citizens into a graded curriculum leading to sequential diplomas not unlike the initiation rituals and hieratic promotions of former times. The modern state has assumed the duty of enforcing the judgment of its educators through well-meant truant officers and job requirements."

4. “The public is indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are the result of formal schooling.”

5. “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”