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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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5 Responses

  1. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Many of the links from the link provided do not work. Here’s another copy, where they doReport

  2. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    De-Schooling Society isn’t an answer. Not everything worth knowing will swim like some new planet into our ken, merely from watching the skies.

    When I was a little boy, the teacher took us to the library. I heard the librarian explain how books free us from having to carry all the facts around with us. This does not give us liberty to make up conclusions without those facts: we must do the research. But the library and the librarian have a special role in education: they can help us find those facts, but we must ask the questions.

    Borges said heaven was a library and I am convinced this is true. If there is any validity to Illich, it’s embodied in the failure of education to adapt. Take the schoolroom of a century ago: we would recognize it today. Add a few more pages to the history and science books (and a few less to the math books!) and there it is, completely unevolved. Look at the school year: vacations geared to the lives of agricultural people a century ago. Look at the school hours, children go to school earlier and return earlier than their 9 to 5 parents, again the legacy of an agricultural world. Homework: who the hell brings home work in a briefcase anymore? Can’t we arrange for children to learn by doing? And who does well in these schoolrooms? The children of recent immigrants, whose parents value an education: the same audience Dewey was teaching all those years ago.

    The K-12 system somehow seems geared to drive away a child’s naturally inquisitive disposition. Teachers fight this all the time, but putting a seven year old boy behind a desk and telling him to to wriggle around is a pointless and cruel way to educate him. Yet the same boy will sit in his living room and play a video game for hours: why can’t education be goal-oriented? It could be.

    And it’s no better in private schools, so let’s not entertain any fatuous libertarian notions about how the free market can solve this problem: it hasn’t. If you want a lifelong learner, start by teaching a child how to learn and expose him to problems worth solving.Report

  3. Avatar Winslow says:

    Illich’s critique of schooling is quite radical and, partly because of a simplistic title stuck onto his collection of essays by a well-meaning publisher, widely misunderstood. Illich was not against schools per se. They are fine arrangements for bringing together people who want to teach and those who want to learn. What Illich argued against was compulsory schooling that forces people to learn things that have no meaning to them and that are put forth by professionals following some anonymous program – and, closely related, the laws that permit employers, for instance, to ask you how much education you’ve obtained – or, by proxy, what credentials you have. Illich called for the disestablishment of schooling, similar to the disestablishment of religion. Illich saw schooling as the first worldwide church, whose rituals are remarkably similar no matter where you find them – 12 years of graded, age-specific instruction, etc. Moreover, far from “leveling the playing field,” as it’s generally advertised, schooling works to re-enforce the status quo. Even as everyone is forced to pay in, with classroom time and taxes, it’s richer folk who tend to get the better credentials, which in turn assures them of the better jobs and higher incomes. (In short, a true meritocracy would not be tolerated by the upper class, would it?)
    His vision of a “de-schooled” society was radically different than the one we now live in, with its industrial-scale production and overbearing institutions. As described in a companion book, called ‘Tools for Conviviality,’ Illich called for nothing less than economic and cultural revolution, aiming for a society in which we’d not need to have the endless and mindless schooling we now have. There would be limits to tools such that they would not require people to be schooled in their use as we now require and depend on. For instance, he saw the bicycle as the perfect example of a convivial tool. It’s one whose operation is easily learned and one whose mechanical workings are fairly obvious and whose maintenance can be handled by almost anyone. Moreover, my use of a bicycle doesn’t hinder your use of your bicycle, a stark contrast to the automobile, which clogs the roads and pushes the nodes of everyday life so far apart that only those with a car, or those too poor for a car, who are forced to wait for buses, can get to them in a reasonable amount of time.
    Is the computer a convivial tool? That’s a very interesting question. Some say yes, others no. In fact, Illich came to understand that the era of tools is now over, having lasted 800 years. In the 1980s, much to his surprise, it was replaced by the world of systems – the transportation system, the health care system, the educational system – which inscribes the user in a way that no tool ever did. For instance, in order to use a word processing program, you must, to a large degree, adapt your mind and way of thinking to the software’s workings. Most of us don’t even think twice about this, but the fact is, we must adapt ourselves to the program much more than we ever did to a typewriter, for instance. Most work on the design of computer interfaces aims to weave the user into the system in a seamless, unnoticeable way, while traditional tools were easily picked up and put down, as we liked.

    The main point, though, is that Illich’s vision of deschooling does not, by any stretch, require using the Web as we know it (or even a simply punch-card computer) as a de-centered replacement for traditional schooling in a classroom. His idea of learning webs could be, and has been, implemented with boxes of filing cards.
    There’s a great deal more to his deschooling critique, all worth reading carefully. If one wants to summarize it, he sought to have learning and teaching be a gift between people living well, in harmony with each other and nature, not a for-profit industry as most of us know and consume it. And that first book was hardly the end of his attack on compulsory schooling. One fascinating paper you may want to check out is “The Educational Enterprise in the Light of the Gospel” which is available here:

    http://www.davidtinapple.com/illich/1988_Educational.html

    (Don’t let the word “gospel” put you off.)Report