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Deschooling
By David W. Kirkpatrick (August 14, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         Government-owned and operated schools not only exist in both developed and developing nations, but are predominant.  This creates enormous inertia and vested interests tending to maintain the system, although some chipping away at the monolith continues to take place.
 
         Those challenging government-dominated education are found in two broad categories: those who would modify or create alternatives to the system, and those who would abolish, or at least avoid, the system.
 
         The most obvious example of the latter is the homeschooling movement, which has grown from an estimated 10-15,000 students in 1980 to as many as 2,000,000 today. These numbers have long since achieved the critical-mass stage, producing support groups at the local, state and national levels.
 
         There is a philosophical underpinning for "deschooling" with the influence of three individuals who acted independently, but not in isolation: Ivan Illich, Everett Reimer and John Holt. The term itself is in the title of Illich's book, Deschooling Society (Garden City, NY: Anchor, 1970). Illich, in turn, was influenced by Reimer, whom he first met in 1958 and who awakened him to the negative aspects of schooling. Reimer published An Essay on Alternatives in Education (Cuernavaca, Mexico: Centro Intercultural de Documentacion, [CIDOC] 1971).
 
         Holt was the only public school teacher of the three. He became a reformer who evolved into a deschooler as a result of his first hand experiences with the system. The most prolific and successful writer of the three, his books include How Children Fail, How Children Learn, Escape From Childhood, The Underachieving School and Teach Your Own plus a newsletter, Growing Without Schools.
 
         His personal experiences as a public school teacher made Holt one of the system's most effective critics, an influence that is ongoing because he inspired a movement which has continued since his death.  While his criticisms were severe his tone was civil.  A brief example that combines a view of both public school teachers and the schools within which they work is found in a personal letter where he wrote, "as long as they are teaching in schools which have their present social functions, i.e., (1) indoctrination (2) jail (3) establishing a social pecking order, they are doing the work of the establishment whether they approve of it or not."  (Susannah Sheffer, Ed., A Life Worth Living, Selected Letters of John Holt, Columbus, OH: Ohio University Press, 1990)
 
          In another letter from the same volume he said of teachers trying to do place concern for students first, "Even before they get in trouble with the principal or the parents, they are in trouble with their fellow teachers."
 
         Holt is the best known of the three. Illich, whose book was famous during the 1970s, is less well known today. Reimer, perhaps the original source of the deschooling or unschooling movement, remains the least known of the trio.  All three are now deceased but their influence continues, even if sometimes unrecognized.
 
         In the Introduction to Deschooling Society, Illich wrote, "Universal education through schooling is not feasible." The results of attempts to reform schooling, including providing it with vastly greater sums of money, provide credibility to that view.
 
         As for the possibility of meaningful reform, Holt's view was that "The schools are not going to be reformed from within; their serious reform is a political matter and will be accomplished, if at all, with votes ..." (P. 164, Escape From Childhood, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1974) Note the "if at all" qualification.
 
         Holt was overly optimistic when in a September 30, 1971 letter, he wrote, "...25 or even 10 years from now schools will not be anywhere as prominent in American life as they are now." He lived long enough to realize that his 10 year projection was invalid and today even his outdated long-term prediction remains unrealized.
 
         As the need for reform remains, so the effort continue
 
         The Internet is proving to be a valuable -- priceless -- asset to challengers to the status quo in education, not to mention other fields.
 
         John Holt was right; what the citizenry has in greater numbers than the establishment is votes.
 
         What, to date, they haven't had is the energy and will to organize and take advantage of that fact.
 
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         "‘Changing a school system,' an educator friend reminded me, ‘is like moving a graveyard. You are not going to get any help from the inside.'"
--Peter Meyer, "A Board's Eye View, p. 31, Education Next, Spring 2004

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
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