What Illich had to say in 1970 was, of course, not even ignored but hardly at all acknowledged to exist, at least in those circles in which educational policy is made. These people know of him because there were one or two at most universities who did read the intellectuals of the day, knew of Illich and Paulo Freire too and their ideas that ran head on into what I know to have been improperly proper in those days. What both were about was the viability, the absolute necessity for recognition of the individual as a starting point for decent thought regarding what education should be. Freire, as Illich points out, …moved from exile to exile, mainly because he refuses to conduct his sessions around words which are preselected by approved educators, rather than those which his discussants bring to the class.”
Freire and Illich were advocating for what came to be called student-centered instruction, students taking in information about the world in which they lived and finding the words to describe what they were seeing and what they were thinking about what they had seen. Both were arguing against authority-centered instruction in which every aspect of what would be discussed in class was determined by a teacher or, more likely, by an authority who dictated what the teacher would teach, what they would teach about what was being taught and how it was to be taught and tested. Classrooms failed to be what Freire and Illich and other sensible and humane educators understood to be necessary for real mental growth, a dialectical relationship between students and the material they should be learning, the teacher an inciter and guide for a dialectic about those things.
Those in charge never did and never have accepted the absolute fact that those in schools’ classrooms are thinking beings who are thinking about things most waking minutes of their existence and that beginning instruction with their thoughts makes the other kind of learning, the learning that is about things and others ideas, meaningful, gives it the proper context for what ever is being taught to be meaningful and worth learning.
I am working on a book now, have been for a long time, in which I am trying to get at the why of the anti-dialectal nature of schools, this amidst plenty of evidence that shows that people learn a lot and learn well by talking about the things they are learning, especially when they have reason to know the things that can be known for from what is being offered them to learn. Piaget and Vygotsky, the latter most profoundly, offered explanation of the power of learning through interaction, the primary and natural means to learning employed by human beings. And it is the way by which human beings learn to think well, to think critically, by having their notions reviewed by others who will, inevitably, offer up notions that are different. And it is through negotiations over which of the notions is the best, the better, the more acceptable, that an individual learns to critique his or her own ideas in order to get to what is right and real or true.
Every day of my career in education I heard some spoken of some form of the concept of critical thinking and I watched as those teaching and those who were cast to be learners struggled with both the concept and the means for becoming adept in the activity that is critical thought. All, of course, had been taught in the schools and few thought that education was much more than getting what one was told as those telling said, demanded it be gotten–right, of course. But getting at right rarely, really, had much to do with getting into it or at it, into and at the deeper meanings underlying things and ideas, concepts and processes. Everyone was about getting what was needed to pass and no matter how shallow an understanding was necessary for passing, passing was enough, the goal of lessons, of courses, of programs, of students and their instructors.
I have come to think that the education system, what it does and what it aspires to do has more to do with controlling minds than helping minds to grow toward their individual’s intellectual capacity, to their potential. I have good reason to believe, and I will argue this in the book, that the system is about taking in what others have to say about things without much questioning or critical thought because those in authority are insecure in their authority and that most deserve to be insecure because they are not intellectually adept, are not particularly smart and know that those who come to be smart, are able to discover their smarts are a threat to the system and those who uphold it because, despite their lack of smarts, holds them up in their positions of authority.
I think I have the goods to support the premise. Until it is done, the book, I will keep on posting these posts because I think the best I can do to make a contribution to setting things right in this gone wrong society is to continue to share that which I have thought a lot about and think I understand well enough so as to be of use to others if they take the time to think about what I am saying and really think about it.