Monday, November 15, 2004


NOTE: Originally written for use by activists in the free education movement, this piece details the theories, and hints at the contemporary relevance, of a number of radical education theorists - Paolo Freire, Postman and Weingartner, Paul Goodman, Everett Reimer, Ivan Illich and Jules Henry. Also included are brief critical remarks on each author.


Paolo Freire was a Brazilian radical educator whose theory of "critical pedagogy" was influential in the 1960s and 1970s. Associated initially with the pro-democracy movement and later with Guevarist and other guerrilla movements, Freire was mainly involved in teaching literacy in predominantly peasant societies. In contrast to the vocational and functional arguments used by Blairites to justify 'literacy' drives, Freire wanted 'literacy' to mean more than being able to understand and communicate written orders. Literacy should be part of a broader project of taking control of your life by constructing your own ways of describing and analysing individual and collective experiences. Education for liberation is therefore for Freire a central part of both democratic and revolutionary approaches to politics, and democracy cannot work effectively without extensive critical education, since the oppressed, trapped by a "culture of silence" and "fear of freedom", will be bullied into submission and into deferring power to oppressive 'strong' leaders. The impact of Freire's educational programmes was so subversive that he was immediately jailed after the 1964 coup. He later went into exile, continuing his work in Chile, Africa and elsewhere.

Freire was concerned about what he called a "culture of silence" among the dispossessed - an ignorance and lethargy caused by being subject to domination and paternalism Prevented from forming a "critical awareness and response" to the reality they are living in, people become "submerged" in this reality. They uncritically accept it and become unable to think outside its terms (PO 10). Oppressive social situations often absorb their participants in such a way as to make it difficult for them to think about changing these situations. Oppression, furthermore, tends to "domesticate" its victims. These people do not support their oppression by an act of will, but it reproduces itself "by its own mechanical and unconscious functionality" (PO 28). Manipulated people are effects of domination who tend to become causes of domination also (PO 126).

Denied their own voice, the oppressed are easy prey for oppressors - both the brutal kind, and the more subtle kind who trap the oppressed in dependency through false generosity. Both these forms involve a "conquest" and colonisation of the life-world of the oppressed, which Freire terms "cultural invasion". The conqueror imposes objectives on the conquered, making them almost possessions; this strips them of their own "word", culture and expressiveness (PO 108). The oppressed become, as a result, spectators with an illusion of acting indirectly, instead of actors; solidarity is replaced with alienation and oppressed people become internally divided, each expressing sometimes her or himself and sometimes the 'oppressor within'. This can be solved by ejecting the oppressor within (PO 25).

In the meantime, the presence of two sets of imperatives and desires leads to fatalism (PO 37), and with it, a reluctance to resist and a lack of self-confidence. In addition, the oppressed often develop "a diffuse, magical belief in the invulnerability and power of the oppressor". As one peasant puts it, "The peasant has an almost instinctive fear of the boss" (PO 39). The resultant passivity can only be overcome by actions which show the bosses to be vulnerable (PO 40). Also, the "oppressor within" can be triggered or frightened by particular words and things, which can make oppressors act in very reactionary ways (PO 105). Oppressors cannot entirely suppress people's capacity for thought, so they also rely on mythicising the world, "to present... a world of deceit designed to increase [oppressed people's] alienation and passivity" (PO 109). They present the status quo as a "free society" offering human rights, opportunities for wealth and so on. This involves blatant contradictions: an ideology of equality alongside the phrase "Do you know who you are talking to?", a universal "right" to education when only a few reach university, and so on (PO 109-110). For myths to operate, the oppressed must accept the world-view of the oppressors (PO 116-17). Cultural invasion also involves the creation of a "static perception of the world" and "a parochial view of reality", as well as the imposition of one world-view on another (PO 129).

Furthermore, overthrowing a situation of oppression also involves identity-changes. People who see themselves as lazy, good-for-nothing failures can only change the world if they reconceptualise themselves as exploited, oppressed people (PO 39). This means they need to change their perceptions of why they are suffering - dropping the idea that their plight is their own fault or the result of their own inadequacy, and blaming it instead on the social situation they are in. In this respect, Freire's critical education is the exact opposite of the agenda pursued through citizenship training, P.S.H.E., self-esteem programmes and the like - which try to make people see their problems in personal terms. It is also the opposite of political discourse which blames children and teachers for bad results and which blames unemployment on individuals. It also means thinking of yourself as "under" the bosses rather than wanting to be like them (PO 40). Freire thinks that "the absolutizing of ignorance" is a central part of oppressors' ideology, and it implies the existence of someone who decrees that others are ignorant, i.e. a 'knowing' class (PO 104).

A culture of silence leads to a "fear of freedom" among many people, oppressors and oppressed alike. "Critical consciousness, they say, is anarchic; others add that critical consciousness leads to disorder. But some confess: Why deny it? I was afraid of freedom. I am no longer afraid!" (PO 15). Opponents of critical education feel it will lead to the collapse of their entire world and make them fanatics. Those who have undergone this education know better. Oppressors also unconsciously defend their own acts with rationalisations and psychological defence mechanisms. Facts which threaten oppressors' interests are reinterpreted and turned into a "myth... in defence of the class of the perceiver" (PO 29). Such myths function as a set of "prohibitions" and "difficulties" which operate to "dissuade the people from critical intervention in reality" (PO 29). For instance, the oppressors often initiate violence and then try to blame it on the oppressed (PO 32). They see anyone who does not share their property-based worldview as lazy, ungrateful or envious, and they see acts which 'humanize' the oppressed as subversive - hence their constant attempts at control and surveillance (PO 35). They also see all untested possibilities as threatening (PO 74). People become capable of critical action when they see the limits of the present system, not as the boundary between Being and Nothingness, but as the barrier between being and being more fully human (PO 74). Present limits are not the end of possibility; they are "limit-situations" which can be overcome (PO 71). These situations serve some groups and negate or curb others.

Fear of freedom is widespread but is usually camouflaged; it leads people to imagine spectres and bogeymen which lead them to hide from freedom, and it also leads to a Doublespeak in which freedom is confused with the status quo and any threat to the status quo is perceived as a threat to freedom (PO 16). People who fear freedom stop listening to others and even to their own conscience, and turn social relations into an empty gregariousness (PO 24). In a modern context, "fear of freedom" leads some people to see "mindless thugs" with "spurious causes", "terrorists", "extremists" or "trots" behind every movement of the oppressed, and fabricate a "threat to our freedom" to justify preserving the status quo at all costs - to justify anything from police violence on Mayday to stitching up N.U.S. Conference.

Because the oppressed are shaped by an oppressive social structure, they often reproduce their oppressors' way of thinking in subtle ways: they may 'adhere' directly to an oppressor and identify with him/her; or they may accept the oppressor's view that to be human is to be an oppressor, and act oppressively if they ever receive any power; or their perception of themselves as oppressed may be impeded by submersion in the reality of oppression, so that they identify positively with being a member of an oppressed group (PO 22). Instead of reproducing oppression, Freire says, we should be trying to overcome it.

Sectarians of all persuasions - including all right-wingers according to Freire, as well as some left-wingers- imprison themselves in circular certainties which also imprison reality (PO 16-17). They adopt fixed dogmas about the nature of reality and feel threatened when these are questioned. Furthermore, oppressors think of everything in terms of possession: "For them, to be is to have" (PO 34-5), and they therefore often think of people as if they are inanimate 'things' (PO 35). Radicals should avoid being sectarians and be unafraid to enter into dialogue with the people - not imposing ideas, not posing as their liberator and not trying to own history or other people, but instead, adopting a commitment to fight at the side of the oppressed (PO 19). Only such radicals can carry out a critical education. Dialogic education also requires educators who are neither intellectually self-sufficient nor afraid of being displaced, and who have faith in and love for humanity (PO 62-3). Freire is worried about people who take the side of the oppressed without changing their own ways of thinking. He thinks these people often carry with them many unrecognised "prejudices", find it difficult to trust ordinary people and lack confidence in the people's desires to think, want, and know. He therefore advises that anyone taking the side of the people should constantly re-examine her or himself (PO 36-7).

According to Freire, the voicelessness imposed by the culture of silence is fundamentally dehumanising. He believed strongly that human beings have what he calls an "ontological vocation", or duty, to "be a subject who acts upon and transforms his [sic] world", and to open up new possibilities in individual and collective life (PO 12). Being denied a voice is a central part of being denied power. The act of 'naming the world' is central to understanding and changing it. Oppressive practices dehumanise both oppressors and oppressed by denying either an active role in the world (PO 20). Those unable to speak their own word due to the culture of silence are often subject to "prescription": their consciousness is transformed into one which conforms with someone else's consciousness and which imposes someone else's choices (PO 23).

The oppressed cannot overthrow oppression unless they realise that it exists. According to a peasant interviewed by Freire: "The peasant begins to get courage to overcome his dependence when he realises that he is dependent. Until then, he goes along with the boss and says, 'What can I do? I'm only a peasant'" (PO 37). Education is central, therefore, to stopping oppression surviving by making itself invisible. Furthermore, educators have to convince many oppressed people of their capacity to learn. Many oppressed people feel that they are "good for nothing, know nothing and are incapable of learning anything" - due to being told so by the oppressors; as one peasant remarked, "The peasant feels inferior to the boss because the boss seems to be the only one who knows things and is able to run things" (PO 38-9). Such people often want to retain traditional forms of education and adopt a passive role when being educated. But their self-image is distorted. (In Britain today, people are often made to feel stupid by an education system which tries to cram and test too much, too quickly, and which labels them as "failures" if they can't keep up). People actually have all kinds of knowledge and insight, though they don't think of it as such. Freire is not bound by test scores, IQ and similar criteria; for him, anyone who can think about the world, or about their own life, is capable of learning. The real problem is not stupidity but "na‹ve thinking", which sees all existence in terms of pressures to conform and normalise to fit into the present (PO 65). Freire wants to replace na‹ve thinking with critical thinking.

Freire sees education as a central part of any response to oppression. According to Richard Shaull, he "demonstrates the power of thought to negate accepted limits and open the way to a new future" (PO 11). So education can lead to a new awareness of self, and to a sense of dignity and hope (PO 12). Its methods should be "dialogical" and "problem-posing" (PO 19), with educators acting as a equal with those they teach and also learning from them. The role of education is to make people "feel like masters of their thinking" (PO 95) through discussion of their own and others' worldviews.

Freire is careful, however, to distinguish between different kinds of education. Some education is "critical" and "creative", encouraging the oppressed to develop their own ideas. Other types of education merely integrate people into existing society and create conformity. The latter type are a barrier to liberating the oppressed (13-14). Freire is particularly critical of what he terms the "banking" concept of education, which sees students as receptacles into which pre-existing units of knowledge or skills are deposited (Does this sound familiar?...). "Banking" education conceals and mystifies, and reinforces fatalism.

In a "banking" conception of education, teacher-student relations are one-way narrative flows between a teller (subject) and a listener (object). The content of education - whatever it is - becomes "lifeless and petrified" as a result. "Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated and alienating verbosity". Furthermore, the content is often "alien" to the learner and is taught "as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalised and predictable". Such an approach ignores the transformative possibilities of language. It treats ideas as deposits to be inserted into inert students treated as containers for information. The scope of action for students is limited to receiving, filling and storing; they are allowed neither to catalogue and classify information nor to inquire, transform or invent (PO 45-6). Tests based on mechanically memorising facts also reward meekness. The "banking" conception of education sees students as adaptable and manageable, and rewards them for being so. The more students adapt to this kind of education, the more they accept a passive role, adapt to the world as it is and adopt a fragmented, reified view of reality (PO 46-7). It functions by regulating the way the world "enters" students, and by creating a humanity/world dichotomy - both of which tend to "fit" the oppressed unquestioningly into the oppressors' world (PO 49-50). Freire says that "everything in this ready-to-wear approach serves to obviate thinking"; "It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men [sic] to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power" (PO 50-1). It makes communication between teachers and students impossible, relying instead on artificial instructions such as strict lists of required reading (PO 50). The principles of this kind of education include an injunction "not to think" (PO 124). Such educational practices condition people into ways of thinking and acting which they often reproduce later, as professionals or even as radical activists (PO 124).

Freire is also hostile to versions of education which treat it as a "paternalistic social action apparatus". Such versions see the oppressed as the marginalised deviants and victims of an otherwise healthy society, and try to "adjust these 'incompetent and lazy' folk to its own patterns by changing their mentality" (This sounds like Welfare to Work and its ilk to me). The role of this kind of education is to "integrate" and "incorporate" (PO 48) - or in today's rhetoric, "social inclusion". But according to Freire, the oppressed are not marginal to or outside the social structure (PO 48) - they are very much within it. Schools and 'child rearing' practices are often modelled on the social structure and imitate its oppressive form, so an authoritarian society tends to produce authoritarian schools and families. Cultural invaders also try to convince the oppressed of their inferiority so they try to imitate the oppressors' habits. This necessarily leads to rebellion by the children and youths subject to it. However, this can take the form of escapism or general destructiveness rather than authentic rebellion (PO 123-4).

Oppressors also have their own forms of learning: social sciences which can be used to know and therefore guide the peoples they have conquered (PO 122).

Once taken in by reactionary education, the oppressed are ready for the appeals of charismatic leaders who offer them symbolic participation in the leader's life. This offers people the illusion of acting through the leader when actually, they are submitting and adopting a passive role (PO 51). This is because the "banking" conception of education "stimulates... credulity" with an implicit intent of indoctrinating students into accepting the world of oppression (PO 52). Having rendered people receptive, oppressors can "create even more fear of freedom" by sloganising (PO 67). Meanwhile, dedicated professionals are drawn into and used for manipulative forms of cultural action, usually based on a very partial perception of social problems; and measures such as management training are used to divide and rule the oppressed by creating elites allied to the oppressors (PO 112, 115). Events of the N.U.S. Convention type are used to consolidate elites of union and community leaders against the oppressed as a whole. Groups are turned against each other, on the basis that each sees the others as lazy and untrustworthy. 'Dangerous' individuals are domesticated by being promoted or offered benefits. Distribution of rewards and penalties is used to divide and rule. Leaders of the left are lured with the prospect of power if they abandon their mass base and play an "elitist game" the oppressors call "realism" (PO 118). Individuals are inoculated against radical change via an appetite for personal success (PO 119). Populism tends to be restricted to welfare programmes, which aneasthetise, distract, and divide-and-rule (PO 121). And all this is rendered possible by oppressive forms of education.

Freire instead advocates a problem-posing education which encourages a perception able to perceive itself as well as reality (PO 58). Freire wants to resolve the teacher-student contradiction and create a situation where all participants are simultaneously teachers and learners (PO 46). This kind of "dialogic" situation is only possible where both sides have the right to "name the world" (PO 60). Teachers should not try to name the world for their students; rather, education should be an "encounter among men [sic] who name the world" (PO 61). Furthermore, education should be directed at (or rather, 'with') real people in specific situations (PO 66). 'Deposits' should be replaced by 'praxis' (PO 52), that is, theoretically informed practice. Education should be based on "intentionality" (people's active perception and interaction with the world in relation to creative projects) and "communication" (PO 52). It should be based on acts of cognition, not transferrals of information (PO 53). It should involve people coming together in dialogue to name the world in order to transform it (PO 107, 135). In this context, cultural synthesis confronts culture as the preserver of alienating structures (PO 147).

Freire also sees education as a process and not a fixed entity or outcome, which is why he often replaces the fixed term "consciousness" with the longer term "conscientization", expressing his view that consciousness is a process which is in movement and which is coming into existence through a process (rather than something pre-existing its transmission). Consciousness should also include consciousness of consciousness (PO 53). Conscientization is a "deepening of the attitude of awareness" (PO 81). Freire thinks the oppressors know almost instinctively that his kind of education poses a threat to them, and so they fall back on other versions. They also have a shrewd intuition that critical thought threatens their power and so "instinctively use all means, including physical violence, to keep the people from thinking" (PO 118-19).

Freire thinks education should always involve an investigation of thinking as well as of a subject-matter (a "cognizable object"). It should be constituted and organised by the students' own view of the world (PO 81). Educators should investigate this world-view in order to extract "generative themes" which should then be used to introduce other concepts. These themes allow access to the "thematic universe" of the oppressed: their "thought-language", worldview and way of perceiving (PO 69). This thematic universe varies across different historical periods and between different groups of oppressed people. Often, its themes are concealed by limit-situations (PO 74). Resources in education should be drawn from people's everyday lives (for instance, discussing situations at work or newspaper editorials). The role of the teacher in Freire often involves reformulating students' beliefs as "problems" to be solved (eg. PO 94). For instance, educators can use the contradictions in propaganda and manipulation to pose it as a problem (PO 121). Freire also thinks educators should try to draw out students' sentiments and opinions (including ones running counter to educators' expectations), which would otherwise remain repressed (PO 89-90). Radical educators should learn about the people's world-view from the people, whereas cultural invaders impose generative themes from the outside (PO 147).

Freire wants a subterranean dialogue with ordinary people based on action. He is hostile to radical strategies which rely on "using slogans, communiques, monologues and instructions", manipulation, regimentation, prescription or 'depositing', which are "instruments of domestication". "Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building... [and] transform them into masses which can be manipulated" (PO 41, 97). Consciousness is a result of an educational process, and it cannot be imposed from the outside. Radicals should try to live "with", not "inside" the people; they should avoid cultural invasion and aim for cooperative coexistence with them (PO 98). Radical action should therefore be with, not for, ordinary people, and should involve a unity of reflection and action (PO 42-3). One of the roles of education is to develop critical thinking, which involves (among other things) avoiding thinking of people and the world as separate, thinking while immersed in action, and thinking of reality as a process of transformation (PO 64-5). Critical thought transcends na‹ve knowledge of reality by perceiving the causes of reality (PO 101). A radical change - even a revolution - which results from approaches other than dialogue has an extremely doubtful future (PO 97).

Although Freire is writing about educating illiterate peasants, his approach retains relevance. Our right to say our own word is still being stolen from us by the monopolisation of information flows and the media and by the smothering dominance of a closed set of neo-liberal discourses. Denied access to critical education, many people are again becoming "submerged" in a social system in which they have no voice. In the education system, the "banking" conception of education is rampant and spreading, and education policy is more than ever set through communiques and instructions. The fight for access to a critical education which allows and encourages people to think for themselves and to say their own word remains a vital part of the struggle for a better world.


* Freire exaggerates the extent to which oppressors directly and consciously manipulate, going as far as to say that there are theories of oppressive action and education to parallel his own theories of critical education.

* Serious questions can be asked about Freire's model of post-revolutionary society and his relationship to Stalinism.

* Freire's method often involves a subtle imposition of a particular type of interpretation on popular beliefs, which he then claims assesses their "real" content. Freire tries to deny the fact that he is introducing a positive content of his own into education, so he can draw the boundary against "cultural invasion" more sharply.

* Freire attributes almost magical powers to "true" words and underestimates the extent to which different people can perceive the same object differently. He also tends to talk as if "the people" is a homogeneous, united entity.


Goodman is an American education theorist whose work is influenced by the "deschoolers". In contrast to them, he sees some role for formal education; however, he is very hostile to the present type of education. He describes it as follows: "At present, in most states, for ten to thirteen years every young person is obliged to sit the better part of his [sic] day in a room almost always too crowded, facing front, doing lessons predetermined by a distant administration at the state capital and that have no relation to his own intellectual, social or animal interests, and not much relation to his economic interests. The overcrowding precludes individuality or spontaneity, reduces the young to ciphers, and the teacher to a martinet. If a youth tries to follow his own bent, he is interrupted and even jailed. If he does not perform, he is humiliated and threatened, but he is not allowed to fail and get out" (CM 52-3).

Goodman claims that schooling (i.e. education through formal schools and similar institutions) has become a "mass superstition". It is kept in this position by a caste of "school-monks" who encourage blind faith in schooling: not the teachers themselves, but a stratum of administrators and professionals whose positions depend on widespread schooling (CM 11). Schools (including universities, colleges etc.) offer little evidence of their benevolent effects, and plenty of evidence to the contrary - but they get away with this because of their superstitious support-base: "they do not need to offer evidence, since nobody opposes them or proposes alternatives" (CM 12). The roots of this superstition, Goodman claims, lie in uncertain conditions. People ward off uncertainty about the future by rigidifying old methods (CM 13). The superstition, however, becomes self-reinforcing, especially since professions start to base their entry on school qualifications (CM 118). The cult of schooling has destructive effects on participants in education. In some cases, pressure is so great that parents send their children to school dosed up on tranquillisers (CM 29).

Goodman believes schools offer an approach to biological and other urges which is at best impractical and at worst reactionary. For instance, schools tend to act as if sexuality does not exist (CM 28-9), rendering themselves irrelevant to many youths as a result. Youth sexuality is expected not to exist; when it then appears, there is alarm. Furthermore, youths' psychological crises and desire for a vocation are not taken seriously; only deviants get counselling and there are very few humane jobs anyway (CM 60-2). Furthermore, hostility, anger and aggression tend to be suppressed, meaning that they get pent up and express themselves in "reactive stupidity" CM 28). Hostility, grief and sexuality become "dammed up", which makes matters worse: any release of them could be spectacular and dangerous, so that properly educational schooling runs the risk of explosive events leading to moral panics and repression (CM 38). Usually, they are kept dammed indefinitely, which leads to a defensive refusal to take anything seriously and a "leave me alone" attitude.

According to Goodman, "almost all stupidity is a 'defence'" (CM 38), and it can only be relaxed once pent-up emotions are released. In the meantime, repressed needs return in more-or-less pathological ways (CM 99). Youths also adopt a whole range of concerns (friendships, dating, hobbies, music, etc.) to restore self-confidence and self-worth - but these are seen as frivolous by adults and interrupted if they interfere with school! (CM 100). Young people are offered very little to grow and develop on: for conformists, security becomes a substitute for feeling you are needed; for others, there is only a choice between "recessive narcissism", "reactive hostility" or "withdrawal" (CM 94). Schools often adopt counterproductive measures to deal with such problems. "Many students are lazy, so teachers try to goad or threaten them by grading. In the long run this must do more harm than good. Laziness is a character-defence. It may be a way of avoiding learning, in order to protect the conceit that one is already perfect (deeper, the despair that one never can). It may be a way of avoiding just the risk of failing and being downgraded. Sometimes it is a polite way of saying 'I won't'. But since it is the authoritarian grown-up demands that have created such attitudes in the first place, why repeat the trauma?" (CM 108-9). The situation is even worse when justified resistances to doing work are hidden because particular students can be bullied into 'passing' anyway.

In the meantime, reactive stupidity becomes a barrier to the creation of an environment where learning is possible (CM 38). Embarassment is widespread, based mainly on fear of retaliation, especially by others with "more words", and also a lack of vocabulary to discuss emotional issues. Among youths, this embarrassment often expresses itself in salesman-like 'brazening', distracting talk of trivialities, and (in young men) machismo. With adults, it expresses itself in a silence laced with (perhaps unconscious) blazing contempt. This leads to a refusal to speak to adults such as guidance counsellors. It means that if any adult actually wants to communicate, they will be met by a wall of silence. It also leads to youths forming separate reactive subcultures, often hostile to adults and present 'public' goals, frequently identifying with other groups of oppressed people and involving a sense of exclusion. These subcultures use "secrets, jargon and a core of sabotage and defence against the adult culture". At best, this "semi-articulate speech" enables conversation, togetherness and even democratic participation. At worst, "the small talk drives out real talk", "jealousy protects itself against meaning" and snobbishness takes over, excluding sincerity and originality (CM 62-5). By the time these young people go to university, this rebellion often seems unrealistic, and the resultant loss of the subculture is demoralising. Students are often left voiceless. Many never learnt to stand up to their parents, so cannot go beyond grumbling about needless rules. Many are discontented with their education but do not know what they want instead. University administrations generally atomise students and lecturers, and courses often develop parroting instead of interest (CM 67). Often, the crushing defeat youths feel themselves to have suffered leads to exaggerated conformism, retreat into personal or family life, temporary retreat from the fray, or, at best, an attempt to manipulate the system from within (CM 68). People develop a fixed self-concept, as if living out an autobiography which has already been written (CM 101). Sexuality is distorted by social myths which turn it into a competitive and manipulative activity (CM 101-2). And people start to act, not based on what they desire, but based on "what they think they ought to desire" (CM 102).

Goodman further argues: "The conditions I have been describing, and the youthful responses to them, sadly limit human communication and even the concept of it. 'Communication' comes to be interpreted as the transfer of a processed meaning from one head to another which will privately put it in a niche in its own system of meanings. This system is presumably shared with the others - one can never know. And in this presumptive consensus, the exchanged information adds a detail or a specification, but it does not disturb personality or alter characteristic behaviour, for the self has not been touched. At most, the information serves as a signal for action from the usual repertory". This severely limits the possibility of anyone influencing anyone else. Speech ceases to be communicative and becomes "ritual", reproducing familiar views. It becomes taboo to question whether the consensus exists, or to ask people to prove whatever loose generalisations they make. "In ideal cybernetic theory, the exchange of information is supposed to alter the organisms conversing, since they must make internal readjustments to it; but my observation is that no such alteration occurs. The chief meaning of conversation is its own smooth going on". The only exception is salesmanship, and here, there is no dialogue; the customer is either passively receptive or dumbly resistant. What we lose as a result is the possibility of speech shaping pre-verbal needs and emotions, the possibility of speech initiating knowledge of an unknown environment (since it presumes consensus), and speech as a committed dialogue which changes its participants' beliefs on a subject-matter (as opposed to setting rules or roles) (CM 68-70). Speech ceases to be a way of growing, developing, and relating to others, and becomes merely a way of describing the status quo. Embarrassment prevents emotionally-engaged speech, and bureacratic structures render it useless. Speech cannot explore new areas if people are afraid of losing themselves in confusion (CM 70).

Due to the way subjects are presented, students often do not grasp that their studies are "about something". What they learn, even when it is potentially interesting and relevant, often has "no connection" for students. Students often have little experience outside the world of schooling; their emotions have been carefully guided and limited by parents and gangs, and middle-class students may never have met a poor person or a foreigner (CM 111). The resultant lack of reference points makes it virtually impossible to teach (for instance) sociology, anthropology and world literature in a meaningful way: students find the books indigestible and the harsh relativisation of morals threatening. Academic pedantry makes matters worse still. When such subjects are taught, "the method is merely verbal" (CM 105-6, 112). The potential of such subjects tends therefore to be missed.

The good effects which schools can have are undermined by oversized classes and resultantly standardised texts and teaching. In oversized classes, children cease to be persons and "the teacher is destroyed as a teacher" (CM 29). Standardised curricula destroy the possibility of forming a community of scholars and effective programmes are rarely taught since they have to be watered down for generalised consumption (CM 29). The presence in education of people who do not want to be there, and have no real reason to be, has a general effect of diluting, stupefying and overcrowding education (CM 97).

Denied the ability to teach effectively, schools become the focus for other roles which are foisted onto them, especially baby-sitting and, later, policing children and youths. There is a risk, therefore, of schools "providing cops and concentration camps paid for in the budget under the heading 'Board of Education'" (CM 21). Formal education is used as a way of keeping the unemployed off the streets, and Goodman is appalled as an academic and as a human being by this abuse of education and waste of youthful vitality (CM 51). (New Deal quasi-compulsory training schemes and boot camps are two contemporary examples of this tendency at work). Where it is allowed an educative role, this role is also reactionary: providing apprentice-training for corporations and the state at public or parental expense, and even (in the words of one New York Commissioner for Education) training people "to handle constructively their problems of adjustment to authority" (CM 21).

There are also problems with the role of schooling in society. Opportunities have been "stratified, rigidified, cut and dried" by corporations and the state, so that survival and advancement depend on a single set of 'schooled' standards, and talent meets the rules or fails (CM 23). This is used to promote conformity. Goodman believes that educational criteria for jobs are less about knowledge and skills than character: corporations want people who are punctual and have a smooth record of conformity (CM 23). The effort people put into their education does not produce citizenly initiative, happiness or democracy; time and effort lead to each student either being "weeded out" as a failure or "skimmed off" by the state or corporations (CM 23). The present system tends to make having a future dependent on success in school, which is harmful (CM 118-19) - in the past, some people could quit school and still do well elsewhere (CM 122). This link, plus the anxiety created by linkages of dropping out to delinquency in popular discourse, creates huge pressure to succeed (CM 122).

Furthermore, people are taught for years into "docility to training and boredom", backed by a structure of rewards and punishments, and are then suddenly expected to exercise initiative "in the most extreme matters", from forming a family to choosing a job or career, and from doing independent research to choosing a party to vote for. This produces a subtle form of social control, since the most likely outcome is that people fall back on familiar brand-names, mainstream parties and conventional organisational forms (CM 76). There are particular double standards about jobs. People are expected to seek work with resolution and ambition - but this hardly fits with the ignorance and alienation they begin from (CM 95). According to Goodman, the problems of unemployment and the young are insoluble - and so they should be, until we have a society more worthy of work and commitment (CM 98).

Universities aren't much better. "On visits to seventy colleges everywhere in the country [i.e. America], I have been appalled at how rarely the subjects are studied in a right academic spirit, for their truth and beauty and as part of humane international culture. The students are given, and seek, a narrow expertise, 'mastery', aimed at licences and salary" (CM 31). The role of universities is under threat: "the... social trend, of vocational training and contracted research, spells the end not only of the colleges but of the universities as well, regarded as schools for independent professionals, communities of scholars, and centres of free inquiry". They are being moved away from being humanistic guilds of scholars, towards being a system of social engineering for the government and economy. Learning has ceased to be spontaneous and free and has become "departmentalized and prescribed", and linking education to economic success produces "spiritual destruction" (CM 103-4). Many young people, including talented individuals at 'great' universities, balk at doing the work they are set. What this means is: "This work does not suit me, not this subject, or not at this time, or not in this school, or not in school altogether". Such students may not be bookish, or may be school-tired; but they are often bullied into passing anyway. "What a grim waste of young life and teacherly effort! Such a student will retain nothing of what he has 'passed' in", and may even be damaged, developing an obsession with telling her or his story and being believed (CM 109). Worse still, some talented students who want to learn are weeded out by mechanical grading. There are also situations of "forced labour" where students are only at university because their parents want them to be (CM 115).

Furthermore, universities can involve an imposed impossibility of escaping parent-like overseers (CM 108). They are also becoming obsessed with appearances. Universities seek an image for daring even while trying to censor student publications (CM 113). For many university presidents (in this country, vice-chancellors), "the world is made for photographers, not to live in" (CM 114). To make matters worse, many student unions are thoroughly co-opted, and simply act as a cover for things like censorship (CM 115). If students do become interested in their work, they are swiftly distracted due to the overload of work (CM 114). Many academics "are interested in the words and the methodology, not the thing and the task", and so undermine interest (CM 112).

Goodman believes the superstition about schooling results from a confusion. People in modern societies become easily mesmersied by the workings of a system with a benevolent name (such as "education") and assume that it must be working somewhat, since it has this name, and that it could not possibly have ceased to perform this function entirely (CM 30). It seems impossible, Goodman claims, to disabuse many people involved with schools of the view that testing necessarily proves the existence of knowledge which survives the test (CM 71-2). Goodman also thinks support for training, especially for unemployed youths, expresses an ascetic ethics. "In my opinion, the public buys this unexamined 'education' because of the following contradiction: The Americans are guilty because these youths are useless in the present set-up, so they spend money on them (though they get oddly stingy at crucial moments?; on the other hand, they insist the youths work hard at something 'useful' - namely useless training" (CM 54). Goodman thinks this kind of work ethic is outdated due to automation. It lacks an objective basis in scarcity of labour and it traps the unemployed in a cruel dilemma: guilt for not working, but unease and difficulties when seeking work (CM 91-2).

This logic of the system creates great dangers. Goodman thinks we may be heading for a "fascism of the centre", a 1984 society based on "the automating spirit" where free thought is crushed (CM 13). Despite the decline of production lines, production-line values continue to dominate, and are expanding into welfare services (CM 55-6). In schools, "brainwashing" and "conformity" are widespread; in society, the spirit of democracy is vanishing except in extra-legal dissident movements (CM 15). Schooling has in the past been a powerful and beneficient force for democracy, but it is now slipping from democracy into regimentation. Goodman contrasts the views of classical liberals such as Jefferson, who saw citizens as creators of society, with today's emphasis on turning out people who meet pre-defined criteria and ground rules, who 'participate in' and 'adapt to' society (CM 21-2). The problem is not even that schools promote middle-class values. They stress no values at all - only conformity to a mechanical system (CM 23). Control tends to prevent learning, by refusing opportunities and encouragement for it (CM 78). In the case of one post-16 compulsory school, teachers admitted they saw their students as "ineducable" and only tried to teach "attitude"! (CM 49). Even the 'best' elite schools are "run as if for delinquents", and even the brightest students do not follow their inclinations, but are pressured and bribed. Everyone else is simply subdued (CM 53). Even the elite gives itself the morale of slaves (CM 100). Schooling has become "a vast machine to shape acceptable responses", which blocks other kinds of learning and action (CM 76). Goodman terms this kind of education for conformity "miseducation" (CM 25).

Behaviourist approaches such as "programmed learning", which deny the learner any active role in education and systematically condition students to follow the teacher's train of thought (CM 71), are particular targets for Goodman. He sees these approaches as the culmination of a long degeneration from early conceptions of education as a good in itself, as histocailly situating and/or as development of logical skills, to a view of education as "identical with compulsory training to the goals of the controllers of behaviour", which may be "national needs", "improved attitudes" or any other "vagaries of Big Brother" (CM 74).

Exceptions are made in spheres where representatives of the system want to avoid controlling (or being seen to control) opinions, such as the humanities and the arts. This is, Goodman thinks, just as bad. It "condemns... aesthetic life to being a frill, without meaning for character, valuation, recreation or how one is in the world". It is also based on the false assumption that emotion is unstructured (CM 77).

Actually, many creative minds did not result from schooling: Einstein claimed that schooling deterred him from learning by rendering inquiry distasteful (CM 9). The system wants aptitude, not initiative (CM 62), and original scientific discoveries nearly always follow a pattern of bafflement, followed by pushing the problem out of mind, followed by a sudden and unexpected breakthrough. Science teaching tends to produce a "system of ideas and explanations" rather than a scientific mindset (CM 83-5). Whereas scientists see their activity in citizenly, humanistic, and vocational terms as well as practical ones, politicians only see it as a means to economic, military, medical and other goals (CM 81). The effects of schooling on promising scientists can therefore be quite harmful. The same is true for all fully-committed, 'scholarly' people: "Given quiet, and food and lodging, young scholars would study anyway, without grades. The drill and competitiveness are bad for their powers, and they mistake themselves and become snobbish craft-idiots" (CM 122). 'Schooled' people often find their initiative, sexuality, curiosity, earnestness and even intelligence dulled, and end up "marking time", except with no intention to leave (CM 123). In fact, schooling fails people across the ability spectrum: the bright but unacademic are forced into inauthentic success; the average are left anxious and stressed; the slow are humiliated and labelled; and the scholarly are ruined by bribery and pampering and "forget the meaning of their gifts" (CM 122).

Its effects on the poor are especially damaging. Poor youths often respond to schools, possibly in a life-preserving way, with a "reactive stupidity very different to their attitude elsewhere" (CM 24-5). Some drop out entirely, while others, especially middle-class children with something to lose, "drop out internally" and daydream while "caged" in school (CM 25). James Coleman says that "the average adolescent is really in school, academically, for about ten minutes a day" (CM 66) - the rest is spent goofing off, daydreaming and so on. Goodman maintains that official interest in drop-outs is mostly cynical, resulting from a perception that they are a nuisance and a threat and that the resist being socialised (CM 25). He maintains that the drop-outs may actually be wiser than many of those who stay. Their stress on immediate gratification is not entirely neurotic; the problem is that the system makes them feel failure and despair so that they cannot enjoy their new-found leisure-time, and discriminates against them so they are denied access to simple pleasures and are open to ridicule (CM 30). Contemporary society, Goodman claims, has created a harmful dichotomy. One can no longer be decently poor and settle for a satisfactory standard of living. One must either enter the rat-race to ever improve one's position, or drop out of mainstream society entirely (CM 31, 93). As for vocational training, it usually lasts so long that the jobs it is training for vanish (CM 54).

This problem relates to a more general one about public or institutional speech: faced with a single official world-view, a single lifestyle ideal and a largely meaningless political discourse shared by two very similar parties, many children quickly realise that "most of the speech is mere words". They are then, however, expected to work in and cooperate with an education system which is part of the same discourse, despite an absence of dialogue (CM 59). Goodman thinks children are also confronted by an equally 'official' popular culture. Though lacking content, this official discourse is neither sparse nor quiet; rather, its quantity is "swamping", its tone "jumpy and distracting", and in school, it involves extreme pressures to conform, from both teachers and peers (CM 60-1). This is a less brutal but more thorough brain-washing than occurs in most societies, and it produces confusion about one's experience and feelings and a chronic anxiety which leads people to cling to the official world-view for security (CM 61). The dominant philosophy is "the orthodoxy of a social machine not interested in persons, except to man and aggrandize itself" (CM 61).

Goodman also thinks that, worryingly, schooling often puts people off learning. He notes that, when children are switched from compulsory schooling into an environment where they can choose whether or not to attend classes, it often takes eight or nine months before they decide to do so (CM 42). Some forms of schooling may actually prevent intellectual development, including literacy. The "alien style, banning of spontaneous interest, extrinsic rewards and punishments" and other such practices impede learning (CM 27). Mechanical forms of teaching create a "wooden attitude towards 'writing'" which is therefore perceived as entirely separate from speech. Reading and writing become "a manipulation of signs" for purposes such as tests, and this can do "positive damage to spontaneous speech, meant expression, [and] earnest understanding" (CM 27-8). Goodman maintains, furthermore, that attempts to promote universal literacy as a goal in itself are misguided. What most people read is no more beneficial than what they find out by other means (TV, radio, talking), and intolerance of illiteracy leads to feelings of inferiority. There would, Goodman thinks, be more genuine literacy if reading were seen as a special art-form and not as a universal means of top-down communication (CM 26-7). Most people who acquire authentic literacy, furthermore, acquire it at home, not at school (CM 27). This is often the case with other skills: there are many things people learn quickly and well outside formal education (CM 51). There is a particular problem, Goodman thinks, with the way in which the "semi-literate and socially paranoiac" are subjected to procedures - especially selective ones, and form-filling - which induce "terrors and hang-ups" and can soon become an "impassable block" (CM 95).

The silence and uniformity operating in schools precludes effective engagement with subject-matter. Students who study practical subjects such as PE and woodwork rarely learn to express emotions through the body, and those studying intellectual subjects are impeded from committing themselves by an almost physical aversion to throwing their voices. This inadequacy is a product of the school situation: in one case, children who gave inadequate and perfunctory performances in PE were "marvellous little acrobats" in after-school dancing (CM 37). Schools are not simply dealing with pre-existing problems: their encouragement of emotional detachment impedes the expression of abilities which are already there. For Goodman, "Elementary schooling illustrates at its worst the human propensity to impose an unnecessary system and make it hard for ourselves, and thereby to lose the goods which are easy" (CM 124).

Each level of schooling becomes an exercise in undoing the damage of the previous level (CM 37). Former school students who go to university have to spend much of their effort 'unlearning' habits learnt in school, for instance. Meanwhile, progressive educational ideas are tolerated and even adopted - but they make their way into the system only in a bastardized, distorted form (CM 40-1), leading to a permanent situation of "unfinished revolution". Strangely, schooling often involves a paradoxical combination of harsh exploitation with excessive, smothering concern (CM 123).

Goodman is also hostile to tests and grading, and wants them abolished. He thinks grading hinders learning and causes a "bad spirit" which leads to cheating and plagiarism. Mostly, testing exists, not for educational purposes, but as a selection procedure for corporations, talent schools, universities and graduate schools. In such cases, if there must be tests at all, it would be better for the institutions themselves to test on the basis of what they want, rather than rely on general testing (CM 106-7). Testing is also useful in revealing people's weaknesses, but if such revelation leads to labelling and punishment, it encourages even more faking, 'bulling' and cheating (CM 108). Goodman sees a potential future role for tests in indicating weaknesses and confusion once these problems are removed. However, in the meantime testing acts as a barrier to learning. This operates between students also: students are impeded by other students from attempting dialogue; they are resented for "wasting time" or 'hogging' attention which distract from the issue of getting grades. This pressure also operates against lecturers who encourage dissent and debate (CM 111-12).

Goodman even has some specific remarks to make about tuition fees. These are not, he claims, an external part of education, but rather, they determine the way students think about education. They make education seem to be about the official goals (especially economic ones), and tend to destroy its humanistic role. They also produce fear of failure (CM 114). They are thus a central part of the whole problem with the education system.

For Goodman, education is a "natural community function" which should not be associated mainly with specialised institutions. Education should enable natural growth, whereas present education is unnatural and alienating (CM 20, 39). The educative function of many activities (art, music, love, sexuality, political protest, contemplation and religion, for instance) is available cheap or free (CM 30). Processing of exams should be replaced by consideration of the moral virtues, reasonableness and beauty of science and other subjects (CM 14). Schooling is a reasonable auxiliary of wider education processes, but we do not need a school system (CM 20). There is a case for uniform achievement standards but not for uniform procedures or techniques (CM 34). Education should try to fit each new social and technical development with people and nature, making us 'at home' in the contemporary world (CM 39, 41). He also thinks there is nothing wrong with schools playing 'baby-sitting' roles for young children, provided they are interesting and happy, rather than damaging (CM 52). However, since education's role is to prepare people for a more worthwhile future, we would have to create a more worthwhile world to have worthwhile education (CM 55). We should spend more on education - but not of the present type (CM 55, 116). Goodman is in favour of an array of educational institutions ranging from apprenticeships to humanities colleges (CM 126).

Education should be voluntary, since "no growth to freedom occurs except by intrinstic motivation" (CM 56). It should be "various and variously administered", not monolithic; and it should include opportunities to quit or take breaks to handle adolescent and other crises (CM 57). It should be "relevant to a good future rather than a morally bankrupt past" (CM 58). It should encourage growth to independence and identity, retention of curiosity and initiative, and acquisition of scientific habits, scholarly habits, productive endeavours and poetic speech (CM 61). Academic abstraction is useful for people interested in issues such as philosophy, and as a briefing for aspiring professionals - but it should not be applied wantonly. In some cases it can lead to barrenness and lack of relevance (CM 112). School-type institutions should have special roles only - for intensive training and as havens for those with a scholarly disposition (CM 106). However, Goodman thinks most academic subjects are intrinsically interesting (CM 111). Education should not be an ongoing process; people should take breaks, to prevent spirit-breaking and regimentation (CM 106). Universities should try to break down the need for extrinsic valuation and motivation and build up self-motivation (CM 108). Also, work should be rearranged to give it an educative role (CM 95).

Goodman wants change - but not so much in specifics as in terms of a rethinking, "to think in another direction". He wants to make it easier for people to gravitate to what suits them; cut the time wasted in parroting things, forgetting, and talking to people who aren't listening; and to create useful outcomes and a decent society (CM 127). Although he doubts that people will follow his advice, he suggests that "the present system is not viable; it is leading straight to 1984, which is not viable. The change, when it comes, will not be practical and orderly" (CM 127).

The problems Goodman raises are very relevant in contemporary Britain. Education as a standardised, rigidified process of inculcating docility to training and boredom ("employability"), comformity ("citizenship") and adaptation ("flexibility") has not merely persisted: it has actually become more pervasive. Tuition fees, as Goodman notes, reinforce this trend. The superstitions surrounding "education, education, education" are also worsening due to the convergence of political parties and the resultant pseudo-consensus in politics. Pressures to link education to work are intensifying, and teaching people against their will as a form of disguised policing is becoming a serious phenomenon, especially in relation to the unemployed. Overcrowding and over-use of grading and testing are worse than ever. Education which is "about something" is one of the first casualties of education "reform". On a broader scale, the decay of speech into ritual is continuing unabated. Goodman gives us some timely warnings about where we might be going and why we need to reverse these processes as quickly as possible.


* Goodman's idea of "scholarly" and "unscholarly" groups sounds a little elitist.
* In common with the other "deschoolers", Goodman is a little naive about the role of business in society.


* THERE IS NO DIRECT CAUSAL LINK BETWEEN BEING EDUCATED AND GETTING A WELL-PAID JOB. There is indeed a "correlation" (i.e., statistically, people who have higher levels of qualification are more likely also to have well-paid jobs). But correlations are not causal. This is a standard principle of quantitative sciences of all kinds. Correlations can involve a causal relationship in either direction or result from a third factor. In the case of education and jobs, the "third factor" causing both is class. "[T]he prima facie explanation of the correlation is the parents' income: by connections, manners and aspirations, middle-class children get middle-class jobs; schooling is an incidental part of it.... Similarly, the docility, neatness of appearance, etc., that are useful for getting petty jobs, are not created by years of schooling but they are accurately measured by them. In my opinion, the same line of criticism strongly applies to the spectacular correlation between lifetime income and years of schooling" (Paul Goodman, Compulasory Miseducation p. 50). In other words, the higher your class origin, the more you are likely to earn. The higher your class origin, the longer you are likely to stay in education. Staying in education does not get you a higher income. It is simply that people who get higher incomes, i.e. people from high-income class backgrounds, also are often able to stay in education longer than other people. Since people do not benefit financially from education, the case for pay-to-learn collapses.


Jules Henry was an American anthropologist whose work on education forms part of a wider investigation into cultural practices across a range of different social forms. Influenced by the philosopher Heidegger, Henry applies a "phenomenological" method to education practices in different social contexts, studying how meaning is constructed and derived by the participants in educational situations. When discussing western (usually American) education, Henry draws on his wide knowledge of educational practices from societies as diverse as ancient Greece, modern Egypt, and indigenous and tribal cultures. In contrast to most writers on education, Henry is primarily concerned with the detailed experience of children and others inside the classroom. He is mostly concerned with what modern education does to its participants, such as what he sees as distorted relationships between teachers and children, cultural indoctrination and the brutalisation of children's sensitivities (EE 7). He is able to use his knowledge of education in many societies to throw the unconscious biases and pressures of western education into sharp relief (EE 7).

According to Henry, education often reflects underlying philosophical ideas. For instance, systems which assume that children are bad engage in extensive practices to eradicate badness (EE 136-7). For Henry, furthermore, education does not necessarily teach primarily its conscious content. In the case of values, for instance, the results of education may not reflect the values being taught, and a school might also teach several contradictory values (EE 91-2). Also, education may have unintended consequences, such as "covert meta-responses" (i.e. responses to the system in general) which are the opposite of, or indifferent to, declared goals (EE 171), and effects on people's self-conceptions which occur even if teachers try to avoid altering such beliefs (EE 173-4). Western education, he feels, is often contradictory. For instance, American culture emphasises teaching people how (rather than what) to think. But in five years of observation Henry found little evidence of such teaching (EE 93).

Instead, Henry recorded a number of meta-responses running contrary to official goals. For instance, the competitive nature of education produces an "I-hope-he-fails" attitude towards others. Machine-jamming (see below) and resultant failure in front of class can produce hostility towards those who do not fail, fear of facing an audience, hostility to teachers, and even, if teachers are mostly women, sexism (EE 173). Another common meta-response is "pseudo-complimentarity", which Henry defines as a situation "in which children, without conviction, give the teacher what they perceive she wants, and by doing so appear to be learning something they are not". This, Henry suggests, teaches "how to be docile... and the importance of docility" (EE 173). These kinds of responses to education are easily missed by observing education superficially, but become apparent if you explore children's "response-universe", i.e. the way they think about their own actions.

Henry criticises schools and related institutions for reinforcing vulnerability (susceptibility to destruction and defeat). Teachers often unwittingly make pupils feel vulnerable through discipline and the threat of failure (EE 11). According to Henry, fear of failure is built into western culture from the earliest learning experiences onwards (EE 12). It is intensified throughout the education system. On a social scale, such fear of failure is used to "enlarge the image" of those who threaten and protect us (EE 11): it is used to create exaggerated images of enemies and allies. Western society is built on the foundation of these inflated images derived from a feeling of vulnerability and related to a sense that what matters is norms, not people (EE 11). This is used to protect the social system from its own vulnerability: "behind every inflated authority lies society's fear that it is vulnerable", and its resultant "determination to cancel independence" (EE 11). The social system is threatened if people are too invulnerable, so it agrees to protect people only if they are meek and mild (including soldiers, who are meek and mild in order to be violent and terrible), and it creates in people a "vulnerable character structure" or "vulnerability system" (EE 9). Central to this is the idea of success and its downside of failure (EE 11). The vulnerability system also expresses itself in political phenomena such as McCarthyism (EE 14). Vulnerability systems operate as follows: they are rooted in fear and hatred; they orient positively to a revered symbol (eg. the 'nation'); and it then identifies a fear symbol (eg. 'communism') (EE 15).

Concern for reputation derives from vulnerability. Defence of your reputation involves a careful study of, and obedience to, norms. Having a good reputation enables you to be "socially invulnerable". It usually, but not necessarily, involves belief in social norms; it also nearly always involves concealment of deviations and deviant thoughts. "Of course, the best way to handle deviant thoughts is not to have any. This requires either looking away quickly from the socially unpleasant; or better still, never looking at anything closely". The primacy of reputation is established by placing the 'social' self at the centre of social concern, and relegating the inner self to a lesser position - thereby rendering the social facade supreme. How is this done? By disregarding or even punishing the emerging self in childhood and youth. Often, the self is not even punished; it is simply that it is only "seen" when what it does is relevant to social requirements. By ignoring and punishing the self, "the spirit is pruned, largely insensibly, of everything that is not socially acceptable and self becomes identical with reputation" (EE 10-11). Education often leaves its graduates more concerned with reputation than with self (EE ). In modern society, furthermore, everyday coping strategies never quite seem enough to ward off the possibility of failure, since capabilities are not known for certain and may 'crash' tomorrow, like the stock market (EE 12).

Vulnerability in education works through a bureaucratic circle. Teachers who prevent students' free expression do so because their own jobs are under threat from their head. The head, in turn, uses this threat because she or he is under threat from education service bureaucrats (in Britain today, from OFSTED and the like), who are in turn under threat from the government - which itself is under threat of electoral defeat if it is seen as failing in education (EE 13). Vulnerability is also self-reinforcing. If one person stands up for him or herself and ends up submitting or being removed, this intensifies others' sense of vulnerability (EE 14). Vulnerability causes teachers to become stupid; they in turn teach children to be stupid, and "In this way society gets what it wants" (EE 14).

Furthermore, "the function of the vulnerability system is to prevent enlightenment and the consequent change... [and] often to guarantee darkness and incompetence" (EE 16). Children lose out because "the socially patterned exposure and vulnerability of everybody in the education system produces classrooms where off-beat questions are rarely asked" or are "ignored" due to "defensiveness", so that, "for generations, nothing changes but the faces" (EE 17). Anti-educational action has become a "refined form of scapegoating" with teachers often substituting for other groups as the main scapegoat in times of crisis (EE 18). Actually, "Out children get the best education compatible with a society that requires a high level of stupidity in order to exist as it is": without stupidity, the economy would collapse since adverts wouldn't work, a well-educated population would not stand for many government policies, and people might question the necessity of the status quo - "an education for stupidity is the only one we can afford right now" (EE 22).

The solution according to Henry seems to be for people to act collectively, thereby making themselves harder to repress (EE 14). It is vital that those who take a stand should receive solidarity from others, making a single case into a broader issue. As long as people are "uninvolved in one another, each stands alone in his [sic] vulnerability", and that this leaves everyone vulnerable so we can all be brought to heel (EE 15-16). Such solidarity, however, is impeded by strong pressures on anyone in a position to be heard to avoid being controversial (EE 16). On the whole, furthermore, social change is impeded by vulnerability: vulnerable groups can't achieve it, and invulnerable ones don't want it (EE 17); and furthermore, those in the best strategic positions to carry out change are often the most vulnerable to damaged reputations (EE 16-17).. It is possible to evade vulnerability, but this often leaves one vulnerable in other ways. Invulnerability through hiding leaves people vulnerable to the criticism of incompetence, for instance (EE 17). Indeed, Henry believes there is a vicious circle of incompetence: feelings of vulnerability cause efforts at defence; these lead to incompetence, which increases vulnerability (EE 21). Education, says Henry, has always existed amid a tension between the desire to inquire and learn, and fear that limitless learning could destroy culture (EE 179).

Vulnerability is harmful to original discovery. Henry claims, for instance, that discoveries such as calculus would have been made earlier had it not been for fear of transgressing religious boundaries by major figures including Descartes: "behind many intellectual failures lies a failure of nerve" (EE 20). However, Henry also feels that education everywhere performs some kind of filtering role, negating the expansiveness and variability of human learning and conditioning quasi-automatic responses (EE 74-5).

One of the roles education has been assigned is to protect business from its own self-created vulnerability. It is so vulnerable to obsolescence, the stock market, competition, crisis, depression, imports and so on "that it needs our children's brains as protection", and so pushes for better maths and science (EE 18). However, Henry also sees the school system as a self-contained, almost mechanical system. For instance, disciplinary practices are widespread in schools - but are not linked to any socially significant moral basis (EE 162-3), but rather, operates simply to maintain the school's own dynamics. (Social control also, incidentally, has subtle forms - especially when people encourage others to like or love them and then use this as a basis to control them through guilt and through fear of the loss of love - EE 164).

As regards education funding, Henry thinks debates on how much we are "able" to spend on education are a cover for the low amount we are "willing" to spend, compared to the amount spent on expensive consumer goods and defence spending. Henry sees statements that everyone wants the best possible education as utter hypocrisy in this context, and thinks there is a contradiction between improving education and maintaining the present way of life, which is all the sharper since education creates the way of life in the first place. Education funding gets the crumbs left over from war and consumption, and educational crumbs can only lead to educational incompetence. Furthermore, education policy is made by people (i.e. business and the state) who do not care about children, or not for the right reasons (EE 21, 23). Curriculum revisions often occur, not to improve knowledge of the subject in question, but to meet the demands of business or the war machine (EE 23).

There is also a particular problem with the role of bureaucracies in education. The main functions of bureaucracies are to perpetuate themselves and to prevent social change which would disrupt their functioning. So, "bureaucracies tend to devote much of their time to activities that will prevent change. Under these conditions, it is difficult to introduce new knowledge into the system. Often, only a general convulsion in the total society can compel a bureaucracy to change; and then it will do so only just enough to avoid going out of business". Bureaucracies therefore create the conditions for their own incompetence and eventual destruction (EE 20). Furthermore, the school as a situation often contains elements which render it impossible for some children to toe the line, so it produces the problems it punishes (EE 67-8).

Henry thinks youths often practice escapism to insulate themselves from the fear of failure (EE 12). He is also concerned that schools may be teaching social withdrawal or "disjunction", which may then be generalised across a person's life. Henry characterises disjunction as "situations in which the child becomes a non-participant, or in which the environment behaves in one way and a child withdraws instead of behaving in the expected manner" (EE 33). Thus, "the child withdraws mentally from the environment", leading to "the 'It-does-not-concern-me' effect or the 'I-dismiss-it-from-my-mind' effect" (EE 94). According to Henry, American education (and by implication, that in the west more generally) involves training in disjunction at every level, despite conscious efforts by teachers in the opposite direction. Lessons which do not interest a participant teach disjunction, since the pupil in such cases searches for escapes (daydreaming, reading a comic under the table, drawing, etc.). This teaches the ability to cast unwanted stimuli out of one's mind (EE 94).

Henry is concerned about many of the adults involved in schools, and their relationships with the schoolchildren. He believes that a system of "distorted communication" and "whimsey" is often used to "con" obedience out of children - the same kind of communication which is also used in advertising. This includes illogical but associative use of words, "reversal of the actor" and "loss of the transitive sense" (EE 27-8), as well as "distortion in which animateness is attributed to inanimate objects, in which the actor becomes acted upon and in which attributes are irrelevantly displaced from one phenomenon to another" (EE 30). The resultant misapplication of words (such as saying "let's keep a secret" to encourage quiet, when there is no secret involved, and referring to a book the teacher will read to children as a "listening book", confusing activities with things) often causes "unnecessary cognitive hazards", from nursery level upwards (EE 28). This is based on an unfounded assumption that children naturally think whimsically. Actually, studies of young children's speech shows very little evidence of whimsical formulations, and it appears, rather, that adults put these ideas into children's heads (EE 29). Furthermore, whereas adults assume children are egoistic and anomic, their 'spontaneous' speech is highly social (EE 30-1). Because adults don't understand how children speak, they invent a language designated as children's language and then force children to learn it (EE 29).

Furthermore, Henry detects a "dialectical contradiction" between tendencies to mobilise children's excitement to fever pitch and attempts to control them. Thus, "on the one hand an effort is made to relieve boredom by excitement while on the other the children may be penalised for responding in the desired direction (of excitement)". He thinks this may relate to broader social trends towards encouraging excitement provided it stays within official rules (EE 29-30). In one case, for instance, a teacher organises a contest to sort paper and then awards victory by penalising one group for having "made complete pests of themselves". In this case, "the children were mobilized for maximum competitive strain and then penalised for straining. Some are physically hurt and others are humiliated for trying too hard to do what [the teacher] wanted them to do. The reward itself, recognition by the teacher for coming out first, is not worth that much anxiety and strain". Henry thinks that, even for the winners, this could become a "paradigm for non-striving... laying a basis for the question, What am I fighting for anyway?". "In the interest of getting the place cleaned up the teacher organises... attitudes she knows inhere in these... children". If it doesn't lead to disillusionment for the children, this is only because children are trapped into a duality of tight control and feverish reactions to any loosening of the reins. They tend to become feverish whenever control is loosened and are constantly ready for triggering, and this traps teachers into becoming angry and threatening without really knowing how (EE 33). This triggering involves wasting children's motivations on "nothing" through competitive striving for trivial goals (EE 35).

Henry also believes many participants in education are in "partial withdrawal" from it, including some teachers. This includes not only students who are absent, but also those who are goofing around, and teachers who are concentrating on the few who are paying attention, or on objects such as the blackboard. There is, Henry thinks, a tendency to "reduce the universe of participation to the tiny number of children able to take advantage of the educational opportunity" (EE 39-40). Some children are apparently only noticed at all when they are being punished (EE 65). He also believes that the organisation of education is "middle-class", ignoring the different structures of thought in other groups, especially the very poor, who are often too concerned about survival to think about "goals" and "motivations".

Students also often face problems Henry terms "educational paralysis" and "machine jamming". Educational paralysis often occurs when children and others are pushed "sometimes to the limits of their capacity, towards a culturally determined standard of mastery" (EE 103). Machine-jamming, where students are rendered unable to meet the education system's expectations (e.g. when they are tested on something which they have not had adequate opportunity to learn), results from an increase of the amount of knowledge transmitted via education without any corresponding innovation in methods of teaching it (EE 117).

Henry believes it is actually harder to learn in industrial societies than in pre-literate ones, due to time constraints, inadequate equipment, distance from the objects of study and teachers' limited knowledge (EE 150), as well as a far higher body of knowledge - so much, in fact, that most people do not even know what bodies of knowledge exist (EE 155). Furthermore, common teaching practices may impede learning: learning single, trivial facts limits the perceptual field of learners and impedes other learning (EE 154). Henry sees fact-based learning as a "limitation on learning" (EE 160). Western education also has a tendency to domesticate new knowledge and turn it to the uses of the present system (EE 143).

Henry thinks there is what he calls a structure of exclusions in western education, where students are denied access to some knowledge until a later time or age or a higher level. They are often aware such gaps exist, and often fill these gaps with (usually TV-led) stories. This has serious political implications. Children end up with beliefs such as, "Police are the good guys and have to fight the bad people"; in Henry's interviews, children are disgusted with the researcher's supposed ignorance for even asking about this. These mass-produced fantasies also enter children's imagination and play (EE 146-7). Thus, voids in education are as important as what is actually taught, since people fill gaps in their world-view somehow.

According to Henry, western institutions often insist on irrelevant "lateral" links (such as standing up when reciting) which interrupt learning (EE 152-3). He suggests that physical restrictions within educational environments operate as a "screening device", "antagonistic to subject matter", which ensures that only those with a control-based mindset are selected by the education system (whereas those who can handle the subject-matter but not the control are screened out) (EE 116). Furthermore, 'fact'-based teaching in subjects such as geography can lay the groundwork for a stereotyped worldview in ways which affect opinions on issues such as foreign and defence policy (EE 154-5). Henry also believes that, while anxiety and stress can be used to intensify learning, they also usually involve terrorising people into submission (EE 111-12). Also, Henry suggests that schools generate incidents encouraging students to renounce their own views (EE 127).

Henry thinks children often adopt an appearance of disinterest and stupidity as a physical survival mechanism. In households where physical violence is common, children are often silent or mumble, and adults interpret this as an incapacity to learn. Actually, it is entirely situational. The same children are very talkative with their peers in school, and with researchers in an interview setting (EE 59). Henry believes that this kind of silence is typical of situations where difference is combined with fear; for instance, it also occured in the case of white-run boarding schools for Native Americans (EE 121).

In cases such as art, where children's creativity is encouraged, early involvement is used as a basis to suppress the same activity later, when people realise the gap between their juvenile art and the world of adult art (EE 109). There are also cases where the illusion of free choice is offered while teachers and others actually guide the choice in subtle ways, or limit the options available (EE 131), a practice Henry terms "pseudo-democracy". This is consistent with education being used by a dominant group to educate subordinate groups. Henry states that it is well-documented that in such cases, education is used to strengthen and maintain the dominant group's position, although subordinate groups can sometimes extract concessions through it (EE 121).

Henry wants education to lead to more "assertion of the self", that is, "doing and saying what is in harmony with a self that is striving for something significant... which would be a step in the direction of self-realisation" (EE 13). People should be encouraged to overcome fears; no-one is as vulnerable as they think, and people should say, instead of "I am afraid", "I may be stronger than I think" (EE 25). Alternatives do exist to the question-and-answer method used in the west, including watching, listening, copying and experimenting with statements which are then 'corrected' (EE 110). In Henry's model, cultures generally reproduce themselves; however, there is always room for changes in culture due to ineffective and inverted effects of some forms of education (EE 116). In pre-literate societies, not only was it easier to teach and learn; learners, whose role was better-defined than today, often actively want to learn (EE 130). Responses of boredom, indifference, disruptiveness, defiance, inattentiveness, rejection and resistance are absent in pre-literate education. Henry suggests this is due to the greater visible relevance of education in these societies (EE 122), where education is experienced as being "as natural as breathing" (EE 130). The 'need' for "conduct controls" simply does not crop up in such societies (EE 162). Henry believes, furthermore, that social change remains possible, on the basis of the half-remembered pains of childhood coercion (EE 178-9).

Henry's work remains relevant in a number of ways. Vulnerability of teachers, students and others in education is increasing, with labels and anathemas widespread in specific educational contexts (eg. "failing teachers"), in politics (from "anarchists" to "forces of conservatism"), and even in N.U.S. ("Trots"), all of which increase vulnerability. Bureaucracies, with all their problems, are sprouting up across the education system: universities alone have three separate external inspectorates. "Machine jamming" is getting worse: even the government has admitted that its reform and modularisation of A-levels has led to unreasonable demands on students. The exclusion of certain subject matters is being worsened through processes such as "citizenship" education and the steady corrosion of the arts and humanities. Henry's work points to important "cultural biases" which need to be overcome to create a better world.


* Henry tends to use concepts such as "society" and "culture" in a reified way. He doesn't explain either what they are or why we should care about whether they are threatened or not. He often conflates social relations in general with dominant social systems.

* Henry's defence of "society" and "culture" often leads him to oppose the radical implications of his own analysis. For instance, he does not want rid of the "vulnerability system", and he endorses "socially necessary education for stupidity" and "respectable intellectual sabotage" to preserve "traditions and accepted canons of truth" and to prevent "intellectual Samsons" bringing the temple down (EE 22).

* His mindset is quite conservative: he tends to assume that "order" is a good thing, he opposes spontaneous and unstructured forms of learning, he thinks children seek certainty from education, and he seems rather afraid of authority-vaccuums and popular participation in running education. He treats the absence of fixed structures as bad "disorganisation" instead of as freedom or flexibility, while criticising others for doing the same.

* He assumes more standardisation within cultures than most anthropologists and sociologists.


Everett Reimer is a deschooler and a close collaborator of Ivan Illich. In common with others of this group, he sees schooling as resting on largely unthought-out unconscious habits (SD 10). School comes to seem necessary for this reason. "People have been schooled to regard an unschooled world as fantasy. Alternatives which lack the familiar characteristics of schools have an unreal aspect to a schooled mind" (SD 150). In contrast to such self-reproducing beliefs, Reimer mounts a critique of the school system in terms of its social roles and effects.

For Reimer, one major problem with today's formal education institutions (which, in common with American usage, he terms "schools", but in which he includes FE and HE institutions also - any institution which requires full-time attendance of an age-group in a teacher-dominated setting to study graded curricula [SD 35]) is their selective character: most people either fail or drop out at some point. Reimer believes this has ideological effects. People become convinced they do not deserve "the good things in life" because they interiorise both the meritocratic standards of education and their own failure (SD 15). Schools legitimate the status quo by "appearing to give what they do not, while convincing all that they get what they deserve" (SD 28). (It is no wonder the government can stir up so much rhetoric about "failing" schools, teachers and students: schools are almost programmed to fail!) Another effect of such ideologies, and the "punishment" of school failure, is that it disinclines people to learn (SD 28). Unwanted learning inoculates people against education in general (SD 143). Reimer also believes that formal education tends to teach dependence and render people unprepared to interfere with any social institutions (SD 30). Students in schools are nearly always "children" in an institutionalised sense - even though they include youths and young adults (SD 41).

The education system is, however, able to portray itself as promoting wellbeing, through a string of illusions. These illusions are constructed around the assumption that the worse-off can have what the better-off have by acting like the better-off. (This is central to the Blairite approach to 'training' - for instance, the idea that poverty is solved through "retooling" and "employability"). "These propositions sound so plausible and yet are so patently false when viewed in perspective", in relation to social structures. The competitive structure of society - which requires the existence of winners and losers - itself prevents this kind of process (SD 86).

Reimer likens the functioning of processes of selection in education to religion, calling them "a path to secular salvation" (SD 15). "School has become the universal church of a technological society, incorporating and transmitting its ideology, shaping men's minds to accept this ideology, and conferring social status in proportion to its acceptance". As a result, we are enthralled in "a monolithic secular orthodoxy" (SD 19-20). For this reason, schools are left free of the obligation to justify themselves (SD 62).

The "ritual" on which school life is founded is very significant. Reimer quotes Jordan Bishop: "Ritual is play: it defines our Utopias and gives expression to our dreams. Ritual is serious play, but if we believe that our ritualized Utopia is an accomplished fact, it ceases to be play and becomes an ideological instrument of oppression" (SD 44). Ritual is used to cover up and allow "cognitive dissonance", i.e. holding two contradictory beliefs or taking part in activities in contradiction with one's beliefs. For instance, religious ritual covers divisions between religious theory and practice, convincing people they are loyal adherents of a faith even when their social action deviates sharply from its teaching (SD 45). In education, there is substantial cognitive dissonance between theory and practice in relation to concepts such as equal opportunities, freedom, progress and efficiency. Equal opportunities ideology is contradicted by structured differentials in educational access and achievement, and the fact that only a few reach the top. This is veiled by "ritual progression up the ladder... As long as people are climbing, it is easy to maintain the illusion that all roads lead to the top" (SD 47). People who fail at a certain level tend to conclude that equal opportunities exist but people are not equally equipped to take them (SD 48). The ideology of freedom and rights, contradicted by state repression and racism, is maintained through lifestyle freedoms, academic and journalistic freedom, and elections - all of which are useful but which also risk becoming "rites instead of rights" which "maintain the illusion of freedom" (SD 49). The ideology of unlimited progress, contradicted by environmental and other crises, is maintained by a "myth of renewal by research" (SD 51). And the ideological principle that efficiency solves all problems, contradicted by the self-expansive tendencies of bureaucracies and 'efficient' service institutions, and also by its unwelcome expansion into spheres (such as love and killing) where it is unwelcome, is resolved by a ritual of activity. "Schools learned long ago that the way to keep children from thinking is to keep them busy" (SD 52).

Reimer also accuses schools of domesticating and 'emasculating' people of all genders. Schools socially or libidinally (i.e. psycho-sexually) emasculate and "make physical emasculation necessary by doing the job more effectively at the libidinal level... School domesticates - socially emasculates - both girls and boys by a process more pervasive than mere selection by sex. School requires conformity for survival and thus shapes its students to conform to the norms for survival". This is not primarily achieved through the formal curriculum, which consists of 'dead' but ultimately defensible knowledge. "The actual survival criteria are much worse. In addition to the wealth or influence of parents, they include the ability to beat the game, which, according to John Holt and other perceptive teachers, is mainly what successful students learn in school. Or, as H.L. Mencken put it, the main thing children learn in school is how to lie. This can hardly be avoided when survival in school ever more determines the degree of privilege and power which the student will enjoy as an adult" (SD 18). Beating the game in this way is not even deviance, because, whereas teachers are concerned with learning, the system only records marks. "Most students learn to follow the rules which schools can enforce and to break those they cannot". Such processes stratify students into their future roles: those who break the rules learn that they do not fit into school or society; those who conform become dependable producers and consumers; those who beat the game become exploiters; those who easily pass through school without feeling the need to break its rules become either aristocrats or rebels (SD 19). Furthermore, school and other childhood experiences ensure that power differentials between the strong and the weak are learnt very early in life (SD 158).

Reimer claims that schools have four distinct functions: "custodial care", i.e. babysitting or policing children and youths; "social-role selection", e.g. providing criteria for bosses to choose between different job applicants; "indoctrination", and "education" proper, i.e. the "development of skills and knowledge". It is, Reimer suggests, this combination of often contradictory roles which makes schools expensive and educationally inefficient and which tends to make them total institutions and "an effective instrument of social control" (SD 23). The other roles tend to interfere with education as such. Studies by Anthony Lauria in Puerto Rico showed that less than 20% of teachers' time goes on instruction; the rest goes mainly on "behaviour control" and "administrative routine". Furthermore, some theorists estimate that what is learnt in school could in some circumstances be learnt in just two years. School's primary function is child-care, and one of its central social roles is to extend "childhood" into adolescence and beyond, providing a support for the social exclusion of the young (SD 23-4).

The role of schools in selection betrays schools' own claims to be furthering social justice. Rather, they function (or don't: Reimer thinks they are breaking down) to create a single, socially dominant hierarchy of privilege. Selection usually occurs in line with the prior social structure, and its de facto criteria - literate parents, books and home, opportunity to travel and so on - are "a smoke screen for the perpetuation of privilege" (SD 29-30). This perpetuation occurs via a combination of required qualifications for entry into jobs, the role of "qualifications" in job recruitment, and the social significance of a few prestigious universities (SD 26-7). Such requirements have largely replaced on-the-job training and upwards progression within particular careers with vocational courses and requirements that people should survive education without dropping out (SD 26). Schools are rapidly monopolising access to jobs and to political and other social roles (SD 41), a process Reimer opposes. Schooling can never be abundant because of its role in social selection and distribution of status: equality at one level simply pushes competition up a level, at greater cost (SD 132). So, when primary education is universal, competition for secondary school places is fierce; when secondary education is universal, competition switches to the tertiary level; when this is more widespread, university entry is hotly contested; and when university attendance spreads, the competition moves to postgraduate studies. Politicians' rhetoric about increasing the number of people at university misses this point: unless the competitive structure of education and society is altered, inequality will simply be transferred to a higher level. If postgraduate courses become a focus for selection, serious questions also need to be asked about the arbitrary, unaccountable, bureaucratic, pedantic and subtly biased practices of the funding bodies at this level.

Reimer also says that schools indoctrinate. "Indoctrination is a bad word. Bad schools, we say, indoctrinate. Good ones teach basic values. All schools, however, teach the value of childhood [as a separate stage of life], the value of competing for the life prizes offered in school and the value of being taught - not learning for one's self - what is good and what is true. In fact, all schools indoctrinate in ways more effective than those which are generally recognised" (SD 30). Among the inbuilt values of schooling are psychological dependence, institutional conformity and privileged everyday and technical languages which reflect present power-structures (eg. Spanish over Amerindian languages, or the language of physics over that of poetry) (SD 30-1). "Another value implicit in school is that of hierarchy. Schools both reflect dominant values and maintain a stratified world. They make it seem natural and inevitable that hierarchies are inherently correlated and cannot be independent of each other. Schools do not have to teach this doctrine. It is learned by studying an integrated curriculum arranged in graded layers" (SD 31). Schools are not total institutions (like prisons or mental asylums) over the body, but operate as such over the mind and spirit, since they "pervade the lives and personalities of their students in powerful and insidious ways" (SD 25). Historically, schools have mainly been used to preserve decaying ideologies, and Reimer thinks they are now being used in the same way, to protect hierarchy and privilege (SD 59). Also, schools are carefully designed so as to serve nationalist projects (SD 60).

Reimer believes that a central aim of schools is to create mythologised beliefs. Early schools in the U.S. were used by religious pilgrims to promote ideas they took for granted, and they compelled people of diverse origins to attend for this reason. However, there were always conflicts between those who wanted education for supposedly greater goals, and those who wanted it for personal development. Today, the former group, aligned with the modern state, are winning. "The organisational, legal and procedural steps which have welded thousands or nominally independent local school districts and thousands of colleges and universities into a national school system are the logical outcome of a philosophy which views schools as serving national ends" (SD 61). This system acts as a constraint on each school via entry requirements and the like (SD 40-1). The value-system taught in schools is drawn from the values of industrial capitalism. Reimer endorses John Kenneth Galbraith's view that industrial goals are widely taken to define life, and have colonised other spheres, including education and conventional morality, in such a way as to exclude other wants and morals (SD 78).

Reimer claims that many people seek myths to reconcile their own interests with the bosses'. Whereas in many contexts, religion provides such myths, in advanced industrial societies, myths mostly come from science, professionalism, the state, the corporation, welfare agencies and especially schools (SD 95-6). The mythical structure of schools often bars students from finding out what they want to know, about relative incomes, power structures and the like. Children are systematically kept in the dark about these issues, and in some cases, such as foreign policy and many commercial matters, this "conspiracy of secrecy" is extended across society. There are, of course, 'reasons' and excuses used to justify such secrecy. But these reasons - such as the horrifying nature of many economic and political facts, and the competition between corporations and nation-states - are only valid, when they are valid at all, due to the structure of contemporary society, which should itself be questioned (SD 93).

Reimer thinks that the masses, deprived of a voice, have forgotten how to speak or even think about some issues except through the dominators' rationalizing mythologies - his version of Freire's "culture of silence". He also thinks a culture of silence is operating around what he calls the cult of childhood (including the definitions of 'children' as a distinct group). This, he thinks, is shown by the frequent use of analogies to childhood to justify other forms of oppression and voicelessness (such as the description of indigenous cultures as childlike) (SD 101-2).

Reimer sees schools as part of a deeply flawed technological society. Until fairly recently, formal schooling was merely one option for education. Their monopoly is part of the technological monopoly. Furthermore, schools "close the door to humanity's escape from this monopoly" by ensuring that influence goes to those who profit from domination or "have been rendered incapable of questioning it" (SD 19). Education also operates to perpetuate elite dominance. "Jefferson put it well when he said, in arguing for public schools, that by this means we shall each year rake a score of geniuses from the ashes of the masses. The result of such a process, as the English aristocracy learned long before Jefferson, is to keep the elite alive while depriving the masses of their potential leaders" (SD 27). Reimer thinks this process of elite selection is also demonstrated by a quote from colonial governor Lord MacAuley: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect" (SD 54). Such a class is formed through schooling. School also encourages the "false beacons" of power and security. These cannot offer a better world because ultimate power or security would lead to the end of everything worthwhile in human life (SD 153).

Schooling is also highly costly and reproduces its own problems. It is costly because it separates what should be together (learning, play and work), and combines what should be separate (learning, baby-sitting and administration). As a result, it renders learning resources scarce, when they are usually plentiful. Reimer thinks learning occurs "naturally" during work and play, so it is harmful to separate it from them (SD 104-5). Similarly, three processes (learning a skill, learning to practice it with others, and learning how others have learnt it) are treated as identical, and as a result, since they have to have all three, teachers are rendered scarce. They are also given many roles which could be performed by peers or skill models, and their specialist skills, such as dealing with learning difficulties, are wasted (SD 116). Having been rendered scarce, education becomes a focus for competing demands. It is impossible and immoral, Reimer says, to ignore popular demands for more involvement in education, especially from the less-developed world and the poor. However, "no country in the world can afford the education its people want in the form of schools" (SD 16), which, anyway, are not very educational. At present, the function of education occurs only as resources allow, after the other three functions (custodial care, selection and indoctrination) have been performed. Educational experiences are possible, usually due to exceptional teachers or students - but this occurs "despite and not because of school" (SD 31). Reimer does not even think that schools teach abilities such as literacy. Statistics on literacy show that it correlates far less with schooling than with parents' literacy, suggesting that it is learnt mainly at home (SD 32). Minus the need for formal institutions as packaging for learning, lifetime education for all would be possible (SD 104).

Schooling is destructive in relation to both its 'successes' and 'failures'. Those lacking school-like resources at home are labelled as failures and are deprived of both motivation and educational resources. Those who do have such resources tend to "become hooked" on the system, "are taught to prefer the school's resources to their own and to give up self-motivated learning for the pleasures of being taught" (SD 33). Schools also involve a distinct "scholastic space - sanitized, sealed off from the unclean world, made fit for children and for the transmission of knowledge" (SD 39), similar to mediaeval monasteries (SD 58) and cut off from broader social processes.

Schooling, Reimer claims, is built on the assumptions of production-line capitalism. "The whole theory of schooling is based on the assumption that production methods applied to learning will result in learning. They do result in learning how to produce and consume - so long as nothing fundamental changes" (SD 53). They cannot, however, train us for a different future - even in an adaptive, let alone a creative, way. The production model is based on the idea that teaching produces learning in the same way that manufacturing produces goods (SD 37), and that a school can operate as a "synchronised knowledge factory" (SD 40). Schools try to "process" human beings. Anything, says Reimer, can be processed, but only at the price of ignoring aspects of it and byproducts of the process. Processing people has high costs: they tend to resist, important potentialities are left undeveloped and harmful byproducts occur, including a loss of control over one's own destiny (SD 42). The prevalence of production ideology in society makes school ideology seem natural (SD 39). Mass production no longer needs our bodies but it, or rather those who control it, still want our wills and judgement (SD 162). Furthermore, schooling has a gravitational pull which re-absorbs insufficiently radical alternatives (SD 35).

According to Reimer, teachers are given a triple, contradictory role of umpire (grading), judge (enforcing norms) and counsellor (advising). "This description fails to sound strange only because students are regarded as people without civil rights. Imagine combining the role of policeman, judge and attorney for the defence... In a purely formal sense, the student in this situation is helpless, while the teacher is omnipotent" (SD 38). That students are not helpless in practice only goes to show that school is breaking down. The situation arises partly because schools conflate and distort two older social roles: of the "caretaker" (who does not restrict action except for safety reasons) and the "master" in the academic sense (who was originally supposed to be questioned by others about their knowledge) (SD 38). As a result, school, along with other compulsory institutions, undermines rights such as freedom of assembly (SD 121). Reimer believes that claims that education can be neutral are "absolute nonsense", and therefore, that a monopoly on schooling is the same as having a state church (SD 144). Furthermore, academic freedom, the main civil-rights benefit of the present system, is "feeble"; academics did less than (for instance) the churches to oppose the Nazis (SD 145).

One reason people tolerate present institutions is a fear that their loss would lead to barbarism. This fear, however, is actually a fear by the privileged of losing the bases of their power and privilege (SD 75). It would be easy, Reimer thinks, to come up with adequate institutions to improve the conditions of the poor and the Third World, were it not for the fact that "we are the prisoners of our institutions rather than their masters" - we don't design them but bow down to them out of fear of losing them (SD 74-5). We also tend to become trapped by the "vogue" of present institutions even when they do not work well (SD 75-6).

The present social system is pervasively destructive. One of its effects is what Reimer calls "elaboration": needs are not expected to settle but rather, to increase endlessly. This means that the relatively privileged always demand more, which in turn makes it harder to extend their lifestyle to others (SD 71). Reimer believes there are hypocritical vicious circles in which institutions redefine needs in terms of a packaged product, offer this to everyone, and then deny it to some (SD 67-8). This is also a process which affects language. Education, health, transport and so on come to be redefined as identical with particular services or packages intended
to provide them, such as schools, hospitals and cars (SD 69). Each of these then excludes a number of people - via entrance exams, insurance requirements (or in the U.K., health service rationing), driving licenses and costs of running a car, for instance (SD 70). Furthermore, the excluded group grows faster than the included group - who, in some cases, may not be much better off, since they become trapped in an unwinnable scramble for resources and status (SD 71). Keeping up with the Joneses has becomea fundamental goal of all social institutions (SD 81). This is one of the roots of the problem of "social exclusion". Of course, the Blairite response to this is one of the worst possible: it involves trying to compel people to enter the rat-race by refusing them the right to drop out, and it therefore intensifies the status scramble without altering the problem of exclusionary structures and institutions. Indeed, Blairism supports and extends such exclusionary structures (repressive laws, school "standards", the culture of auditing, corporate pseudo-free market exclusion, means testing, the All Work Test, etc.).

Reimer also believes that institutions unconsciously reproduce the interests of their inventors against peripheral imitators. Where institutions such as schools are adopted in the Third World, this ensures the West remains dominant, since it sets the terms of the discourse. "The follower must... not only remain behind but fall further behind as long as he adopts the means of development of the leader" (SD 74). The problem is that the Third World shares the tendency to bow down to dominant institutions. Furthermore, the West monopolises the means of invention (SD 75).

Education can, however, be liberating. No sooner did Freire's students in Brazil learn how to read and write than they started bargaining with employers (SD 91). Its role depends on how education occurs. To move towards a better type of education, people must first become aware of the contradictions of the present system: the impossibility of its universal spread, its inoculations against learning, the self-mystification of schooled society and the perpetuation of inequality. This is difficult, because it is hard for people to recognise that they are the victims of degrading practices - and also because 'opinion leaders' are usually the most schooled (SD 143-4). Nevertheless, people can and do rebel. In a reference to the 1960s and 1970s student rebellions, which could just as easily refer to the present anti-capitalist movement, Reimer says: "Young people all over the world are tuning out the system and turning themselves on" (SD 163).

Reimer wants education to prepare people to control technology rather than be controlled by technology or technocrats (SD 20). He wants education divorced from functions of custodial care, at least at the higher levels of education (SD 25). He also wants changes in language to free people from the influence of present social institutions, which currently limit the search for alternatives via limits on the imagination as well as on power and resources (SD 76). Ultimately, he thinks technological society is unviable, but only through education can we conceive of intelligent alternatives to it (SD 88). It should be possible to carry out social change by steadily overcoming myths. Each glimpse of truth leads to demands and concessions which make people less in need of myths. Revolutions, for Reimer, are not primarily about violence or superficial political change, which can occur without altering much. They are about people stopping believing things which were once true but are now false, withdrawing support for institutions and refusing to submit to now-unfair terms. Such change results from "true education", which consists, not in teaching others what you want them to know, but in providing people with the resources to learn the things they want or need to know (SD 96).

Regarding the content of education, Reimer thinks that, since people understand the world through language, it is important that everyone be given the opportunity to learn to use it critically and reflexively rather than to obscure and distort. This does not necessarily mean speaking several languages; the important point is to "learn not to be na‹ve" about language, and also to learn a sufficient breadth of specialised languages to understand your situation well enough to act on it. This includes politics, economics, psychology and science (SD 100). However, Reimer distrusts specialist languages; although necessary, these should be monitored closely (SD 100). We should also avoid textbook-style simplifications which Reimer thinks result from canonical outlooks (SD 101). Basic education policy should aim for two things: enough learning, especially about the origin of values, to prevent the dominance of experts; and removing barriers to further, specialised learning (SD 102-3). This would involve more and also less learning: less universal teaching of classification systems and the like, and more study of economics, politics, food, marriage patterns and other everyday concerns (SD 103). According to Reimer, furthermore, the "true teacher" is someone who speaks out about things which others may also see but could not equally well express (SD 103-4).

Reimer's model of education is similar to Illich's. He wants education to be based on "networks of educational objects, skill models and peers" (SD 121). Simple in principle and operation, these networks would in Reimer's model fit into a broader network approach to society. The networks - places, points of contact, computerised lists and so on, of resources and people available to help with learning - would require at least three kinds of educator: network administrators who enable activity but stay out of people's way, pedagogues who design education programmes, help solve individual problems, and guide learning by persuasion alone, and intellectual "leaders" who share expertise and subtly influence the general direction of thought and research (SD 121-4). The basic resources needed in such a system - computers, libraries, microfilm stores and so on - are fairly cheap, easy to learn how to use, and enable almost unlimited self-education (SD 107-8). Reimer also wants society opened up to allow exploration and learning through exploring junkyards, dismantling machines, use of games and toys, and direct contact with nature. To achieve this, cities should be pedestrianised and factories, workshops and secret sites opened up (SD 110-13). Furthermore, Reimer thinks many skills can simply be learnt from someone else who already has them (SD 113). Peers - people who share an interest in a skill of area of knowledge - are also important, and computers should be used to match people with specialised interests (SD 120-1).

Reimer also wants a number of formal changes. Monopolistic forms of education should be unconstitutional. Discrimination based on the amount of schooling someone has had should be banned, educational resources should be distributed equally and laws should be passed to guarantee plurality rather than monopoly in education. Reimer also says, however, that revolutions do not happen by passing laws (SD 144-6).

Changes in education would involve a different relationship to society. "People are schooled to accept a society. They are educated to create or re-create one". Present social structures could not survive even a substantial minority being educated, since educated people able to act on the world would not leave present "absurdities" unchanged (SD 137).

Such radical change will come about, if at all, from among disillusioned students, teachers, taxpayers and administrators within the present system. This group, Reimer theorises, could act as alternative educators and intellectual leaders, using something akin to Freire's method to educate the oppressed (and even the oppressors) about what is wrong with schooling. They do not have to be geniuses, but rather, need to be something like Gramsci's organic intellectuals. "To bring the truths of modern science, economics, politics and psychology to the masses without simplistic distortion will take some doing", but "the sincere desire to do this remains a scarcer commodity than the ability". Not everyone can adopt this role, which Reimer thinks requires substantial courage and heroism. However, those who adopt this role can only succeed if others support them (SD 150-3). Education cannot bring about fundamental change, but it can make it possible by making people aware of their own insecurity and rendering them able to "visualise" alternatives (SD 139). Reimer also believes that we can help to bring about a better world by living, as far as possible, as we would in such a world (SD 154). Reimer thinks peaceful revolutions can happen, although it is more important to ensure that the purposes of social change are not betrayed (SD 141).

Despite politicians' cynical appropriation of certain parts of the deschoolers' agenda (such as flexible learning and lifetime learning accounts) - a classic example of Goodman's "permanent unfinished revolution" - Reimer's work remains relevant in a number of ways. Blairism is extending "schooling", in the sense of formal education, grading and so on, into new (especially vocational) areas, while also increasing the role within education of the production-line mentality. Blair is trapped in Reimer's paradox of trying to extend participation in education while endorsing (and even worsening) selection criteria ("standards") in education and while strengthening the link between education and job recruitment. Education continues to cover blatant divisions between theory and practice. Indoctrination is worsening through initiatives such as citizenship education; the custodial function of education is also being expanded by the use of training as a means to control the unemployed and by initiatives such as truancy patrols. Blairism is also a clear-cut example of mass-production ideology minus mass production, and the Blairites certainly want education for "national goals" (mainly economic ones) rather than for personal development. The contradictions in teachers' role are being sharpened and exploited in witch-hunts over "failing" teachers and schools. The modern world is more "schooled" than ever and the creation of radical alternatives remains imperative.


* Reimer in general thinks education should be accessible and free from control by business. He also opposes education being treated as a consumption good. However, he contradicts this commitment by endorsing schemes of the "personal learning account" type. Such schemes necessarily commodify education and undermine universal access.

* Reimer is vague and contradictory about the role of business in education. On the one hand, he wants business prevented from writing the "rules" of education, and he wants education to undermine economic privilege. However, he still seems to believe that businesspeople will support his project, and he also contemplates business-based education as one possible form in a future society. At times (eg. SD 149) he hints at a return to a mythical small-business golden age.

* Reimer's distrust of specialist languages is partly based on a naivety about everyday language, which is itself heavily ideological. He also exaggerates the possibility of having a shared language with an "ultimate court of appeal" and shared standards of logic.

* Reimer has something of a cult of independence, and he ignores the problem of actual incapacities.


Postman and Weingartner are American professors of education. In contrast to the deschoolers, their aim is not to do away with formal education but rather, to change it so that it teaches 'subversive' ideas instead of conformist ones. Their main idea is that education should aim to give people a 'crap detector' for assessing arguments, facts and situations. They believe the human condition can be improved through education. They admit to being "romantics" who believe in improving matters through "intelligent innovation", "beyond the constricting intimidation of conventional assumptions" (TSS 113). For them, language is a way of perceiving reality, and each language perceives differently. All teaching involves teaching a language, "a way of talking and therefore of seeing the world". New teaching is therefore a new language and leads to new possibilities of perception (TSA 103). Furthermore, the problems of school are not only about its content, but about its substance and form (TSA 150).

Postman and Weingartner think society is in a mess. We are driving through history in a revamped car, screaming "Faster! Faster!" while looking in the rear view mirror, with no idea where we are going, and it is only "sheer dumb luck" that we haven't "smashed ourselves to bits" yet (TSA 12-13).

One of the reasons things are in a mess is that we don't have the abilities to deal with our problems. To have democracy, people have to have both a will to exercise freedom and "the intellectual power and perspective to do so effectively" (TSA 15). This is threatened by people who identify with present ideas and institutions "which they wish to keep free from either criticism or change", and who see change in these institutions as inconvenient or even intolerable (TSA 15; an example would be Blair's attitude to the "market"). Many people are trapped in a closed-minded outlook involving irrevocable religious or secular ideological commitments (TSA 19). There is also a danger of a "creeping Eichmannism" (Friedenberg) where one-way communication leads to unquestioning obedience to all orders (TSA 21), and where people's ability to think and act independently is ruined by their dependence on authority (TSA 187). Furthermore, the knowledge we have is often outdated and irrelevant. People are frequently faced with 'future shock' in which the world they are educated to believe in no longer exists, and this can lead to a sense of impotence or a ritualistic continuation of failure (TSA 26). Survival depends on subverting such rituals, which lead only to chaos and uselessness (TSA 27).

There is therefore a need to develop "the attitudes and skills of educational, political and cultural criticism". A central part of this is developing "a built-in, shockproof crap detector" (TSA 16-17). People also need to learn to recognise when change is happening; to notice and offset "entropy", the decay and irrelevance of institutions; and to adopt an "anthropological perspective" on society, i.e. to observe present society's rituals, fears, conceits and ethnocentric biases as if from the outside (TSA 17).

Gaining such skills is not easy and requires courage. "We are, after all, talking about achieving a high degree of intellectual freedom from the intellectual and social constraints of one's tribe. For example, it is generally assumed that people of other tribes have been victimized by indoctrination from which our own tribe has remained free. Our own outlook seems 'natural' to us... Yet, it is undoubtedly true that, for most people, the acceptance of a particular doctrine is largely attributable to the accident of birth" (TSA 17). "Each of us, whether from the American tribe, Russian tribe, or Hopi tribe, is born into a symbolic environment as well as a physical one. We become accustomed very early to a 'natural' way of talking, and of being talked to, about 'truth'. Quite arbitrarily, one's perception of what is 'true' or real is shaped by the symbols and symbol-manipulating institutions of [one's] tribe. Most men [sic], in time, learn to respond with fervour and obedience to a set of verbal abstractions which they feel provide them with an ideological identity. One word for this, of course, is prejudice. None of us is free of it, but the sign of a competent 'crap detector' is that he [sic] is not completely captured by the arbitrary abstractions of the community in which he happened to grow up" (TSA 18).

This is important because prejudices produce moral perceptions and actions: "if one grows up in a language environment which includes and approves such a concept as 'white supremacy', one can quite 'morally' engage in the process of murdering civil-rights workers". "An insensitivity to the unconscious effects of our 'natural' metaphors condemns us to highly constricted perceptions of how things are and, therefore to highly limited alternative modes of behaviour" (TSA 18). Prejudicial views and oversimplified ideas of causes, effects, and solutions to problems can easily result from the blurring of differences due to linguistic categories (eg. statements such as "teenagers are irresponsible" and one-cause models such as the idea that agitators cause trouble on demonstrations) (TSA 109-10). Such overgeneralisation leads to immediate action on the basis of unverified evidence (TSA 110), which can easily cause all kinds of violence, oppression and suffering, and which complicates rather than solving problems. (Contemporary examples include the harmful effects of anti-crime crackdowns and the barbaric effects of assumptions about benefit "scroungers" and "bogus" asylum seekers). Language can operate to close the mind, or to open it (TSA 118). A person prejudiced against black people, for instance, cannot see particular black people; she or he only sees what his or her closed beliefs predetermine black people to be. We act based on what we see, so that perception change is crucial in dealing with problems such as racism (TSA 119). People who are unaware that their language operates in such a way are particularly prone to adopt closed systems of language which generate prejudice (TSA 119).

Those who are sensitive to cultural biases appear as "subversive" to those who are not, which is why Postman and Weingartner advocate education "as a subversive activity". Critics are subversive because they undermine prejudices and language as "limited, misleading or one-sided", and they are "dangerous" because they are not easily recruitable to ideologies (TSA 18). For this reason, they are likely to make authorities nervous (TSA 39-40).

What matters most is not necessarily the content of (for instance) television and classrooms, but rather, the form or type of relations which occur in them. The environment itself provides a 'message' and shapes attitudes by allowing some and repressing others (TSA 28-9). Thus, "the critical content of any learning experience is the method or process through which the learning occurs" (TSA 30), and the methods used to educate are not separable from the contents to be taught. The form and assumptions of a question determine its answer (TSA 120).

So Postman and Weingartner ask the question: What do students mostly do in schools and related institutions? Mostly, they conclude, students spend their time believing (or pretending to believe) in authorities, and remembering things. Very rarely do they spend time observing, formulating definitions, or using any intellectual skill beyond repetition (TSA 30). Even the questions asked tend to be technical and administrative rather than substantive, and students almost never have any role in deciding what or how to study (TSA 30-1). Questions are often "Guess what I'm thinking" questions, regardless of subject (TSA 31). Furthermore, contents are often artificially fitted into a storyline (TSA 40). And schools tend to suppress rather than encourage questioning: children enter school as question marks and leave as periods (full stops) (TSA 67). Furthermore, students are often 'detained' in school against their will (TSA 153), and many never learn how to listen (TSA 184).

Furthermore, the context of schooling is harmful to learning its content. In exams, one often needs only 65% of what is taught to pass, and most of what is learnt is forgotten after the exams (TSA 31). So what schools actually teach is a set of (wrong) views: that passive reception is better than active criticism, that discovering knowledge is beyond students' ability and none of their business, that the goal of intellectual achievement is recall of unrelated facts, that the voice of authority is more trustworthy than independent judgement, that one's own and one's peers' ideas are unimportant, that feelings are irrelevant and there is always a Right Answer, and that education can be subdivided into distinct units which one can 'take' and then has 'had' and are therefore immune to needing to study it again - a vaccination model of education (TSA 31-2). People are also pressured into the idea that it is better to give an answer to something when you don't know than to admit not knowing an answer, or not understanding or not agreeing with the question (TSA 32-3). Thus, answers to questions disconnected from both the question and reality, and become responses to "satisfy the demands of the classroom environment" (TSA 33). Students also learn that other students' views can be ignored (TSA 33).

Thus, not only is the ability to learn not taught, "it is not 'taught' in the most devastating way possible" (TSA 34). All of these assumptions and behaviours are learnt "quietly" and not stated openly by teachers (TSA 33). However, they are often learnt, and recur across western culture - for instance, in trivia quizzes and game shows (TSA 32). They also occur across our political and social lives, including in the forms of "dogmatism and intellectual timidity", "fear of change" and "ruts and rots caused by the inability to ask new or basic questions and to work intelligently towards verifiable answers" (TSA 35). Worse still: those who do learn to question are forced to drop out of the Establishment, which requires unquestioning obedience. School is not the only source of such behaviour, but it is a major one (TSA 35). And, since, according to research by Robert Rosenthal, students' performance is often better the better it is expected to be, education may be the source of 'stupidity' rather than its solution (TSA 96-7).

Furthermore, categorised education can lead to the "label-libel gambit" - where people think they can dismiss a problem by naming or labelling it. "What is its name?" becomes a substitute for "how does it work?". Postman and Weingartner think that how something works is far more important than what it is called. Labels should not serve as "terminal punctuations" which pretend to solve a problem, and taxonomies (systems of labels) should not be developed until one understands the process one is dealing with (TSA 36). They are also critical of what they call the seductive method of teaching, which involves trying to trick or bribe people into thinking what you think they should. Present education is often designed to "seduce students into learning inert ideas" (TSA 144), and this method has failed to trick or intrigue students (TSA 38). Furthermore, it depends on trying to get learners to "ventriloquise" - to speak as if the official authority is speaking through them, rather than speaking themselves. Through often ruthless penalties for not ventriloquising, this method prevents thinking and questioning (TSA 82).

The threat of punishment is also destructive in other ways: threats to one's intellectual, physical or emotional wellbeing tend to impede learning by producing avoidance behaviours, and furthermore, students often interpret punishments as rewards. Genuine participation improves learning, but feigned participation to avoid punishment does not. An autocratic atmosphere produces apathetic conformity, various devious forms of deviance, scapegoating and psychological and physical escape. It also leads either to dependence on authority, shyness, acquiescence, obsequiousness and anxiety; or to what Whitehead calls "soul murder" - a cycle of criticism, sarcasm, discouragement and failure, a sense that you can't learn and resultant anger and distress directed against the system or society (TSA 145). Administrative requirements tend to impose such an atmosphere on educators and students, and this is very dangerous. If people get into the habit of enforcing requirements all the time, they can easily end up like Adolf Eichmann (TSA 148).

Like several other critics, Postman and Weingartner note the similarities between 'sequential' curricula of the kind used today, and the requirements of capitalist mass production. Schools endorse the assumptions of the workplace, from the length of the working day to the "careful division of labour for both teachers and students", to the "high premium on conformity" and "suspicion of originality (or any deviant behaviour)", to the concern for the product of education rather than its process (TSA 40). Such 'sequential', linear learning tends to fail because students are not 'sequential': "most significant learning processes do not occur in linear, compartmentalised sequences" (TSA 40). Learning does have a logic, but of a psychological, not a linear, type; it is disorderly, enthusiastic and energetic, "a delightul, fitful, episodic, explosive collage of simultaneous 'happenings' (TSA 40-1). Students' questions often cross boundaries between subjects - in which case it is harmful that teachers often insist they 'stick to the subject'. There are no absolute boundaries between areas of study, and those who are really interested in learning should not be too concerned about subject names. After all, new discoveries and inventions are nearly always made by people who reject, or do not know, that the experts have 'proved' that they can't do these things (TSA 83). The present model is far too "sterile and ritualised" to encourage learning (TSA 85), and is apt only to produce homogenized, docile functionaries (TSA 72).

Discussion of education often involves misleading formulations which imply that teaching is somehow separate from learning. Some teachers will say, "I taught them that but they didn't learn it", for instance. This is only one of several formulations which "have the effect of subtracting the learner from your calculations", which also include travel metaphors (eg. 'covering ground') and concepts such as a 'course of study' (TSA 46-7). From case studies, Postman and Weingartner claim, it is clear that removing such language can lead to a "dramatic shift in behaviour" (TSA 47). Other education structures reinforce the tendency to ignore learners, such as the idea of learning 'for its own sake', unfounded beliefs that particular practices are practically effective when they aren't, blaming failure on 'bad' students, and teaching what the teacher (or, today, the Government) thinks it is worth knowing (TSA 50). Even official education literature assesses resources such as textbooks and issues such as relevance without reference to learners; "appeal to pupils" is mentioned, but never discussed or demonstrated (TSA 52-3). All of these approaches leave out the learner, which also has the effect of putting learners' interest in learning at stake (TSA 51). Other terms Postman and Weingartner want removed from education include "human nature", "college material" and "administrative necessity" (TSA 137).

Postman and Weingartner suggest from their experience of teaching teachers that trainee teachers rarely ask why people should be taught their subject. When asked, they come out with "stereotypic utterances" which prevent them from thinking about it - usually references to the requirements of other institutions, so that "The answer implicitly assumes that a bureaucratically imposed reason is adequate as justification" (TSA 139). Indeed, they think university selection makes the task of progressive educators at university almost impossible. Since school tends to disable rather than enable thought, the people entering university have already learnt how to ventriloquise, accept "nonsense", sit quietly and so on, who have "learned not to think, not to ask questions, not to figure things out for themselves", and who have become dependent on teachers' authority (TSA 139-40). It is then very difficult to persuade people to reverse these learned patterns. Worse still: students who find their lecturer refuses to adopt the expected authority role often react by attacking them (TSA 140), and shifting the burden of intellectual activity from teachers to students can lead to hostility (TSA 184). (Education minister Margaret Hodge says she only failed her degree because her lecturers didn't force her to do her essays properly!) In this context, asking why you think people should learn something is important. Recognising bad reasons is the first step to overcoming them, and asking what valuable knowledge you have is important towards realising that the standards of value are challengeable and that much of what we know is not learned in school (or sequentially) (TSA 194).

Teaching people who have been through school often involves "unlearning" - helping people to realise that what they think they know is based on misinformation rather than information. One way of helping people unlearn is presenting beliefs in direct contradiction to their own. This has one of two effects: either the student dismisses the new ideas as irrelevant or as fitting some kind of anathema; or they are disturbed by them and change their beliefs (TSA 140-1). Constructing imaginary utopias can also be a useful exercise (TSA 142). Survival in a changing environment often requires "selective forgetting" (TSA 195). The purpose of education should be "helping us to recognise the world we actually live in" and "to master concepts that will increase our ability to cope with it" (TSA 199). In contrast, present education often involves teaching wrong and outdated views: absolute truth and certainty, the one right answer, absolute self-identity, fixed states and things, mechanical causality and so on (TSA 203), whereas new ideas have a "fugitive" status (TSA 204). "Most criticism of the old education... makes the point that the students who endure it come out as passive, acquiescent, dogmatic, intolerant, authoritarian, inflexible, conservative personalities who desperately need to resist change in an effort to keep their illusion of certainty intact" (TSA 203). This is the most unhelpful education imaginable to deal with a changing world (TSA 203-4). This critique runs counter to the Blairites' claims to want an education for a changing world; their version of education reproduces and intensifies authoritarian features. This suggests that they are only interested in "change" towards their own authoritarian and capitalistic vision of the future.

Postman and Weingartner reproduce an article by Frank Miceli who put a method similar to their own into practice. In this case, Miceli was faced with problems due to prior schooling, and had to persuade students, via a game, to ask questions in the first place. Many students thought the teacher was 'kidding'; when asked, they said they were studying 'thinking' as opposed to 'school stuff', or that they were undergoing group therapy rather than schooling! The process was effective: communicating via letters helped students and teachers learn the power of words. Miceli found it so easy to get students to write poems in this environment that he speculates that lessons may be a "tactical diversion so that no one need say anything to anyone" (TSA 165-71).

Faced with "intellectual poison", Postman and Weingartner claim, students respond by holding their breaths - insulating themselves against any learning outcomes from education. The result of this is that poison is replaced by "suicide by suffocation" (TSA 43) - students block out bad learning by cutting off all learning. Meanwhile, those who don't respond to what is done to them are labelled 'bad' students (TSA 50), as if it is their fault that they are subjected to processes which don't work. Students' performance varies with the environment they are in, so "What we observe children doing in schools is not what they are, but children exposed to us by our methods of teaching" (TSA 84). When we say something like, "John is stupid", this is actually about our reaction to John, not about John himself; but the form of the statement hides this. The perceiving "I" is removed by a grammatical peculiarity. "'Stupidity' is a grammatical category. It does not exist in nature. Yet we imagine that it does because our language has put it there" (TSA 102). As a result, failure is projected from the perceiver onto particular students. Meanwhile, some students actually endorse the "pretentious trivia" they are fed, but this is mainly due to a carefully cultivated doublethink necessary for their academic survival (TSA 56).

Postman and Weingartner endorse Mencken's claim that the main thing we learn in school is how to lie. School is based on playing along with a game of "let's pretend", attaching relevance to things you know are irrelevant. "The game is based on a series of pretences which include: let's pretend that you are not what you are and that this sort of work makes a difference to your lives; let's pretend that what bores you is important, and that the more you are bored, the more important it is; let's pretend that there are certain things everyone must know, and that both the questions and answers about them have been fixed for all time; let's pretend that your intellectual competence can be judged on the basis of how well you can play Let's Pretend" (TSA 56). "Of course, what you have here is a classic 'put on'. But an extremely dangerous one because the participants are not fully conscious of the sham. Its most devastating effect is to produce in students a feeling of alienation from the education process" (TSA 57). As George Bernard Shaw put it, the only time his education was interrupted was when he was in school. "The learner comes to understand that what he [sic] is asked to think about in school has no bearing on what he needs to learn to think about. He, therefore, removes the best, most vital part of himself from his formal education. He realises, too, that the standards used to judge his school performance lack authenticity, and his contempt for such standards is widespread and (from the perspective of his teachers) scandalous" (TSA 57).

The "let's pretend" approach to education is encapsulated in the widespread process where schools and universities present themselves through misleading P.R. (Most education institutions are now caught up in the marketing culture, with its superficiality: slogans, logos, jargon, and a modern-looking exterior are often valued over the content of education). In one case in America, the head broadcast "Junior High School 51 is the best" over the school tannoy every morning. Everyone knew it was a lie - including the head. Such "hypocrisy and drivel poison the whole atmosphere of school". How much better it would be, Postman and Weingartner suggest, to officially display all the graffiti written in each school or college - this reflects far better the atmosphere within it (TSA 136-8).

Many have tuned out or turned off schooling because it seems "arbitrary, unrealistic, stifling" and antagonistic to full use of the senses. "What can't be graded doesn't exist, and what can doesn't seem important": reality as the young perceive it is missing from education, and there is a lack of spontaneity and genuine dialogue in formal education (TSA 89). Indeed, young people seem suspicious of the way the Establishment has sliced the world into neat categories, and resent being put into a box - especially someone else's box. There is therefore a fundamental dispute going on between the education system and the young over what is to be named - and in this dispute, language is not neutral but rather, favours the status quo; for instance, our sentence structure is predisposed to assume the separation of an act from what it acted on (eg. "teaching" from "learning") (TSA 90).

On the basis of an article from a newspaper about cheating, Postman and Weingartner conclude that its effects are devastating. The "chilling remarks by totally alienated students" show that "The students all had impeccable records, but Rodriguez doesn't want to put himself on the line again, and Torres knows how easily you forget what you studied, and Figueroa is teed off at the ones who were caught cheating, and Maldonado figures he'll finally know in advance what a test is going to be like, and an unnamed senior is worried because, without the answers, he knows he's finished. What kind of vicious game is being played here, and who are the sinners and who the sinned against?" (TSA 58). To achieve non-alienated learning, the learner has to perceiver the learning as relevant and worthwhile and to seek a solution - which does not rule out teachers suggesting problems, but does rule out the kind of games played at the moment. "No-one will learn what he doesn't want to know", and if someone is forced to, the learner and teacher will both regret it. Learning cannot occur with no, or an ersatz, emotional base (TSA 59).

Postman and Weingartner despair of how little things have changed over time. They cite a discussion by James Agee in 1936 which reaches similar conclusions to theirs: that education ignores social and political facts; that it does little to clarify issues around racism; that it ignores psychological situations facing students and their families, that there is "no attempt, beyond the most nominal, to interest a child in using or in discovering his senses and judgement, no attempt to counteract the paralytic quality inherent in 'authority', no attempt beyond the most nominal and stifling to awaken, to protect, or to guide the sense of investigation, the sense of joy, the sense of beauty, no attempt to clarify spoken and written words whose power of deceit even at the simplest is vertiginous", no interest in religion or irreligion, in uses of the body (except the athletic), in work, in scepticism, faith, wonder, mental honesty or mental courage, and a lack of seriousness in dealing with sexuality. Postman and Weingartner note that, except for vocational training, nothing has changed (TSA 53-4). (This is still largely true today, except for the most ideological and superficial attempts to address some of these questions through PSHE and citizenship indoctrination). Rather, "What passes for a curriculum in today's schools is little else but a strategy of distraction". "It is largely designed to keep students from knowing themselves and their environment in any realistic sense", and evades all the critical problems in society (TSA 54). It is not relevant to either advantaged or disadvantaged students: the only different is that the former have an economic stake in the rituals of the curriculum (TSA 55). Furthermore, little is achieved by pseudo-progressive variants which use "inquiry" learning to teach the same Right Answers: the students behave oddly, as if they expect something to happen and nothing does; they eventually learn that the results are as irrelevant as ever (TSA 59).

There is presently a contradiction in society: people mock the young and their self-expression, exploit youths and deny them the possibility of dignity or productiveness - but there are also huge sums of money spent on young people (TSA 64). There are many groups in society who are afraid of the young following their feelings, perceptions and questions: this includes not only some teachers, but also politicians, bosses, advertisers and people with a material and spiritual investment in the status quo. These people want to avoid difficult questions being asked about society, and support any educational innovation - provided it makes no difference (TSA 63). There are others who are pompous and love symmetry, categories and proper labels, for whom "the language of real human activity is too sloppy, emotional, uncertain, dangerous, and thus altogether too unsettling to study in the classroom" (TSA 62). But we should not be so disdainful of everyday life - as Kafka put it, it's the only one we have (TSA 62).

With regard to the "education standards" agenda so beloved of Blairites, Postman and Weingartner argue that what are considered standards today are low standards. More accurately: they are inappropriate standards, since they are standards for grading and not for learning. Valid standards would start from what people need in order to thrive (TSA 73). Furthermore, the present idea of questions with Right Answers is a problem. Since perception and standpoint crucially influence how people perceive things, an attempt to teach a single way of viewing the world effectively means teaching people to think of things the way present authorities do - and no other way (TSA 82). What the learner learns always involves a translation of new knowledge into existing sets of schemas - so it is never identical with what the teacher teaches. This creates problems with standardised exams, the idea of a universal 'knowledge' to be taught, and even lecturing (TSA 94-5). And we can't really separate out the mind or intellect as a 'thing' to be taught - partly because thinking is a process not a thing, and partly because people are always engaged in emotional and spiritual activities when thinking (TSA 87-8). Exclusive emphasis on the intellect ignores the fact that most of the enduring effects of education are on the 'emotions' and 'spirit' instead; it also tends to make people fail to notice race, class and gender differences in education (TSA 88). Unfortunately, the structure of our language predisposes us to these kinds of "thing" metaphors (TSA 88). Postman and Weingartner suggest the nouns are winning a battle against the verbs for control of language, and they advocate reversing this by using verbs to describe processes (eg. "meaning-making" and "languaging" instead of "meaning" and "language") (TSA 89). It is the form of language, especially when we are not aware of it, which is its most critical content, and language is our most profound but least visible environment (TSA 106).

Postman and Weingartner believe that there is a difficulty: the failure of existing beliefs and practices to achieve results sometimes leads to changed perceptions and actions. However, this can only happen if people have developed the ability to learn. Also, since perception is to a great extent a function of language, it only happens if an adequate alternative set of concepts are available (TSA 93). So, when faced with social problems, we are often unable to solve them because we have not learned how to learn or lack an alternative language. Changing education is therefore vital to solving social problems. Indeed, in areas where changes are occurring at the frontiers of knowledge, education systems are still trapped in old canons and paradigms long after specialists have rejected them, and are actually holding back the possibility of social change (TSA 102-4).

Postman and Weingartner discuss a case where school students were invited to speak at a teachers' conference. They said that lack of communication is the main problem in schools, and that there is a lack of love between students and teachers. Some teachers were hostile, saying things like "It's not my job to love my pupils - it's my job to teach them". Others were sympathetic but felt there was "no place to talk" and that teachers are too overloaded with paperwork and conflict management to deal with students' problems. This sense that they can't help results from their seeing the structures of the education system as "an unalterable 'given'" (TSA 131-5). As regards the education system as a whole, it is often not even intended to do what Postman and Weingartner think it should be doing. Many procedures exist because education has been changed into training for exams (TSA 147). In such contexts, the most valuable thing students learn is often how to beat the system (TSA 147).

Postman and Weingartner distinguish different kinds of judgements. We can't avoid making judgements, they claim, but we should be conscious of them and try to suspend judgement. In contrast, today many people make stereotypical and hasty judgements which make them poor learners. Judgements are always subjective and "relative to the data upon which they are based and to the emotional state of the judge", and they can be harmful. For instance, people can be damaged by either good or bad grades (TSA 187-9). Judgements turn people and things from processes into fixed states, and are often self-fulfilling, producing what they assert (TSA 187-8).

Postman and Weingartner want to change the form of learning to involve learning how to learn, especially how to ask relevant, appropriate and substantial questions (TSA 34). Once this is learned, one can learn anything else fairly easily. They want a qualitatively different kind of education which is not comprehensible in existing terms, and "not a refinement or extension or modification of older school environments" (TSA 37). This is not because present standards are completely irrelevant; new phenomena often do solve old problems better. But this is not the whole question: innovations can change the entire educational environment (TSA 37). Postman and Weingartner's approach may well help students to remember and recall the answers teachers want, but this is the most insignificant part of it: it is not designed to do more effectively what older systems do, but to work over its students in different ways. "It activates different senses, attitudes and perceptions; it generates a different, bolder and more potent kind of intelligence" (TSA 38). It will therefore change teachers, tests, grading systems, curricula, admission requirements and just about everything else in education (TSA 38). The role of the new education (crap detecting and relevance) would be "an entirely new business" (TSA 86). Furthermore, its outcome is unknown: once you start someone thinking, there is no telling where they will go, or how they will think (TSA 40). To create a new education, we should do away with conventional tests, courses and requirements, with administrators, and with "sitting still" in "boxes". For the time being, this means we should "subvert" the "totalitarian environment" which is dominant in many education institutions (TSA 146-7), while creating a second set of criteria alongside the official ones, relying on horizontal links between teachers and learners (TSA 185-6). In the medium term, present institutions should be drastically transformed. Education requirements of the present type should be eliminated because they limit physical and intellectual movement (TSA 148). To guarantee survival in a high-speed world, pedestrian and regimented analysis should be minimised (TSA 162). Administrative requirements corrupt learning; the best way to ensure relevance is voluntary classes (TSA 164). Removing the element of coercion means teachers' suggestions are taken more seriously, and, although it leads to some 'goofing off', this would be less than at present (TSA 191). Survival also requires that we learn something of the scientific attitude (TSA 204).

Postman and Weingartner want to create an environment in which the kind of beliefs and actions typical of good learners can flourish and are the "dominant message of the medium" (TSA 42-3). To find out how to do this, we should study what good learners believe and do which other people don't. Their suggestions include faith or confidence in their ability to learn, reliance on their own judgement, distrust of others' views, , fearlessness about being wrong, not answering quickly, and switching between perspectives (including using "it depends" a lot). It also includes respecting (tentative facts), being good at spotting the difference between factual statements and other statements, observing carefully, always seeking verification of claims, and being cautious with language. Good learners are not trapped by their own language and are aware that language can mislead. Also, they do not need a final resolution to every problem, and prefer to say "I don't know" rather than accept "semantic nonsense" and false answers (TSA 41-2). Education should be structured so as to encourage these qualities. Good learners "recognise, especially as they get older, that an incredible number of people do not know what they are talking about most of the time", and they tend to distrust authorities, especially ones which encourage people to trust the authority over their own judgement (TSA 41). Learning beliefs and acts typical of good learners cannot be done sequentially but only in an environment where learning behaviours are employed all the time, "So that anytime someone is in school, he is trying to behave the way good learners behave" (TSA 43). Learning is a process, not a terminal event (TSA 44); it should consist of inexhaustible lists of questions and involve internalising rather than ventriloquising (TSA 143). To encourage this, one should try to have learners do what they should be doing, rather than telling them what to think. Postman and Weingartner also want to encourage people to have "an actively inquiring, flexible, creative, innovative, tolerant, liberal personality" (TSA 204).

Postman and Weingartner think the central aspect in changing education is changing the role of the teacher, and therefore changing the human content of education (TSA 43, 46). Their preferred approaches are discovery rather than telling the answers; questioning, especially 'divergent' questioning without a terminal Right Answer; horizontal (equal) rather than vertical (hierarchic) relations; avoiding summarising and closure; avoiding limits (eg. time limits) on learning; a stress on the process rather than the answer, and removal of analogies to travel (eg. "covering ground"); development of lessons through students' answers and comments, not to a set structure; treating students' views as relevant; and a problem-based approach to education. Successful teaching should be assessed, not by results (as in Blairism for instance), but by successfully encouraging learning behaviours such as questioning and problem-solving (TSA 43-6). Teachers should be encouraged to relate to the world outside the classroom and to be responsive to students' interests and demands. Education bureaucracy should be destroyed (TSA 135). The future should be dealt with, rather than just the past; on this subject, students may know more than teachers (TSA 191, 193).

The art and science of asking and answering questions is the source of all knowledge, and in a changing world, we need the skill to "make viable meanings" (TSA 85). We need to address the structure of the learner and her or his learning, not the so-called structure of the subject to be taught (TSA 83). People should teach based on what they know about learners, not based on what they know about what they want others to learn. Teachers should also not require either a fixed answer or a fixed answerer: they are against homogenizing people whereas present education functionaries tend to be for it (TSA 84). As regards existing subjects, they are modes of perception; as such, they overlap and should be used to generate new insight (TSA 160).

The learner's role in framing questions should be central, but not exclusive (TSA 65). The curriculum should be based on what is perceived as useful, realistic or relevant by students, although teachers should try to extend students' perceptions of what is relevant (TSA 85). The aim of education should be to develop students' potentialities on the basis of questions they are already asking (TSA 67), and the teacher's role should be to encourage discussion of students' responses (TSA 79). Postman and Weingartner provide a list of questions (such as: "What do you worry about most?" and "Where does knowledge come from?") which they think produce an "enthusiastic and serious" response in students, and make more sense than the kind of questions usually asked in education. They advocate an education built around these questions (TSA 67). "We can, after all, learn only in relation to what we already know" (TSA 67). There are standards which can be used to assess the relevance of questions, which includes that they require inquiry; encourage the will and capacity to learn and joy in learning; allow multiple answers; stress personal uniqueness; drawn people together; and produce different answers at different stages of development (TSA 71). Often, the answer to a question is 'merely' another question; but this process of generating questions is itself educative and expands consciousness, as well as producing more significant questions (TSA 74-5). Furthermore, no-one can know precisely how others will see 'reality', and there are many different, valid senses of relevance (TSA 65, 71).

To encourage an overall view of knowledge rather than a fragmented outlook, boundaries between subjects should be allowed to decay or vanish, and interdisciplinary relations should be probed (TSA 80-1). It is especially important to study language - not as trivialities such as formal grammar, but as "a study of our ways of living", focusing on language as something active and specific, as "languaging activity" which is always about something (TSA 104). This is important because of the role Postman and Weingartner attach to language in shaping and biasing perceptions. We need a re-educational system which trains people to use language in the same way scientists do when they are being scientific, via tactics which raise linguistic effects to a conscious level and make awareness of them constant (TSA 106). For instance, we should try to raise awareness that people, not words, have meanings, that words are not the things they describe, and that alternative forms of awareness are possible (TSA 107). Language should be a "unifying and continuing focus of all student inquiry". Furthermore, "The more ways of talking one is capable of, the more choices one can make and solutions one can invent", and the more meanings one's experience has, the more it can generate (TSA 120). Postman and Weingartner are in favour of using "listening games" (such as one where each person has to paraphrase others' statements to their satisfaction before speaking) to encourage understanding of others' ways of thinking (TSA 184-5). Furthermore, people should not be grouped with others like them, but with diverse people (TSA 140). And learning should explore unexamined beliefs and assumptions (TSA 142). Concepts of literacy should include understanding media 'language' (TSA 155), since the way to avoid being constrained by new media is via literacy in them (TSA 160). Plus, schools should act as 'think tanks' about problems in their communities (TSA 151).

They admit that this seems impractical, but say that this appearance is an artificial perception which holds only if we forget that the present system is among the most impractical imaginable (TSA 134). From their own experiences of teaching trainee teachers, they say that their approach can have a dramatic effect. People are often very different by the time they come out, freed from dependence on arbitrary authority, with more self-respect (since they are no longer ritualistic functionaries), and able to act on, rather than to pass a test on, their knowledge (TSA 143-4). Education should help to solve problems as the really exist (TSA 154). Furthermore, it should use, not one method, but many. There are many ways to trigger learning processes, ranging from questions to systems to games. Games, provided they are not too competitive, can be highly educational, including for people who learn slowly by other means (TSA 171-2). Furthermore, they claim their approach does not rule out any of the present methods of teaching and learning - their aim is not to alter specific methods, but to change the nature of the classroom environment and the roles of teachers and students (TSA 193). Indeed, they believe their approach already exists, but strangely, only at the two extreme ends of education: in postgraduate research and in nursery schools (TSA 193).

Postman and Weingartner's theory remains as relevant as ever. This government has every reason to be afraid of crap detectors, the amount of crap it produces, and the amount it relies on 'tribal' consensus sentiments. What students do in schools and universities is becoming worse: more tests, more compulsory courses, more set modules, more national standards, more P.R., more administration - in short, more of the worst forms of "not teaching" and "bad standards" Postman and Weingartner criticise. The game of "let's pretend" is spreading into increasing areas of official ideology: let's pretend that free trade means greater wellbeing, that privatisation works, that services are improving, and so on. Actual learning is being steadily destroyed. In this context, Postman and Weingartner provide important ideas as to how to "unlearn" educational and social dogmas and how to move forward to a better future. Learning to question is more subversive than ever - and all the more important for that.


* Postman and Weingartner over-stress how far they are able to speak for "reality". They exaggerate how far present processes of social change fit their own model (eg. of non-linear learning; TSA 39)).

* They can be a little mechanical: if you do something, you learn it; if you don8t, you won't (TSA 34). But people can reject things they do.

* There is a contradiction between their mechanical model of the origins of behaviour and their emphasis on verifiable claims about the world on the one hand, and their position that we see or experience what we expect or imagine on the other.

* They tend to want to adapt to the world rather than change it.

* They exaggerate the power and independence held by teachers and downplay structural barriers to changed teaching practices. Some of their proposals for dealing with teachers' lack of awareness and repressive and threatening towards teachers, undermining their advocation of dialogue. They are also unaware of how some of the institutions they wish to include or borrow ideas from - such as business and law - could be hostile to their project.


Ivan Illich is the best-known of the "deschoolers", a group of mostly American education theorists who dislike formal schooling (the term "schooling" being used in its American sense, to include colleges and universities), and who want to switch to more informal kinds of education. In addition to critiquing the school, he wants to use the school as a case study to critique modern institutions more generally (DS 10).

Illich criticises schools for alienating learning from any meaningful setting via elaborate planning and manipulation (DS 44). He thinks schools misunderstand learning, which requires little or no manipulation to occur, and personal growth, which is not measurable (DS 45). Because it produces resistances, schooling often intensifies the problems it is meant to solve, for instance, learning difficulties (DS 47). Illich also thinks schooling tries to teach people at the worst possible time: after infancy but before people have acquired the abilities for self-motivated learning (DS 35). Schools also fuse a "futile sense of omnipotence" with a "humiliating dependence on a master" (DS 50).

Illich thinks schooling is based on "unquestioned premises", particularly regarding the nature of childhood (since formal education is usually age-grouped). The phenomenon of childhood as a distinct phase of existence is culturally and historically specific, and although it is something people might feel deprived of, it can also be a burden. There is a disjunction between the self-awareness of children and students and their social roles, and a second disjunction between the school environment and its ideological representations (DS 32-5). The "institutional wisdom" that children and young adults should go to school is itself produced by schools (DS 35). There are also other widespread assumptions: for instance, the assumption that learning is the result of teaching, despite strong evidence to the contrary (DS 35), and the assumption that teachers need a sanctified space and resultant authority to be effective (DS 37). There is a widespread illusion that we know what is and is not necessary education for others (DS 31), and also a false separation between the academic or educational field and other forms of social life (DS 31).

School today performs many of the churches' historical functions: "It is simultaneously the repository of society's myth, the institutionalisation of that myth's contradictions, and the locus of the ritual which reproduces and veils the disparities between myth and reality. Today the school system, and especially the university, provides ample opportunity for criticism of the myth and for rebellion against its institutional perversions. But the ritual which demands tolerance of the fundamental contradictions between myth and institution still goes largely unchallenged", and this prevents radical change (DS 43). Illich thinks all societies need myths; but not a process of producing them which is as "dull, protracted, destructive and expensive" as ours, and not a confusion of myth with education (DS 43). Illich shares Max Gluckman's analysis that the main role of ritual is to hide dissonances and contradictions between social ideals and social organisation (DS 55). One of the roles of schooling is "the pacification of a new generation within specially engineered enclaves which will seduce them into the dream world of their elders" (DS 70).

According to Illich, schools teach the confusion of process and substance, which produces a particular way of thinking: that escalation leads to success (DS 9). It also tends to teach the confusion of institutions with values, not least through the claim of formal education to be identical with education as such. As a result of this process of learning, "medical treatment is mistaken for health care... police protection for safety... the rat race for productive work". The "institutionalisation of values leads inevitably to physical pollution, social poliarization and psychological impotence: three dimensions in a process of global degredation and modernized misery" in which non-material needs are turned into demands for packaged, commodified goods and services (DS 9; elsewhere, Illich notes the same process in relation to the army, the church, the consumer family, political parties, the professions, the media and the car). Needs are turned into obligations: the system demands obligatory health, wealth and security (DS 53). An illusion of necessity is constructed through the corruption of desire and need into consumer demand (DS 65). The law of rising expectations is really a growing frustration gap, and what it is possible to produce is leading what is demanded, making it difficult to demand anything an institution cannot provide while also creating false needs (DS 109) which are obsolete before they are satisfied (DS 113). Schooling teaches people to accept and want the form which products take in contemporary capitalism (DS 29), because relations between the educator and the educated are supplier-consumer relations (DS 73). "School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is" (DS 114). Yet this society is destructive; it achieves "security" only be creating technology to destroy the earth (i.e. nuclear weapons), and the way it creates needs faster than it satisfies them is eating up the planet. We are trapped in a "blackout of reality in the smog produced by our tools", and school is trapping us in the ideal of a "pan-hygienic world" where all contacts with each other and with nature are results of foresight and manipulation (DS 110-11). This has led us to a return to "primitive" fatalism in a different form; trapped by the logic of the machine, we can only vaguely sense the possibility of rebellion (DS 111-12).

School involves a situation where "some men [sic] may set, specify and evaluate the personal goals of others", which Illich sees as leading to "irrational consistency" via schemas and classifications comprehensible only to their authors (DS 71-2). The packaging of services is a product of the confusion of technological growth with technocratic control. Technocracy reduces freedom to a selection between packaged commodities by trying to programme as many links between people and our environment as possible (DS 74). This technocratic approach tends to be reproduced even after revolutions. This is because schools are so similar across various forms of society that they have become almost immune to change, and therefore, consumer society also recurs. The shared character of schools reproduces a shared myth, mode of production and method of social control, despite involving very different sets of ideas in different countries (DS 77). The schooled mind conceives of knowledge as a set of "classified packages", "secrets" to be acquired through school rituals (DS 78).

As a result, corporations and welfare bureaucracies gain a monopoly over the social imagination, "setting standards of what is valuable and what is feasible"; as one person put it, our imagination is "all schooled up" (DS 10-11). Knowledge is left as a commodity to be coercively injected into people, and society is constantly at risk from "sinister pseudo schools and totalitarian managers of information" (DS 54), and people become mesmerised by the irrational consistency of dominant institutions (DS 72). Institutional abilities to recruit have outgrown the ability of independent individual voices to be heard (DS 95-6). Meanwhile, advertisers, police and generals hide behind school language (such as "teaching Milosevic a lesson") and "war-making and civil repression find an educational rationale" (DS 54) - as for instance with the idea that western intervention in ex-Yugoslavia can teach people not to harm each other. Schools, Illich claims, have the same effect everywhere of shaping people so that they value institutional commodities over neighbours' ministrations and believe myths of bureaucratic benevolence and efficiency. This tendency operates in this way regardless of teachers' or governments' intentions, economics, politics or ideology (DS 76-7). Furthermore, such roles of schools are immune to education research because of its circular assumptions (DS 73).

Among the myths Illich sees schools as promoting is the myth than production necessarily produces demand, learnt because school teaches that instruction produces learning. This is in turn applied to other institutions where the teacher-pupil relation is reproduced. "Once the self-taught man or woman has been discredited, all non-professional activity is rendered suspect" (DS 44). "Once a man or woman has accepted the need for school, he or she is easy prey for other institutions. Once young people have allowed their imaginations to be formed by curricular instruction, they are conditioned to institutional planning of every sort. 'Instruction' smothers the horizon of their imaginations" (DS 44). They learn to substitute expectations for hope and never to be surprised by what is expected, and to substitute institutions for themselves (DS 44-5). This is in contradiction with Illich's own view that we should have a life of action rather than consumption (DS 57).

This process reinforces the school itself. School self-expands by teaching the desirability of more schooling, and "The ideology of obligatory schooling admits of no logical limits". For instance, there have been proposals to force supposed pre-delinquents into training camps (DS 17-18; cf. Blair's New Deal). It is becoming an obligatory social ritual similar to the medi‘val Church (DS 17). Illich sees schools as a "magic womb" based on compulsory incarceration. In it, we leave western culture an enter "an environment far more primitive, maginal and deadly serious" in which "the rules of ordinary reality are suspended" (DS 39). This ceremonial role is according to Illich the primary feature of the hidden curriculum, an element which even the best teachers cannot protect students from. It adds guilt, prejudice and privilege to discrimination and is a "ritual of initiation into a growth-oriented consumer society for rich and poor alike" (DS 39). Compulsory schools as a form, regardless of content, inevitably reproduce consumer society (DS 44), and one of their most central roles is to provide the basis for consumer demand (DS 51). School also 'alienates' people in advance of their entry into the world of work, destroying people's drive for independence, relatedness and the unknown and giving them an illusion of atomised self-sufficiency preparing them for their later alienated institutionalisation (DS 51).

Another myth promoted by schools is that everything can be quantified. "School initiates young people into a world where everything can be measured, including their imaginations, and, indeed, man himself" (DS 45). "School pretends to break learning up into subject 'matters', to build into the pupil a curriculum made of these prefabricated blocks, and to gauge the result on an international scale" (DS 45). People learn to put themselves into a pre-established box, and get into a habit of assigning themselves and others a place. That which cannot be quantified is not learnt from; people let it slip or treat it as threatening or unimportant. Many people unlearn doing and being and are left only with making (DS 45-6). Such schooling also leaves people vulnerable to manipulation through statistics and measuring indices of everything from IQ to national development to peace (DS 46).

Schools also teach a myth of the pre-packaged value. The 'curriculum', a packaged whole divided into packaged bits, teaches the form of the pre-packaged product, with its subsidiaries of market research and surveillance. The curriculum "is a bundle of planned meanings, a package of values, a commodity whose 'balanced appeal' makes it marketable to a sufficiently large number to justify the cost of production. Consumer-pupils are taught to make their desires conform to marketable values. Thus they are made to feel guilty if they do not behave according to the predictions of consumer research by getting the grades and certificates that will place them in the job category they have been led to expect" (DS 46). This teaches the habit of consumer conformity.

Another myth promoted by schools is the myth of self-perpetuating progress. This myth has a subsidiary: "escalation" (the principle that the failure of an institution means that more of it is needed - like the U.S. policy in Vietnam, where military failure was met with ever more troops). Escalations are made to seem "inevitable and self-justifying": pupil-hours in school, body counts in Vietnam and profts in businesses all rise whether they are achieving anything or not. It also involves constant dissatisfaction: in a subject-divided curriculum, you can never know anything satisfactorily, and knowledge constantly becomes obsolete, necessitating more schooling (DS 47-8). (This vicious circle is probably the content of Blair's commitment to 'lifelong learning'). This produces a rising frustration gap which is often misperceived as rising expectations. The resulting commitment to quantitative growth becomes a barrier to organic development (DS 48). Meanwhile, escalation becomes a "social addiction", prescribing more if too little fails (DS 60). This produces an "ethos of non-satiety" which means that our value is measured by our capacity to consume: "Man now defines himself as the furnace which burns up the values produced by his tools" (DS 114).

Schooling is fixed in place by three widespread, but unfounded, dogmas: firstly, the special value to individuals and society of taught behaviour; secondly, that social man (sic) is not born until adolescence; and thirdly, that the young must change the world - but only once they have been schooled (DS 71). The net effect is to turn the young into a natural resource to be manipulated for the industrial machine, with both free cooperation and social control used to put people in the service of supposedly social goals (DS 70).

The form of schooling is that of a "ritual game of graded promotions" (DS 49). This is more important than what is taught or how: "It is the game itself that schools, that gets into the blood and becomes a habit" (DS 49). There is, Illich claims, a contradiction between schools' role as selectors and their supposed encouragement of learning: whereas selection is based on studying others' views in packaged curricula, learning creates something new (DS 19). There is also a process in school which involves fusing education with custodial care, social-role selection and indoctrination (DS 13). Selection is usually based on educational advantages which come from outside school (DS 14), with a result that the system, especially at the higher levels, tends to privilege the rich. The poor are "schooled in a sense of inferiority towards the better schooled", and "the mere existence of schools discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning", especially since schools portray knowledge as costly, complex, arcane and near-impossible (DS 15). Meanwhile, the costs of schooling make it impossible to generalise (DS 16). So school has tried to detach achievement from life-history and class, but has succeeded only in monopolising these (DS 19).

The selection ritual also teaches compulsiveness and compulsion. It leads people to blame the world's ills on those who can't or won't play the game. The scapegoating and sacrifice of drop-outs is an expiation which is central to the other rituals of initiation into consumerism and mediation between the faithful (DS 49). In 'schooled' societies, this scapegoating is internalised by people who consume less than the required amount of schooling (which in the less-developed world is most of the population) as a sense of guilt and inadequacy, a "self-inflicted discrimination" and rationalisation of your failure as being due to "rejection from scholastic gaze" (DS 49). Actually, the levels of dropping out by students and teachers show the futility of attempting a technical approach to youth resistance to learning, and the need for a new approach to education (DS 69).

Illich argues: "Most tragically, the majority of men [sic] are taught their lesson by schools even though they never go to school" (DS 35), since they learn to feel uneducated. The existence of, and participation in, the ritual of schooling itself teaches, and even those who do not attend learn that they should have school and that they can only have salvation through it (DS 36). As a result, people who fail in school, cannot afford to continue their education, or drop out at a certain level for some other reason, learn a sense of inferiority; they are taught to see themselves as uneducated.

Even universities are quite harmful in this respect. They tend to teach people to prefer the company of the fellow-schooled, and also confer a privilege of dissent only on those people they have tested and classified as potential money-makers (DS 40). The problem is that certification of achievement is used as a prerequisite for receiving funding to study or teach, which tends to reserve education for those who have already "proved themselves good risks for the established order" (DS 40). The "price tag" of higher education also tends to indoctrinate graduates into the consumer ethos (DS 40-1).

Such links between knowledge and wealth are relatively recent. The medi‘val scholar was a relatively poor social outsider, and this tended to make the university into a "liberated zone for discovery and the discussion of ideas both new and old", "a community of academic quest and endemic unrest" (DS 41). In contrast, "In the modern multiversity this community has fled to the fringes, where it meets in a pad, a professor's office or the chaplain's quarters. The structural purpose of the modern university has little to do with the traditional quest", focussing instead on the management of so-called research and instruction (DS 41). This means education becomes a pawn in economic games: nations see education spending and bodycounts as linked to development, and many students see education as an investment from which they expect a monetary return (DS 41-2). This produces the dual phenomena of dropping out and resisting from within (DS 43). "Goofing off" has become perhaps the only outlet for poetry and creativity in modern cities (DS 109).

Illich proposes that, since qualifications mostly certify only length of attendance and not specific abilities, discrimination on the grounds of general education (as opposed to specific performance tests) should be banned (DS 18-20). According to Illich, tying job recruitment to schooling ties jobs not to proven knowledge but to "the learning pedigree by which it is supposedly acquired (DS 22).

There is a further contradiction between helping and repressive roles of schooling. Schooling tends to domesticate because the role of the teacher-as-therapist, helping personal development and probing students' personal lives to do this, is combined with the teacher as custodian and as preacher, wanting submission to a vision of truth and rightness (DS 37). Even more than the denial of rights to children, the combination in the person of the teacher of the roles of judge, doctor and ideologue perverts democracy (DS 38). There is a further contradiction between the teacher's power and the liberal ideology on which this power is based (DS 38). The fusion of roles tends also to fuse all values. "Under the authoritative eye of the teacher, several orders of value collapse into one. The distinctions between morality, legality and personal worth are blurred and eventually eliminated. Each transgression is made to be felt as a multiple offence", so an offender is at once an outlaw, morally corrupt and personally worthless (DS 38). Furthermore, the teacher-as-moralist substitutes for parents, God and the state, who, by standing in for the roles of the first two, makes each student feel part of the same state (DS 37). Meanwhile, teachers are also the custodian or Master of Ceremonies of the labyrinthine rituals of schools as institutions (DS 37). The school is becoming a new World Church (DS 48) serving a new warrior class and a growing globalised bureaucracy (DS 66)

Illich wants to separate education from social control (DS 27). He wants to eliminate compulsion - the education "draft" - and replace it with an education where "education for all means education by all" (DS 29). He also thinks education should be spread across more institutions - while avoiding the danger that such spread could destroy existing critical autonomy (DS 30). It should involve "participation - not simulation" (DS 30). The logic of compulsory schooling - of the idea that people should be manipulated for their own educational salvation - leads, Illich suggests, to the kind of re-education through torture practised by totalitarian regimes (DS 54-5).

Illich draws a distinction between left, or convivial, institutions, which facilitate activity and enable personal growth, and right, or manipulative, institutions, which primarily organise production and which encourage addiction. Institutions occur on a spectrum between these two poles. Rightist institutions are nearly always counterproductive and destructive; they include prisons, police and the armed forces. Leftist ones, such as pavements, parks, phone services and mail services, are simply available for use and do not require the creation of demand, and they do not induce repetitive frustrating use or cut off alternative ways of meeting the same needs (DS 57-60). Illich thinks that, on this scale, formal education consists of Rightist institutions; furthermore, schools actually produce the demand for other Rightist institutions. They are similar to armies except that they kill (or alienate) spirits instead of bodies (DS 65). Rightist institutions are problematic because they encourage making rather than acting. In the present, this is very harmful: technology has minimised production activity and there is now too little available. Modern unemployment is a product of people succumbing to a Protestant work-ethic when there is too little to do, and the choice between institutional styles is therefore a "choice between sad unemployment and joyful leisure" (DS 67). Rightist institutions try to 'make' virtuous activities (learning, healing, etc.) via 'service' institutions (DS 67), whereas Illich thinks we should only 'make' durable goods, and pursue happiness via increasing "the opportunity and desirability of human interaction" (DS 68)..

Bureaucrats everywhere tend to strengthen 'institutions of the right' and focus on making things, rules and an "executive truth", an ideology or fiat establishing a supposed objective set of values for valuing products (DS 66). The choice between left and right institutions is a choice about "the very nature of human life": between being rich in things but being unable to use them, or being rich in the freedom to use things (DS 66). The disestablishment of school is inevitable, but we have a choice between deschooling or the spread of school-like agencies across society (DS 103-5).

Deschooling starts from the critique of existing institutions. Awareness of rituals is the first step towards breaking their spell and reshaping the world (DS 55-6). "Deschooling is... at the root of any movement for human liberation" (DS 52), since schooling is so central in creating participation in other institutions. Schooling is no worse that dozens of other institutions, but its role in suppressing critical judgement means it "enslaves more profoundly and more systematically" than other structures (DS 52). One can only self-emancipate from school, since no-one is entirely innocent of the exploitation involved in schooling, and since dissidents and revolutionaries are often themselves highly 'schooled' (DS 52). Revolution has to start in the school - though such change would threaten the economic and political systems also (DS 53-4). At present, there may be a major change waiting to happen (DS 55), but those with faith in schools are wriggling to hang onto this faith (DS 53-4). We need to move beyond this faith to transform education. We need a new style of educational relationship, altering "the quality and structure of everyday life" (DS 75). This requires devising appropriate language, since present language prevents us visualising a deschooled society (DS 76). It also involves shifting the emphasis from what people should learn to what they might want to be put in contact with in order to learn (DS 80).

Since being schooled in a mindset as well as a process, deschooling for Illich is about ethos, not just institutions (DS 7). He criticises other education reformers for reproducing the very forms they are criticising (DS 55). Illich does not object to all the methods of schools; learning by rote, for instance, can be very effective if learners are highly motivated (DS 20-1). His objection is mainly to the use of compulsion, selection and social sterilisation. He also thinks that non-school forms of training are more effective - for instance, in one example, Spanish-speakers are able to teach Spanish to non-speakers very swiftly (DS 22). In relation to skills, Illich encourages the use of "skill models": people who have a skill should be encouraged to teach it to others (DS 92). He wants to separate education as such from skill instruction and training, because the methods involved are quite different. Whereas a skill can often be taught by drill, education cannot. It must rely instead on a critical reworking of memories, "the surprise of the unexpected question" and a "relationship between partners" to discuss issues they feel are important (DS 24-5).

Illich's alternative revolves around the idea of education networks. He wants to replace "funnels" which produce fixed outcomes with more open-ended "webs" (DS 7). His long-term goal is that everyone should be able to choose education or training in any subject or skill at public expense (DS 21). Education as such could occur through a database of peers who are able to get in touch with each other based on a shared interest in a book or article (DS 26-7). To be effective, such networks should involve effective free assembly: anyone should have the right to call a meeting, thereby de-institutionalising meetings (DS 95). There should be three different kinds of professional educators: pedagogues offering educative advice, network administrators, and initiators or leaders of educational initiatives, who provide new ideas (DS 101). To liberate education from employment, Illich wants bans on education monopolies and on employers discriminating based on prior education or any irrelevant skill (DS 93). To discourage monopolies on knowledge by experts, Illich wants things, including machines, to be widely known. Specifically educational objects such as science equipment should be taken outside the formal educational setting, which can put people off using such equipment (DS 83).

Since different people learn best by different methods, education methods should vary greatly. Games, for instance, work miraculously with some learners and badly with others (DS 83-4). Illich also thinks work, community activity, and learning (often subversively) from older learners is often educative (DS 87). He thinks people should learn based on their specific abilities and not be forced to learn anything in which they have a "special handicap" (DS 90). In general, Illich sees his changes as involving an "institutional inversion" of schools (DS 89).

Many of Illich's arguments are more relevant than ever. The present government is actually escalating the role of myth and ritual in education, for instance via graduation ceremonies in schools. The institutionalisation of values, the packaging of needs and the reduction of everything to quantities is worsening in education and across society, through devices such as performance targets, league tables, quality assessment audits and modules to test every skill. Furthermore, the government blames everything on those who can't or won't play the game. The confusion and conflation of helping and repression is worsening due to the new official ideology of 'participation' (eg. "helping" people to find work by threatening to cut off their benefits). Left institutions are tending to be replaced by Right ones. Thus, there is still much we can learn from Illich's critique of the education system.


* Illich tends to have a cult of independence (eg. DS 11-12). This can lead to problematic ideas of the creation of "dependency", and even occasional support for cutbacks.

* Illich is somewhat sectarian, being prone to claim that only rejecting schools can bring about any change (eg. DS 44).

* Illich uses certain elitist formulations (eg. DS 115) and also has little conception of the problems with the state, law, and the 'free market'.


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