Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thank You Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich, founder of Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC)and author of many essays of ethical pondering and proscriptive advice in education (Deschooling Society, for example) anticipated the deconstruction and ubiquity of informational systems as resource webs.

"Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags. New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in by the door. Moreover, such new institutions should be channels to which the learner would have access without credentials or pedigree--public spaces in which peers and elders outside his immediate horizon would become available."

"Educational resources are usually labeled according to educators' curricular goals. I propose to do the contrary, to label four different approaches which enable the student to gain access to any educational resource which may help him to define and achieve his own goals:

1. Reference Services to Educational Objects-which facilitate access to things or processes used for formal learning. Some of these things can be reserved for this purpose, stored in libraries, rental agencies, laboratories, and showrooms like museums and theaters; others can be in daily use in factories, airports, or on farms, but made available to students as apprentices or on off hours.

2. Skill Exchanges--which permit persons to list their skills, the conditions under which they are willing to serve as modelsfor others who want to learn these skills, and the addresses at which they can be reached.

3. Peer-Matching--a communications network which permits persons to describe the learning activity in which they wish to engage, in the hope of finding a partner for the inquiry.

4. Reference Services to Educators-at-Large--who can be listed in a directory giving the addresses and self-descriptions of professionals, paraprofessionals, and free-lancers, along with conditions of access to their services. Such educators, as we will see, could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients."

"I will use the words "opportunity web" for "network" to designate specific ways to provide access to each of four sets of resources. "Network" is often used, unfortunately, to designate the channels reserved to material selected by others for indoctrination, instruction, and entertainment. But it can also be used for the telephone or the postal service, which are primarily accessible to individuals who want to send messages to one another. I wish we had another word to designate such reticular structures for mutual access, a word less evocative of entrapment, less degraded by current usage and more suggestive of the fact that any such arrangement includes legal, organizational, and technical aspects. Not having found such a term, I will try to redeem the one which is available, using it as a synonym of "educational web."

"What are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching."

Illych began the work which comprised "Deschooling Society" in 1967, and finalized the published work after discussions in Cuernavaca at Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) in November, 1970.

Now that's futurism. After 37 years, reality starts lining up with the vision.

I've relied upon Illych's "big ideas" in crafting my own educational path after attending CIDOC in 1974. Later, I returned to Illych's thoughts in developing technology adoption "models" for telecommunications clients and financial companies who needed to deal with what was apparent chaos but in fact celebration of the access and flow of information.

Thank you, Ivan Illych.

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