Monday, May 17, 2010

Building you a prison

Illich and Vern's booklet, Imprisoned in the Global Classroom is a difficult read. Its paragraphs point out in all directions, but not with much recognisable accuracy.. perhaps too much has passed between now and 1976. It makes an impression of a vague sense, but using exact and urgent language. I imagine many would dismiss it out of frustration, but reading passages over and over, and reflecting on its meaning takes time, and the thoughts and ideas it gives me feel worth the time.

This paragraph appears on page 12, and should give all of us in the edtech game reason to pause. It talks about life long learning, and its sinister appropriation by education agents using it to justifying themselves (ring any bells?). While I'm half certain I sit on the right side of the fence on this one, I'm cautious not to appropriate the statement as an endorsement of my work either - because I just might be guilty of exactly what Illich and Verne point to here.

Is my work in opening up an educational institution, its processes and resources, and then to situate its teachers and research in the popular arena, in fact just further entrapment of independent social existence, and bringing it under the dominance of Education? On may levels it is, I can see that. To build awareness of learning as it happens in social networks and its media, and then to nurture ideas in the educational institution on how they might measure, recognise and reward that learning, seeks to further legitimise the dominance of the Education paradigm, impacting further on individual and community self determination and sufficiency. Its just as bad as what marketing agents are doing, government agents, even the medical institutions. There lacks a genuine sense of altruism from these institutions.

Is my work the lessor of a greater evil though? Or is it actually better that institutionalised education exist as it does behind its own walls, restricting access to the opportunities (or illusion there of), and making itself irrelevant to more and more people? Perhaps Education, and Academic Capitalism will actually help societies more by perpetuating this exclusion, thereby reducing its dominance over more people's real lives, leaving their communities little choice but to devise other ways of learning and individual growth?... Perhaps the large scale economic model of education today ensures that it ignores small scale community learning projects precisely because they are small scale, leaving the participants to their own ends, unmolested by education's corruption.

Its an interesting notion to throw around a bit. I see a reason to wait longer now, either for the space for genuine altruism in our institutions to develop (rather than being forced by a few radicals), or for the spread of community learning initiatives in response to the institutions weakening. Of course there's no guarantee that either will happen within a present lifetime, in fact there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately the Amazon scan I'm using to photograph paragraphs from this book, finishes at page 12! I'm looking for another scan so I can continue noting thoughts from this dense little book.

There really is a relentless source of criticism in this book, to the globalisation of education. Chapter 3 titled Political Inversion is written by Illich alone, and I find it a more familiar writing style. This chapter revisits the importance of conviviality and self determination, set against the dominance of institutions that can be shown to take away conviviality - starting with prisons, but moving right through all our institutions. Many of my colleagues would argue that education prepares people for conviviality, but I'd be interested to know if their belief survives a reading of Illich, where he brings the hidden into plain view and exposes education as the separation of things into specialties, in a political context of short term, and an economic cycle of escalating consumption and collapse.


Michael de Percy said...

Thanks for sharing your struggle. My high school English teacher used to say that there would be no great theatre, poetry or literature without struggle, and usually the greatest struggles (ie greatest poems etc) came from within the individual (I had some great teachers). I worked out most of my teaching struggle during the CELTS Grad Cert in Higher Ed by writing my teaching philosophy: If TLC is still running this course, get yourself on it!

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks for the comment Mike, I'll certainly read your tumblr.. but I couldn't help but flinch when you suggested I take the TLC course.. that remark suggests you might have missed the point of my post. Apart from my history teaching courses like that (which I probably shouldn't even mention here), why should we feel the need to take 'courses' to realise ourselves? Why can't the experiences and information that is wrapped up in that course, be available other ways, minus the submission?

brent said...

Leigh ... I found a copy in the library and have managed to take one read; but will really need to read again I feel. But, a few notes: I'm often surprised that Illich ignores the 'research' dimension of higher ed (or perhaps I haven't read enough Illich). It seems to me that this deserves some attention in terms of 'social good'.

In common parle we'd probably call what Illich is referring to as "life-long learning" which some have pointed out is a product of neo-liberal thought. By putting the onus of learning onto the individual a governmental logic of self-regulation is endorsed which equates long-term social and economic benefits with the notion of an 'entrepreneurial self'. So, has a degree of 'deschooling' already also been co-opted?

Michael de Percy said...

Thanks Leigh, yes, I probably did miss your point as I am yet to fully comprehend Illich. I was institutionalised early on, so courses are a normal 'vehicle' for my learning. The TLC course used to be funded by faculties and the structured approach was very helpful - my teaching feedback reflects a clear change in outcome. But I must say that if I didn't believe in structured learning within the institution, then it would be very hypocritical of me to be a course convener.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Brent,

I wouldn't say that Illich ignores research (I seem to recall him mentioning it in positive terms in this book actually), but I would say that in todays world - 40 years since, he would consider it just as wrapped up in the illusion.

Today, with credential inflation where a kid needs a bloody masters or phd before he can get an internship or cadetship as a journalist for example, we could easily say that the elective part of HE has all but disappeared.. (interesting that the quality of journalism has gone down as the requirement for education has gone up). And he would be even more critical of so called research offering very little benefits to real communities, just ensuring overprivileged positions in academia.

So I think Illich would make similar attacks on universities today, and question the 'social good' of their so called 'research' and 'education', clearly pointing out the hypocrisy, psychological violence, and social damage they cause.

As he points out in this book, institutionalised education was becoming all encompassing, life long, and offering position to people who would otherwise not have it. He saw the inflation coming.

I wonder if he would have been as disgusted as I am at the Sector's willingness to become market oriented and capitalisitic? He might have thought is good riddens!

I think he'd see their research is elitist, dogmatic and locked - their teaching also, indistinguishable to the methods and conditions of compulsory schooling. And all while dragging more tax and fees from people it largely fails.

Where a university (or individual within it) is open and innovative, it/they still operate under the fundamental illusion of formalised and industrial strength education (and research), failing to see the critique of Illich.

He'd call research and HE an unquestioned holy cow, serving to further lock people in a juvenile state of mind and being... primed for marketeers and perpetual consumption and comodification.

Not intentional, just a biproduct of the lack of real counter group think discussion about their principles and values, actions and consequences.

Brooke N. said...

In terms of the “Academic Capitalism,” I think technology and online classes play a large role. Distance education is a growing field. My aunt makes her entire living teaching online courses through Syracuse, while she lives in Alabama. She has never seen her thousands of students, but she assures me that she is connected to them. Being a traditional educator, I cannot understand how she makes connections through technology, without face-to-face interaction. And she tells me that she does this primarily for the money. So, the altruism commonly associated with teaching (and teachers), for her, is out the window.

Online teaching absolutely has its benefits, and I wouldn’t be able to get my next degree without the ability to take classes from home, but I do notice a difference in education between online and face-to-face classrooms. In this realm, traditional education functions in the same manner, when it comes to feeding the capitalist entity. We are all so educated now, that the next step truly is to find that “thing” that separates us. I think online education is speeding this process up, because now so many more people can get a degree, or another degree, so quickly via the web.