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The book is a critical discourse on education as practised in "modern" economies. Full of detail on contemporary programs and concerns, the book remains as radical today. Giving examples of the ineffectual nature of institutionalized education, Illich posited self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements.
“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.”
Illich describes much of what we’ve seen come to pass with the internet and social networks (even if he does speak in terms of telephones and postal mail) and even mentions in passing game-based learning. His prescription however, is radical and thought-provoking: do away with schools entirely, and replace them with learning networks.
“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”.
This sentence makes clear what the title suggests — that the institutionalization of education tends towards the institutionalization of society and that ideas for de-institutionalizing education may be a starting point for a de-institutionalized society.
“The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.”
The book is more than a critique - it contains suggestions for a reinvention of learning throughout society and lifetime. In the direction of a real learning to what the individual and community needs.