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Ivan Illich
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Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich (Vienna, September 4,1926 - Bremen, December 2,2002), polymath, polemicist, was an example of a true free thinker.

Author of an informal series of polemical critiques of the institutions of 'modern' culture, disliked as much by right wing as by left wing commentators, he addressed issues from education to medicine to work to energy use and economic development to gender.

Born in Vienna to a family with Jewish, Dalmatian and Catholic roots, from where they were forced to flee in 1941, he studied histology and crystallography at Florence University.

From 1932 to 1946 he studied theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in the Vatican, and worked as a priest in New York City. In 1956 he was appointed vice-rector of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and in 1961 founded the Centro de Información y Documentación del Consumo (CIDOC) at Cuernavaca in Mexico, a research centre offering courses to missionaries from North America.

After 10 years, the radicalism of CIDOC began to bring the institution into conflict with the Vatican, and in 1976 the center was shut down with the consent of its members. Several of them subsequently formed language schools in Cuernevaca, some of which still exist. Illich himself resigned as a priest in the late '60s.

From the 1980s, Ivan Illich traveled extensively, mainly splitting his time between the United States, Mexico, and Germany. He held an appointment as Visiting Professor of Philosophy and of Science, Technology, and Society at Penn State, and also taught at the University of Bremen.

During his later years, he sufferred from a cancerous growth on his face that, in accordance with his critique of professionalized medicine, he attempted, unsuccessfully, to treat with traditional methods. He regularly smoked opium to deal with the pain caused by this tumor. At an early stage, he consulted a doctor about having the tumor removed, but there was too great a chance of losing his ability to speak, he was told, so he lived with the tumor as best he could. "My mortality," he called it.

Table of contents
1 Deschooling Society
2 Bibliography
3 External links

Deschooling Society

His most celebrated work remains Deschooling Society (1971), a critical discourse on education as practised in 'modern' economies. Full of detail on then current programmes and concerns, the book can seem dated, but its core assertions and propositions remain as radical today as they were at the time. Giving real world examples of the inneffectual nature of institutionalised education, Illich posited self directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid, informal arrangements:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education--and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.[1]

The last sentence makes clear what the title suggests - that the institutionalisation of education is considered to tend towards the institutionalisation of society, and conversely that ideas for de-institutionalising education may be a starting point for a de-institutionalised society. And this is where the true radicalism of the ideas becomes clear. As a holistic thinker, with a formidable intellect and a truly catholic breadth of erudition, Illich always considers his insights in the widest possible terms.

The book is more than a critique - it contains positive suggestions for a reinvention of learning throughout society and throughout every individual lifetime. Of particular relevance here is his call (from a 1971 perspective) for the use of advanced technology to support "learning webs". Many characteristics of these as described relate strongly to the nature and use of the WWW in general, and strongly to the workings and ideals of this Wikipedia.


External links