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essays

Mar 1, 1979

Deschooling and Autonomy

On undoing the schools’ damage.

Imprisoned in the Global Classroom. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, 1976.

Autonomous education involves “deschooling” and “permanent education” (lifelong education based on human spontaneous social experience and exchange of data and skills) unprogrammed by institutional or professional mediators. However, several governments have perverted voluntary permanent education into a scheme of lifelong, compulsory, adult education directed by “the capitalists of knowledge and professionals licensed to distribute it,” and financed by an involuntary tax upon the wages of its victims, the working people.

This coercive permanent education involves France, but also threatens America where a 1974 panel of the President’s Science Advisory Committee urged a similar policy for the United States. Dramatically underlining the influence of the Chinese Communist system of permanent education upon government and education officials, was a little noticed 1974 speech of President Ford that urged a closer coordination of industry and public education and praised the Chinese model.

One principle purpose of the perverted scheme of “permanent education” is to adapt, integrate, tame, and dominate the industrial working people to the needs of their political and economic rulers. Another aim is to sustain unemployed intellectuals by creating a new class, a new profession of “permanent” schoolteachers and administrators whose social status and privileges will be secured by taxing the wages of its victims, the workers. The role of these professionals will be to weaken the self-sufficiency and competence of the workers by monopolizing the technical knowledge needed in the new industrial society. Thus the autonomous ideal of replacing the monopolistic and debilitating professional expertise of the school with diffused sources of knowledge (in a spontaneous marketplace without formally institutionalizing such knowledge) has been perverted by a state institutionalization of so-called “permanent” education.

Illich foresees several results of this monopolized education. The subjection of full grown adults to compulsory job training or pedagogy will perpetuate a childlike sense of dependency and weaken autonomy. An infantilization of the adult worker occurs which further enhances and legitimizes technocratic domination and ruling elites. Existence becomes “scholarized”; life becomes a never ending apprenticeship. Society will become an enormous, planet-sized classroom watched over by a few satellites unless the “deschoolers” can prevent the perversion of their complementary ideal of education as a lifelong, spontaneous, unprogrammed, and noninstitutionalized human experience leading to autonomy or self-rule rather than perpetual dependence on technocratic experts.