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Remember Monseignor Ivan Illich?

Around 1970-71, I found the writings of Ivan Illich. To me his thinking was far more sophisticated than mine or any I had seen. Illich wrote that schooling was a commodity paid for by the poor and used by the rich. Later on, he made the same comparison to air travel. Illich ran a school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, that subsisted by teaching Spanish, but also had a number of "new left" intellectuals teaching classes on a commission basis. Of course, I went as soon as I could. I hitched my way, stayed in an inexpensive commune, and wrangled college credit and funding. I wrote this while I was there.

Nylons, Deodorants, & Schools

On my way hitchhiking through Mexico, I was picked up by a middle-aged Mexican and his son. They carried me 70 kilometers. For that distance, I listened to the father rail at his son for just having dropped out of technical school. The son winced and avoided our eyes. I was having trouble following the conversation in Spanish, but it was clear what the father was about. He was tapping the dashboard of his pickup and saying that, without education, his son would only have a burro. This was my first extended contact with native Mexicans and I was horrified to have come upon a scene so terrible and so familiar. The man's attitude about schooling was as bad as ours.

Here in Cuernavaca, where I came to study a process called DESCHOOLING, I met a pretty Norteamericana. She had dropped out of the U of Chicago last year. Somewhere she had picked up the idea that she wanted to be an ornithologist and was on her way to Southern Mexico to join a bird team. She had traveled, on her own initiative, 2000 miles on the outside chance that this group would let her work with them. She was terribly depressed and worried. She thought they wouldn't take her because she had no college credentials in ornithology. Individual courage and initiative have no cash value. Only college credentials.

Schooling as a commodity

Schooling is a commodity that is for sale to the highest bidders in our country. There is forced consumption of the lesser strains of this commodity for everyone. There are severe penalties imposed on those who refuse to consume. The richest people are privileged to be able to consume the most schooling. The poorest, after they consume their low level force-fed ration, are "failed," that is, their consumption "privileges "are revoked and they are left bare to the punishments (job discrimination, etc.) that society metes out to nonconsumers. Payment for this commodity is placed on everyone, especially the renter classes, even though they are allowed to consume less. Think about it.

So it is in the U.S., in Mexico, and in most of the world. The poor people pay for schools, the elite use them, and the process is sanctified by the state. It has become our religion. Deep in her heart, the bird-girl believes that she really shouldn't get the opportunity she wants because no college said she shold have it. Universally, we have subscribed to this procedure so thoroughly that it is ingrained in our system of beliefs. It is our religion. The most obvious victims (we are all victims) consider themselves dropouts and outcasts. It isn't bad enough that we have convinced ourselves that those nonconsumers aren't worthwhile people; we have convinced them, too!

Funeral services, underarm deodorants, feminine sprays, SST's, status cars, clothing fashions, hair spray, schooling. Commodities.

Is there a real value attached to this commodity of schooling? Does it have real value or is it only the tool that separates the economic sheep from the goats? Does it prepare one for life? Certainly not for any kind of creative, rich or desirable life. Does it train you for work? Not unless passivity and docility (major common features of those who have had a great deal of schooling) are requirements for the job you aspire to!

I have heard many teachers claim that the value of schooling is in fact its negativism. Schools thus are valuable because they "prepare" you for a world of frustration, disappointment, unrelenting competition, and alienation. This may describe the character of schools, but is it a value?

Does schooling help you develop personally into the full bloom of your confidence and creativity? Does it make you a more capable person? Does it lead you to work with others toward the solution of the problems of humankind?

"Schooling," I am told, "is valueless except as a passport. It allows you to get into a position to do some 'real good'." The idea is that once you become a doctor, lawyer, etc., then you can get into the pilot's seat somewhere and change the direction of things. But it doesn't work that way at all. As you approach the top of the ladder, you find an increase in conformity until, at the very tiptop, you find the most conservative conformist of them all. It works that way because each step of the ladder represents a larger investment in the status quo. The leaders at the top say, "Sure I am for change, but I have to stay in power if I'm going to do any good…" I'll bet even Rockefeller says that.

Each year of schooling constitutes a larger investment in the workings of our society just as it is. The elite, top school consumers, clamor for higher and higher educational requirements for entry into the better positions. Twelve years of school consumption used to be pretty good, but now we are expected to endure 17 years or more! For many of today's children, the process starts at four and will continue until their thirties. Not only do we endure more syears of schooling, but more and more areas are covered by schooling. There are practically no fields that one can enter without previous credentializing by schools, and the credentials grow ceaselessly more expensive. MORE SCHOOLING is constantly being pushed at us.

Open wide, everyone.

By Gene Lantz

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