Deschool the System

I find myself being exposed to so many different learning theories and am trying so hard to make sense of how they all fit together.

I recently read Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, which I found to be intriguing. Illich points out the problems with traditional, institutionalized education – it’s ineffectual, inequitable, and socially polarizing. He argues that we should do away with schools entirely, instead creating a society where children can engage in self-directed and informal learning based on their interests, and connect with mentors who can guide them through the process. He also argues that technology can be used to create a good educational system, which he defines below:

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. – Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

Part of this would be creating learning networks that are open and accessible to all, such as directories of professional educators and databases to match learners with peers and others who would like to exchange skills. Another of his learning networks idea was an open directory of educational resources for learners.

I think this is a great definition of what a good educational system should have, and overlaps with connectivism, the theory that learning is the process of creating connections and expanding one’s network. The way I interpret it is that we are all connected and learn by interacting with others and exchanging information, and it’s this structure of interaction that is more important than the content being shared.

I think in a lot of ways, the internet has allowed us to do this. Granted, there are still some issues with access, especially in low socioeconomic areas or undeveloped parts of the world. That being said,for the most part, there are more people who now have the ability to retrieve information on virtually any topic and connect with others via the web. There are so many methods of informal learning, whether it’s following online tutorials or watching videos on YouTube. You can even join a MOOC! People are engaging in learning networks in a myriad of ways, and I would argue that you could learn just about anything now thanks to the internet and other users.

I think this is amazing. Sure, there are some potential drawbacks, such as the possibility of false information being spread. This makes me think back to the debates we had in my journalism classes, where many professional journalists were worried about this new era of citizen journalism – now anyone could videotape an event, post it online, and call it news. How could you verify it? What about the quality? Does that really make them journalists?

When it comes down to it, though, I like to think that these digital platforms have democratized society, and that this is overall a good thing. Everyone has a voice and can partake in the process, rather than an elite few.

However, I feel there are still elitist practices in place. While there is a massive amount of information that is open and accessible, and just about anyone can learn a topic or skill through informal means, the rest of society tends to question the validity of those who have not learned through “traditional” methods. While many colleges and universities open up their resources and courses to the public, degrees are granted to those who actually attend those colleges/universities, and jobs are most likely given to people with degrees listed on their resumes.

I myself am paying thousands of dollars to go to Harvard where much of the material I’m learning is easily accessible through other online courses, and many of my professors advocate self-directed and informal learning. Most of the activities I’m partaking in are activities I could still partake in without actually coming here. But, in the end, that university name and degree on my resume is probably what sticks out and carries more weight.

I find myself greatly at odds with this. I don’t think this system is fair to non-traditional learners. There are so many skilled individuals that are overlooked because there’s no degree on their resume.

What do we do about that – how do we deschool the system?

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