This course will become read-only in the near future. Tell us at if that is a problem.

Task Discussion

  • Winslow   Dec. 2, 2011, 1:03 p.m.

    Let's face it, Illich's idea of people meeting by computer to discuss a book or topic of mutual interest doesn't work. The proof is right here in this study group which, like most such ventures I have encountered, eventually dissipates itself. Nobody posts, nobody responds, nobody participates. 


    Or am I wrong? 

  • EcologicalHumanist   Dec. 2, 2011, 2:36 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 2, 2011, 1:03 p.m.

    I would say that you are at least partly wrong. Whenever you are trying to build a genuine dialogue, rather than just a platform for broadcasting opinion, there is a sort of preliminary amount of work that needs to be done in establishing relationships and opening lines of communication. Think of discussion groups in real life--there is always entropy and awkwardness to sludge through at first.

    I'm tempted to blame, in the spirit of Illich, the status quo which indoctrinates knowledge-seekers into the expectation of condensed, palatable, pre-digested packets of information. When we actually have to hunt, gather, and cook for the protein of our thoughts, we balk at the effort. After all, who is in charge, what am I being paid, what certification or degree am I working toward? Maybe he is right, and the whole world has been turned into a classroom, in which there can be no participation without evaluations, credit, a pedagogue, etc.

    In my experience, creative collaborations and communities (art, fiction, videos, etc) seem to fare better online than purely intellectual endeavors, maybe because study groups are too redolent of the kind of institutionalized education that discourages independent agency or insight.

    Maybe it's just time to move on to something new. There are quite a few people following this discussion--if someone proposed a new book, maybe we could get a more active discussion going.

    Or stick with Illich. I'm willing to discuss--is there something specific from the text you would like another opinion on? Something you've already posted you would like more feedback from?

  • Pippa Buchanan   Dec. 5, 2011, 8:46 a.m.
    In Reply To:   EcologicalHumanist   Dec. 2, 2011, 2:36 p.m.

    Hey all,

    this is an interesting discussion being raised. When we created this group - it rose out of a P2PU mailing list discussion about whether low moderation groups could be formed (and continue to self-organise without specific moderation). Book groups arose as the test case for this.

    Over time, I've come to realise (as the intiating participant) that that sense of autonomous participation and organisation is incredibly difficult to engender. I think it could be possible to encourage this with a synchronous meeting at the beginning to discuss a social contract and model of behaviour and participation. Or as EcologicalHumanist puts it - "preliminary amount of work that needs to be done in establishing relationships and opening lines of communication". But organising a meeting like this and making it accessible and engaging across oceans, hours and degrees of technical ability and access is incredibly difficult.

    Until people feel socially connected and somehow responsible for other people, it is very difficult to continue feeling committed, whether you are a formal organiser, an initiator or a participant who signed up mid-flow...


    More out of identifying a bug with the P2PU messaging system than out of a sense of feeling ignored (though partially that) I wanted to find out if anyone received this message that I sent way back in September?  I tried to raise similar issues then, but just received radio silence!


    "I'd like to wrap up this iteration of the Deschooling Society book group by mid December. My printout of the book is feeling lonely and needs intensified attention! It would be great if a second version of the group began in 2012 - but there are other books I'd like to run a study group around! I propose that we accept signups until mid October and have a couple of voice meetings to properly meet each other. I think it would also be great if we could identify a [small] final project that we all commit to completing. Maybe we could identify another book to run a similar, but slightly more organised book group around?"

  • Winslow   Dec. 5, 2011, 11:10 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Pippa Buchanan   Dec. 5, 2011, 8:46 a.m.

    I did receive your message in Sept., or whenever you sent it.

    I have to say, I am disappointed in the lack of discussion here. I tried to provide some context for the Deschooling book, explaining how I understand its place in Illich's line of thinking as that evolved over the years. But nobody seemed to pick up on that, or even cared to discuss the book itself. Which is not entirely surprising. Illich's thought is quite radical and difficult to grasp, especially at first; he really does mean to de-school society, to get rid of compulsory schooling, not just fix or improve or reform the educational system as most people are happy to think about. And he offers good reasons for that, even if he doesn't explain, as most people want him to, how to get there in practice.

    Perhaps discussing an entire book is too much to chew. Perhaps focusing on a single chapter, or even a single proposition or question would be more fruitful. And this might be especially true in the case of Illich, as his writing is to aphoristic; you can take many a sentence of his and discuss it at  great length. 

    Oh well. Let's not forget, this book is big, in its way. It really triggered a huge discussion when first published. It rattled a lot of people, caused a great deal of debate, sent Illich around the world to speak in front of all kinds of audiences, made him famous, inspired the alternative schooling and home-schooling movements, and sent the schooling industry into overdrive to buttress itself against criticism and to expand its activities into many new venues well beyond the red-brick schoolhouse. (And here we all are, now, living in the global classroom that Illich and others warned us about back then.) It's probably wishful to think that a bunch of strangers could really dig into such a book - or any book? - online, especially when we're all so busy with our lives and jobs and children and so forth. Illich, I'm sure, would have us meet around a table with a plate of spaghetti and bottle of wine, to talk and engage with each other in a ways that are quite impossible via the screen.


  • Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 9:12 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 2, 2011, 1:03 p.m.

    Most things don't work in general. 

    But, as far as online groups like this go, most have half-life of two weeks, and the organizers need to plan accordingly.

    I got some good things out of this discussion, though.

    What was interesting for me overall is to compare the destinies of two books by Illich: "Deschooling society" and "Medical nemesis". 

    The first one retrospectively became the guiding star of a movement. There was a movement in search of a guiding star.

    The second one is just now experiencing this fate, which is hard, because it's old. So it may not work, but then it might. 

    It's not about the books, it's about movements.

  • Winslow   Dec. 11, 2011, 5:15 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 9:12 a.m.

    I'm curious to know what you are referring to regarding 'Medical Nemesis.' It is inspiring a movement of some kind? I would like to hear more about that. 

    In a speech I have heard - from 1995, and one that I can share, if you are interested - Illich complains that his book is being purchased primarily as an assignment in medical school. 

  • Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:08 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 11, 2011, 5:15 p.m.

    I am saying that unschooling (the movement) happened AND THEN "Deschooling society" became one of its leading works, and Illich one of its thought leaders. At least, that's how I see it.

    The movements happening now are citizen science, self-tracking, and medical reforms (as in, non-sustainability and cruelty of end-life tortures sort of dawns on more people than before, for example - check out what Pratchett is doint atm). A lot of people involved in these "DIY" movements are re-discovering "Medical nemesis." 

  • Winslow   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:22 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:08 p.m.

    I wasn't 'there' in 1970 - I was in high school - but my understanding is that before the 'Deschooling' book came out, there was a great deal of worry about schools, especially on the left, which had determined that schools were oppressive and needed reforming. There were alternatives being formulated and put into action. But, I my understanding is that Illich's book and the many lectures he gave really helped inspire many people to unplug and unschool and home school. Also inspirational were books by John Holt, one of Illich's collaborators.

    I will look into Pratchett. 

    You've inspired me to think more about math, too! (My poor son, in 7th grade, is v. good at math but has a bad, uninspired teacher who sends the children home with worksheets full of mistakes. It is inexcuseable!)

  • Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:30 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:22 p.m.

    You can homeschool math if needed. There are definitely a lot of OERs now, some very good quality stuff. Check out Vi Hart videos, for example - so funny! 

    I had similar impressions about the situation in the 1070s. Holt and Illich (and their books) found the waves of their movement, and helped it along. It did not happen with "Medical nemesis" but it might still, to some degree.

  • Winslow   Dec. 12, 2011, 12:06 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Maria Droujkova   Dec. 11, 2011, 6:30 p.m.

    That video is pretty wonderful, Maria! Thanks for that. 

    Here, you can read Illich on the snail and the growth of its spiral shell. 

    Illich, as you may know, was highly concerned with proportionality, the way in which things fit together and shape and define each other: heaven and earth, urban space and nature, land and sea, man and woman.  He called this asymmetric complimentarity.

    One of his essays that explores this idea and its analogies to musical harmony and its social sigificance is here, "The Wisdom of Leopold Kohr."

  • Maria Droujkova   Dec. 12, 2011, 1:08 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 12, 2011, 12:06 a.m.

    Alternative economics vs alternative TO economics... nice! Love it!

  • Jennifer Claro   Dec. 14, 2011, 3:06 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Pippa Buchanan   Dec. 5, 2011, 8:46 a.m.

    Hi Pippa and Everyone,

    This is my 3rd P2PU group. The first I joined (Intro to CSCL) was very successful, everyone who started strong finished strong (there were some who joined who started weak and dropped out) and it may have been because we knew each other (some of us anyway) and because most of us are graduate students and were very interested in the topic, we were pretty motivated. We also had weekly chats which I think really helped keep us together as a group. Stian used Whenisgood to choose times for the chats, and even tho he was in China, I was (and am) in Japan, others were in Toronto, Seattle, and London (UK) and Boston, we all made most of the chats. Actually, the chats were one of the best parts of the course.

    So I do think that the synchronous thing is important, or at least the connecting thing is important. I stopped contributing here just because of getting too busy, but I'm still interested, and now Maria and Winslow are resurrecting the discussion here (thanks to both of you, I'm really glad this discussion is picking up again!). I have a paper due next week, and I'll be busy until then, but I did want to read a good book over the holidays, and I'd love to finish Deschooling Society.

    Thanks Maria by the way for the great video, I loved it. I'm going to show it to my 10-year-old son when I get home. I don't know if this is the right time to get into this topic, but I'll mention it anyway. What do you think about Khan Academy? My son uses it for lots of topics and I plan to use it for my next stats course. Deschooling Society seems to be happening in front of our eyes, as the Internet becomes more and more of a learning tool, and an interactive tool. If we do homeschool after my son finishes Grade 6, which we are thinking seriously about now, I think that tools like Khan Academy will be very useful.

    What do you think? What would Illich have had to say about, or even to, Khan?

    Here's a great video of Salman Khan at TED 2011.



  • Winslow   Dec. 14, 2011, 8:05 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   Dec. 14, 2011, 3:06 a.m.

    My guess is that Illich would be quite happy to see Khan Academy's impressive library of instructional videos, especially if they are well done and useful (which I guess they are, given how much attention the man has received. Anything that helps people to learn is fine, whether it's books or online videos or a teacher at the blackboard in the classroom. What Illich was against was the idea that everyone, or anyone, should be forced to sit in that classroom, or forced to read a certain book or watch a certain set of videos regardless of whether they are interested in learning the topic at hand or not. No more compulsory schooling, he argued, no more forced march through graded curricula that some expert insists on and that is justified for this reason or that. 

    Illich also argued against the idea that employers should be permitted to ask if someone had a degree, or where they got their degree, or which books they've read or videos they've watched. In short, people should be free to learn what they want when they want to and how they want to. That doesn't mean creidts for life experience, it means not counting credits at all. It means learning on the job, and it means children working in the real world, not in an exploitative way but as they used to, being useful around the farm or the home or the business. Which means, I suppose, no more giant factories and anonymous offices, where children would be useless.

    But also, Illich argued against the whole edifice of scarcity that exists in the modern world, the scarcity that is assumed to underly everything and that is never questioned and that is the basis for economics as we know it. As it is, many of us are forced to take class after class to keep up with the changing requirements of technology and new products based on new technologies, etc. These changes are often made just to maintain scarcity, to keep people employed, to sell more stuff. There is, as a result, an endless need for educational services, not only in the traditional classroom but throughout life, and much of this is quite artificial, rigged up to help corporations make money, to help unions and guilds protect scarce jobs, etc. etc. 

    My worry about Khan's operation is that Bill Gates, an enthusiastic supporter, and others of his ilk will use Khan as a way to justify intense use of technology in a way that ultimately aims to gut the school system as we know it. Who needs ranks unionized teachers making decent salaries when we can get kids taught their algebra, etc., with a few well-trained overseers, a bunch of "teachers" with 2-year degrees, and banks of computers showing videos? The school system is one of the biggest items in the government budget, and there is a real push on right now to privatize schooling so that all that money will flow into the hands of corporations - which may or may not have the same goals as traditional schools have had, namely to produce well-balanced, self-motivated, healthily skeptical, and well-informed citizens. If Wal-Mart runs the schools - that company is one of the bigger backers of several efforts to privatize and bring a business mentality to schooling - imagine what kind of people they'd like the schools to produce most: compliant workers willing to do what they're told, unquestioning of authority, not too well educated, able and ready to work in the fairly mindless service jobs that Corporate America will have to offer in years to come (as many good jobs go overseas, etc. etc.) Sure, there will still be a need for a few highly-trained engineers and designers and experts, and even a few professors of French literature, but most people won't need or be able to use that kind of training, so why waste money on it? Why not use videos and computers and the Net to get the schooling job done on the cheap and pocket the difference? 


    What, me cynical? You bet. Read around, though, and you'll find that there is a great deal of pressure to privatize the schools. No Child Left Behind is a cover story for this, for instance: It is a scheme that is being used to judge schools via testing and declare many of them as failing so that parents, worried sick, can be convinced to try out educational vouchers that would be spent at private schooling operations. 

    By the way, there is a great video on YouTube of Matt Damon talking about some of this, short and sweet. Take a look!

  • Jennifer Claro   Dec. 14, 2011, 10:11 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 14, 2011, 8:05 p.m.

    Hi Winslow,

    Great reply! Thanks.

    I get worried anytime Bill Gates gets excited about anything. And big money going into Khan Academy will result in many changes, some good (which we can already see, the site has been completely upgraded and yesterday my son used a cool protractor tool that wasn't there a few months ago) and some bad. Will they try to use Khan Academy to push official BS? We already have so much propaganda around us, and governments and big business encroach on any new media (social media included) to push their messages. So maybe Khan Academy will become another pro-western-agenda biased website. I really hope not, it's very useful as it is, but really, why is Gates involved? 

    Wal-Mart running our education system? Pathetic. Possible? Yes, anything is possible in today's of corporate-run America. And I agree with you entirely that scarcity is a myth, that if we just shared all we have instead of hogging it all, and starting more wars to get even more, there'd be enough food and energy and everything to go around.

    I still haven't read even Chapter 3 of DS. But I will! I have to get back to my paper now, I'm one of those trying to keep up in education :) I hope others will join in here and get this discussion group going again! It's a great book, with so many important messages. I'd like to show Pippa, and myself, that we can indeed self-organize and keep this group and this discussion going. 



  • Pippa Buchanan   Dec. 15, 2011, 5:12 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Jennifer Claro   Dec. 14, 2011, 3:06 a.m.

    It would be great to finish Deschooling Society before the end of the year, and I'd love to have some synchronous chats too.

    Unfortunately I was only able to conveniently join live chats up until mid-December as i'm now in Australia. So I'll be stuck in the most unfortunate time zone in the world for the next couple of months. :-)

    But if anyone else wishes to take the intiative to organise some calls more suitable for EU / North American participants that would be great. Is there anyone in Australia, NZ or SE Asia who wants to join a call with me?

    Anyway, I'm going to try to write my final 3 chapter responses - I finally have good internet while I'm staying with my parents.

  • Maria Droujkova   Dec. 15, 2011, 8:54 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Winslow   Dec. 14, 2011, 8:05 p.m.


    Most math educators think Khan videos are of poor quality - you can see samples of their discussions here, for example:

    I argue that they serve a purpose, but should not be considered a COMPLETE source of math ed - more like a small ingredient in it.

    goals as traditional schools have had, namely to produce well-balanced, self-motivated, healthily skeptical, and well-informed citizens

    WHERE? The only schools with goals like this that I have seen were private or charter affairs ran largely by enthusiastic parents. I can believe parents have these goals, and some, well, subversive citizen groups.

    Tracing money trails is always good idea.

    I am not sure, speaking of Gates, that he pushes for personal profit as much anymore, or in that general direction - well, not like Wal-Mart does, anyway. I think it's more like long-lasting glory, if it makes sense. 

    I think forces like Wal-Mart and forces like P2PU, ironically, are solving the same problem of sustainable education for billions. By the last estimate I've seen, for example, there are more than a hundred million people in the world now willing AND able to get college level education, but not having the means. And they do want diplomas on top of the knowledge.

  • Jennifer Claro   Jan. 5, 2012, 6:45 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Pippa Buchanan   Dec. 5, 2011, 8:46 a.m.

    Hi Pippa and everyone,

    You wrote, “When we created this group - it rose out of a P2PU mailing list discussion about whether low moderation groups could be formed (and continue to self-organise without specific moderation)”. 

    I wonder if there would have been more commitment to this course if we had known that this course was intended to be self-organizing? There is a concept called Collective Cognitive Responsibility (CCR) that I think may be (must be?) stronger in self-organizing groups. “Team members produce ideas of value to others and share responsibility for the overall advancement of knowledge in the community” (Scardamalia, 2002). Our school system is based on a leader, the teacher, and followers, the students, and even with a move towards more student-centered classes, the kind of classes that really encourage life-long learning, independence, and creativity would be self-organizing.

    I didn’t know that this course was intended to be minimally led and mostly self-organizing. I’m very interested in self-organizing systems, which are usually more robust than centrally controlled groups, and are more adaptable to change. If I (all of us) had realized this from the start, there may have been more CCR, which may have led to a more successful course. Was this self-organizing nature ever mentioned in this forum? The realization of distributed control, and distributed responsibility, may have meant more of a commitment.



    P.S. - Any free time over my winter holidays (I have 2 sons, 5 and 10, who I’ve really been enjoying this holiday with) has been eaten up by my editing of a paper on, you guessed it, self-organizing systems. So I haven’t read any more of Illich. But I want to! I’m going to read Chapter 6 on Learning Webs (self-organizing webs, I am guessing!) and post here when I’m finished.