Education Reform: Not Just a Right-Wing Issue

Many folks on the left, who identify with teachers’ unions, hate to criticize government schools, except to demand more funding, less testing, and more autonomy. Now, I would agree with two of the three; there is evidence that the barrage of testing is stealing time which children could use to learn. More autonomy is one of the ways used to improve quality of education; teachers are often smarter than the institution in which they are embedded – as you may observe when reading about Mr. Correa’s class in Mexico, among many other examples. Note the institutional response: “The teaching method does not matter.” As for funding, that has gone up worldwide, with no improvement in educational attainment.

Prominent critic Ivan Illich may be known to those who have studied education. His book, Deschooling Society, might have been part of your curriculum. The very first chapter is titled “Why We Must Disestablish School” – and he uses that word in the same sense as the disestablishment of churches – that is, complete separation from the State. Why? So that the schools – or the learning institutions which replace them – will be free to improve, free to better serve the needs of children. Is Ivan Illich a “right-winger?” Read his book and decide for yourself.

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.

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