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Deschooling Society

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  2,794 ratings  ·  298 reviews
Deschooling Society (1971) is a critical discourse on education as practised in modern economies. It is a book that brought Ivan Illich to public attention. Full of detail on programs and concerns, the book gives examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education. Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations in fluid info ...more
Paperback, 116 pages
Published July 1st 2000 by Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd (first published 1971)
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Dec 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommended to David by: Graham
Illich questions the basic assumption that most liberal (or for that matter non-liberal) people in the US have: more educational = more gooder. Attacking the idea that compulsory schooling is constructive, Illich offers one of the more radical analyses of the educational system I've ever heard of of, much less read. What, after all, is the relation between schooling and learning, if any?

As someone who has spent a huge portion (like one over one) of their life in school and now teaches at a unive
Jun 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book challenged my views more than any book I've ever read. Illich's case for the need to deschool society is not only compelling it is transformative. As a person who has become highly critical of public schooling, I was already familiar with where he was going, but to abandon every type of institutional school system including free/democratic schools as well as universities seemed a bit much to me, until he went into detail about the repressiveness of such institutions and how we learn mo ...more
Dave Schaafsma
Nov 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society (1971), like John Marsh’s Class Dismissed, Jacques Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster. worries that we confuse learning with teaching to our peril and questions the gospel that schools will save us or will have anything useful for us to prepare for future crises, fix inequality, and so on. Historical critiques of traditjonal education abound, but this is a thought-provoking one. There’s libertarian and anarchist impulses in all this work; he suggests we “de-sc ...more
آية  العوبلّي
Feb 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a lens that will help you re-evaluate the school system, by urging you to undo what you've been "taught", and explore what you want to "learn".

تلخيص سطرين المصوّر للكتاب (بالعربي)
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
My mum recommended this short but extremely thought-provoking book to me. She read it decades ago and found it life-changing. I wouldn’t necessarily say the same, but found it disproportionately interesting for its length. It is a critique of the formal, mandatory education system originally published in 1970. My thoughts on it can be roughly grouped under three headings: responses to the theoretical points advanced, reflections on my personal experiences with the education system, and thoughts ...more
Nov 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Ivan Illich is one of our more interesting social critics. Schooled as a priest he became anathema to both the left and the right of the Catholic Church. He was Vice Rector pf the Catholic University of Ponce in Puerto Rico when he was ordered to leave by the Bishop. He went to Mexico where he founded the Center for Intercultural Documentation. In 1967 he was summoned before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to undergo a modern form of the medieval inquisition. One of the reasons fo ...more
Sep 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dew01-499, 1970s


This book's ideas have stayed with me. Were I able to influence America's Schooling Institution, Illich would be a guru. He provides scholarly perspective on compulsory institutional schooling.
One of the old professors in grad school provided me with a useful insight ... when I asked why the state enforced compulsory education until age 18, he replied "To keep them out of the labor market."
May 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was mind blowingly good. Ivan is basically saying school is like a training ground for the perpetuation of a society to be the way it currently is. And remain that way. I barely remember anything I actually learnt from school which is not to say that I didn't learn much from the process itself but I dare say the years I spent in a well known fee paying grammar school could have been infinitely better spent. A community environment aligned to a mentorship setting I believe is the w ...more
Michael Nielsen
Jan 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The core point changed my life: institutions often deny volition and agency to their clients, and this is perhaps the central fact to understand schools and children. In a nutshell, Illich is pointing out that we don't treat children as truly human when we deny them the most basic choices about what they'll be doing and where and with whom. This is typically true very nearly as much of progressive schools as it of more traditional schools.

I'm inclined to be dismissive of much of the politics in
May 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
I found many of Illich's arguments about institutionalized education compelling, especially those around decentralized "learning webs," but I wasn't convinced by his suggestion that true educational freedom requires the implementation of a system of tuition grants that would allow each citizen to direct their own education according to their intellectual and presumably material interests. Illich cites monetarist champion Milton Friedman as inspiration for this model, and that's where we reach ou ...more
Zack Clemmons
Jun 17, 2022 rated it really liked it
Dense little provocation with a concluding chapter downright mythic in scope. While I never know whether radicals have adequately considered the potency of human sin to gum up the best-designed works of decentralized pro-social publicly-owned economies and polities (though I suspect Illich among them surely has), there is much explanatory power in Illich's theses, and, better yet, more than a few places to start. ...more
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic
This book made me acutely uncomfortable, thoughtful, sad, and angry--all in helpful ways. What made me sad and angry is that Illich's critique of the public school system in the United States still rings true today, after a generation in which there could have been positive change. I would say that 80% of the time I spent in public school prior to entering the university system was a waste of my time and intellectual/emotional resources as a young adult. And the university system, while a signif ...more
Jun 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
4.25-4.5 stars. I really, really enjoyed reading this, if only for the brilliant polemic writing style, radical ideas, and a Thoreauvian imagination (this really reminded me of Walden, but much more tightly written).

Now young people are prealienated by schools that isolate them while they pretend to be both producers and consumers of their own knowledge, which is conceived of as a commodity put on the market in school. School makes alienation preparatory to life, thus depriving education of rea
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school. Institutional wisdom tells us that
children learn in school. But this institutional wisdom is itself the product of schools
because sound common sense tells us that only children can be taught in school. Only by
segregating human beings in the category of childhood could we ever get them to submit
to the authority of a schoolteacher."

Ivan Illich masterfully deconstructs the idea of schooling and all of its perceived advantages. Illich, who wa
Aug 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Illich's critique of compulsory education in Deschooling Society is insightful and valuable to anyone who values learning and sees learning as part of the full development of human beings. Furthermore, he has some novel ideas for how a deschooled form of learning could be organized, and how the passion for learning can be stamped out by compulsory education.

However, his normative critique could be made in a far fewer words, and his analysis of educational institutions could be more thorough and
Michael Burnam-Fink
Illich makes a radical critique of education, capitalism, statism, and almost everything that is both extremely focused and also directs slashes at nearly every underpinning assumption of society. Illich's most direct criticism is at the idea that formal education solves problems. Rather than being about skill acquisition or personal development, Illich identifies schools as the ideological wing of the consumption-production engine that is capitalism. The role of schools is to produce ignorance ...more
Petter Nordal
Jun 04, 2012 rated it did not like it
Illich's central argument is that institutionalizing social problems results in a subterfuge whereby people stop thinking about the social problem and instead ask why the institution is failing. If there's crime, what's wrong with the criminal justice system; if there's illness, what's wrong with the hospitals; if people are mistreated, what's wrong with the government, etc. It's a good point, and he is correct in looking at how this question is especially problematic with schools. By creating t ...more
Jeremy Wineberg
While there is a lot of outdated information here, particularly in the first few pages where Illich is setting up a context for his argument, the basic of tenants of his argument make incredible sense to me: school is not just a way to prepackage information that substitutes consumption for actual learning, but "an advertising agency which makes you believe that you need society as it is. In such a society marginal value has become constantly self-transcendent. It forces the few largest consumer ...more
Ivan Illich is an admirable intellectual in that he was willing to put his radical ideas into practice. Where my doubts are cast is whether or not his "deschooling" program could honestly be effected en masse, and whether or not they're even possible.

Do I agree with much of his analysis of education? Absolutely. But what seems to be the problem is that despite the deathly flaws in the education system, people still seem to be getting educated in the process. And to "open up" the education system
Tanner Welsh
Mar 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
There is perhaps no better critique of he education system in it's essence, or a better explanation for why radical restructuring is absolutely necessary for any self-styled democratic society.

Illich, in his grandiose and yet somehow anti-universalist style, points out the fallacies, injustices, hypocrisies, and absurdities of western schooling. The "argument" (if you want to label it as such) is composed of somewhat incongruous anecdotes and musings that all orbit his central message but do no
Andrew Neuendorf
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Illich takes on the last sacred cow: compulsory public education. Written in early 1970's, he was calling for the use of extended networks linking students to teachers. He was talking about the internet before there was one. I think he's largely correct that public education reinforces class differences and drains students of intrinsic motivation. It's painful to watch a child skip to school in kindergarten, but drag her feet by the time she gets to fourth grade. ...more
Phil Lensi
Jun 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
anything by ivan illich will blow your mind
Cynthia L'Hirondelle
Jul 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another must read classic by Illich.
Jun 13, 2022 rated it really liked it
"School is the advertising agency that makes you believe you need society as it is." Finally done! This book was highly illuminating though it was meandering in a great many parts. The themes Illich outlines are the fundamentals any card carrying anarchist would agree on but precious few actually attempt to live out. It's interesting to read some of Illich's ideas about the power of technology 50 years on when they've become reality yet only really to the benefit of the very ruling classes Illic ...more
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
Ivan Illich has a grudge against institutions. That's the first thing to realize when reading this book -- it's not primarily about school; school is just the best model of a "manipulative" institution that Illichh can find. He places institutions on a left-wing/right-wing spectrum. On the left end are what he deems "convivial" institutions. These are open arenas for user-driven action -- for instance, a public library, the telephone network, and a park would all be towards the left end of the s ...more
Feb 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Didn't think I'd find myself in such agreement with Illich. Basically, what he's saying is that when you attempt to organize education from a top-down bureaucracy, lead by authoritarian teachers, organized into standardized cirricula, sanctified by abstract diplomas and certification and strictly confined by age.... the results are less than spectacular. Illich's counter-proposal, in short, is open-learning based on peer-to-peer networking (remarkably predicting of a world where people are linke ...more
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
For the first time in 12 years, I had my worldview rocked within the first few pages of a book. The last time this happened was when I read "Capital" as an undergrad. If I could give "Deschooling Society" 6 stars I would, it is a completely courageous, passionately, beautifully written and no-holds-barred assault on the very idea of institutionalized schoooling *in any form.* What I appreciated most about Illich's approach is he not only critiqued, but offered a vision of what a deschooled socie ...more
Feb 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Didn't like it. It seemed like it was written in the 1970s; there were TONS of references to the Vietnam War which are so outdated it was ridiculous. Also, the philosophy behind the premise was extremely difficult to follow. ...more
Mar 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: education
I had great hopes for this given reviews, and Illich does have some interesting opening thoughts, but he never seems to get beyond that.
Essentially correct about the ills of education except on one thing...I don't agree that we should eliminate state education, as corrupted as it is, we need to rebel inside and out. ...more
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Ivan Illich was an Austrian philosopher, Roman Catholic priest and critic of the institutions of contemporary western culture and their effects of the provenance and practice of education, medicine, work, energy use, and economic development.

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“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being "with it," yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.” 124 likes
“School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age.” 86 likes
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