Deschooling Society

by Ivan Illich

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 01, 2024
Deschooling Society
Deschooling Society

Discover how Deschooling Society challenges traditional schooling and proposes 'learning webs' for universal education. Explore the concepts of convivial vs. manipulative institutions and the redefining of childhood and learning. Apply the book's insights through action-oriented questions.

What are the big ideas?

Deschooling for Universal Education

The book argues that traditional schooling cannot achieve universal education. Instead, it suggests dismantling the current school system and fostering environments where learning is integral to daily life, thereby promoting an 'educational web' over 'educational funnels.'

Institutional Spectrum: Convivial vs. Manipulative

The author introduces the concept of an 'institutional spectrum,' where institutions are ranked from convivial (supporting spontaneous use and growth) to manipulative (imposing control). This spectrum helps evaluate institutions by their impact on personal freedom and development.

Learning Webs over Traditional Schools

The concept of 'learning webs' is proposed as a substitute for traditional schooling. These webs facilitate a more democratic and accessible approach to education by connecting people directly with educational resources, skills sharing, and peer learning opportunities.

Redefining the Role of Childhood and Learning

The book challenges the conventional views of childhood and learning institutions. It argues that the modern concept of childhood is a societal construction that schools perpetuate, and most learning occurs outside formal educational settings.

False Public Utilities and Educational Commodification

The critique extends to the commodification of education, likening schools to 'false public utilities' that standardize learning, failing to utilize the true educative potentials of society’s everyday institutions.

Epimethean Over Promethean Approach

The book contrasts the 'Promethean' approach of controlling and predicting outcomes in education with an 'Epimethean' approach that advocates for spontaneity, personal encounters, and a natural affinity for learning, fostering hope rather than expectation.

Want to read ebooks, websites, and other text 3X faster?

From a SwiftRead user:
Feels like I just discovered the equivalent of fire but for reading text. WOW, WOW, WOW. A must have for me, forever.

Deschooling for Universal Education

The book argues that traditional schooling cannot achieve universal education. Instead, it suggests dismantling the current school system and fostering environments where learning is integral to daily life, thereby promoting an 'educational web' over 'educational funnels.'

The current school system is designed on the assumption that there are secrets to everything in life, and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. This creates a pyramid of classified knowledge that is inaccessible to most. New educational institutions should break apart this pyramid and facilitate access for the learner, allowing them to explore the world around them without credentials or pedigree.

The book proposes that no more than four distinct "channels" or learning exchanges could contain all the resources needed for real learning: things, models, peers, and elders. These provide the child with the necessary elements to grow and learn, rather than relying on a rigid, institutionalized curriculum. The goal is to detach competence from curriculum and ensure that learning happens organically, as a natural part of daily life.

Here are the key examples from the context that support the insight that deschooling is necessary for universal education:

  • The book argues that "Universal education through schooling is not feasible" and that "Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software...will deliver universal education." Instead, it calls for reversing the "search for new educational funnels" and instead seeking "educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring."

  • The book states that "Our present educational institutions are at the service of the teacher's goals" and that we need "relational structures...which will enable each man to define himself by learning and by contributing to the learning of others."

  • It argues that "Deschooling is, therefore, at the root of any movement for human liberation" and that "No one can be excused if he fails to liberate himself from schooling."

  • The book outlines "General Characteristics of New Formal Educational Institutions" that would provide "all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives" and "empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them."

The key concepts are deschooling, educational webs, and universal access to learning resources. The book argues that the current school system is fundamentally flawed and unable to deliver universal education, and instead proposes dismantling it in favor of more decentralized, learner-centric environments that enable everyone to learn and share knowledge as an integral part of daily life.

Institutional Spectrum: Convivial vs. Manipulative

The author presents a powerful framework for evaluating institutions - the institutional spectrum. This spectrum ranks institutions from convivial to manipulative.

Convivial institutions support spontaneous use and personal growth. They facilitate client-initiated communication and cooperation. These humble, self-limiting networks serve a purpose beyond their own repeated use.

In contrast, manipulative institutions impose control and organize production. They specialize in the manipulation of clients, often under the guise of therapy or compassion. These complex, costly institutions work to convince consumers they cannot live without the products or treatments offered.

By placing institutions on this spectrum, the author shifts the discussion from ideologies to the real-world impact of institutions. This framework reveals how even well-intentioned institutions can become counterproductive as their scope increases, undermining the very goals they claim to serve.

The key insight is that the choice between a life of action or consumption depends more on the institutions we build than the ideologies we espouse. Recognizing the spectrum of institutional types is crucial for creating a more desirable future.

Here are some examples from the context that support the key insight about the institutional spectrum from convivial to manipulative:

  • The author contrasts "convivial" institutions that "facilitate activity and growth" with "manipulative" institutions that "impose control and organize production." This spectrum illustrates the range of institutional impacts on personal freedom and development.

  • On the "convivial" left side of the spectrum, the author cites examples like "hand laundries, small bakeries, hairdressers, and some lawyers and music teachers" - institutions that provide services through personal touch and quality rather than extensive advertising and manipulation.

  • In contrast, on the "manipulative" right side of the spectrum, the author cites examples like "law enforcement" which has shifted from the "hands of the sheriff to those of the FBI and the Pentagon," as well as "modern warfare" which has become a "highly professional enterprise" focused on "killing" and "body counts."

  • The author also discusses "social agencies which specialize in the manipulation of their clients" - institutions that develop "effects contrary to their aims" as their scope increases, despite presenting a "therapeutic and compassionate image."

  • The author argues that as institutions move from "convivial" to "manipulative," the "rules progressively call for unwilling consumption or participation" by clients, rather than supporting spontaneous use and growth.

The key distinction is between institutions that facilitate personal freedom and development versus those that impose control and manipulation over their clients. This spectrum provides a framework for evaluating the societal impact of different types of institutions.

Learning Webs over Traditional Schools

The author proposes learning webs as an alternative to traditional schools. These webs would provide direct access to diverse educational resources, allowing people to learn through hands-on experience, interaction with skilled models, and collaboration with peers.

The key advantage of learning webs is their democratic and accessible nature. Unlike schools, which restrict access and impose standardized curricula, learning webs would be open to all, allowing individuals to pursue their own interests and learning goals. This shift empowers learners to take an active role in their education, rather than passively submitting to the authority of teachers and institutions.

The author envisions four main components of these learning webs: 1) access to educational objects like books, tools, and technology, 2) skill exchanges where people can share their expertise, 3) peer-matching to facilitate collaborative learning, and 4) reference services connecting learners with experienced educators. Together, these elements create a decentralized, learner-driven educational ecosystem.

The author argues that this model can better meet the diverse needs of learners, foster self-directed exploration, and cultivate a culture of mutual learning and contribution, in contrast to the frustrations and limitations of the traditional school system.

Here are some key examples from the context that support the concept of 'learning webs' as an alternative to traditional schooling:

  • Skill Exchanges - These allow people to list their skills and the conditions under which they are willing to serve as models for others to learn these skills, and provide their contact information.

  • Peer-Matching - A communications network that allows people to describe the learning activities they wish to engage in, to find partners for their inquiries.

  • Reference Services to Educators-at-Large - A directory of professionals, paraprofessionals, and freelancers who can provide educational services, along with the conditions for accessing their services. These educators could be chosen by polling or consulting their former clients.

  • Reference Services to Educational Objects - Providing access to ordinary things (like machines, books, gardens) and special educational resources, rather than restricting access to these learning tools.

  • Four Learning Networks - The author proposes four distinct "channels" or learning exchanges that could provide all the resources needed for real learning: 1) Things, 2) Models/Skill Providers, 3) Peers, and 4) Experienced Elders.

The key insight is that these learning webs or networks would be more democratic and accessible than traditional schools, which the author argues have become overly bureaucratic and restrictive in controlling access to educational resources and expertise.

Redefining the Role of Childhood and Learning

The book challenges the conventional views of childhood and learning institutions. It argues that the modern concept of childhood is a societal construction that schools perpetuate. Most learning actually occurs outside formal educational settings.

The book questions the unexamined premises that children belong in school, children learn in school, and children can only be taught in school. It suggests these premises deserve serious questioning, as the concept of childhood is a relatively recent development in Western society.

The book also critiques the axiom that learning is the result of teaching. It presents evidence that people learn most of what they know outside of school, often despite their teachers. The poor and middle-class often send their children to school for reasons other than learning, such as certificates, money, or to keep them off the streets.

Overall, the book challenges the dominant role of schools in shaping our vision of reality and learning. It argues that deschooling is crucial for human liberation, as schools enslave us more profoundly and systematically than other modern institutions.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of redefining the role of childhood and learning:

  • The book argues that the modern concept of "childhood" as a distinct life stage is a recent development in Western Europe and the Americas, and was previously unknown in many historical periods. It states that "Childhood as distinct from infancy, adolescence, or youth was unknown to most historical periods."

  • The context notes that before the modern era, "the worker's child, the peasant's child, and the nobleman's child all dressed the way their fathers dressed, played the way their fathers played, and were hanged by the neck as were their fathers." This suggests childhood was not seen as a distinct life stage.

  • The book challenges the "unexamined premises" that "Children belong in school", "Children learn in school", and "Children can be taught only in school." It argues these assumptions deserve serious questioning.

  • The text states that most learning occurs outside of formal schooling, through "friendship or love, while viewing TV, or while reading, from examples of peers or the challenge of a street encounter." It argues that "Pupils do most of their learning without, and often despite, their teachers."

  • The book proposes moving away from the current "age-specific, teacher-related process requiring full-time attendance at an obligatory curriculum" and instead creating a "new style of educational relationship between man and his environment" that fosters self-motivated learning.

False Public Utilities and Educational Commodification

The author argues that schools have become false public utilities, standardizing and commodifying education. Rather than utilizing the true educative potential of society's everyday institutions and relationships, schools monopolize and restrict access to learning.

The author contends that schools are built on the flawed assumption that learning is the result of teaching. In reality, most learning happens casually, outside of formal schooling. Schools obstruct this natural learning process by linking instruction to predetermined social roles and credentials, rather than to relevant skills and competencies.

This educational commodification deprives individuals of self-directed learning, replacing it with an enforced, bureaucratic system that shapes citizens to value institutional knowledge over the "nonprofessional ministration of a neighbor." The author calls for dismantling this school-centric model in favor of educational arrangements that facilitate open access to learning resources and opportunities for all.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the commodification of education and schools as "false public utilities":

  • Schools are designed on the assumption that "there is a secret to everything in life" and that "the quality of life depends on knowing that secret" - this implies schools treat knowledge as a commodity to be controlled and doled out by credentialed experts.

  • Schools "shape the consumer who values institutional commodities above the nonprofessional ministration of a neighbor" - this shows how schools promote the idea that learning can only happen through professional, institutional channels rather than everyday interactions.

  • "Institutional wisdom tells us that children need school" and "Institutional wisdom tells us that children learn in school" - this highlights how schools have become an assumed, institutionalized necessity for learning, rather than one of many potential avenues.

  • "Half of the people in our world never set foot in school" yet "they learn quite effectively the message which school teaches: that they should have school, and more and more of it" - this illustrates how schools have become a false public utility, indoctrinating even those who don't directly participate in them.

  • Schools "restrict the public's chances for learning to the services the profession is willing to put on the market" - this directly shows how schools commodify and control access to educational resources.

The key terms and concepts illustrated here include:

  • Commodification of knowledge: Schools treat knowledge as a secret commodity to be controlled and dispensed by credentialed experts.
  • Institutional necessity of schooling: Schools have become an assumed, institutionalized requirement for learning, rather than one of many potential avenues.
  • False public utility: Schools function as a mandatory, standardized system that restricts access to educational resources, rather than truly serving the public.

Epimethean Over Promethean Approach

The book advocates for an Epimethean approach to education, in contrast to the dominant Promethean ethos. The Epimethean approach embraces spontaneity, personal encounters, and a natural affinity for learning. It fosters hope rather than rigid expectation.

The Promethean ethos seeks to control and predict educational outcomes through institutions and processes. In contrast, the Epimethean view trusts in the inherent goodness of human nature and the natural desire to learn. It sees education as a gift to be received, not a product to be manufactured.

Rediscovering the Epimethean spirit is crucial for the survival of the human race. Rather than sealing ourselves in a self-imposed casket of control, we must open ourselves to the unpredictable but enriching path of hope and discovery. This shift in mindset can liberate both educators and learners from the constraints of the current system.

Here are key examples from the context that support the contrast between the Promethean and Epimethean approaches:

  • The Greeks told the story of the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. Prometheus warned Epimetheus not to open Pandora's box, but Epimetheus ignored the warning and released the evils into the world. This represents the shift from a world of "hope" to one of "expectation" and control.

  • The context states that "Primitive man had relied on mythical participation in sacred rites to initiate individuals into the lore of society, but the classical Greeks recognized as true men only those citizens who let themselves be fitted by paideia (education) into the institutions their elders had planned." This shows the transition from a world of "hope" and natural participation to one of engineered "expectation" and institutional control.

  • The passage describes how "Men engineered institutions through which they planned to cope with the rampant ills" rather than relying on the "munificence of nature" and "handouts of gods" as primitive man had done. This exemplifies the Promethean approach of controlling outcomes versus the Epimethean reliance on hope and natural forces.

  • The context contrasts a "world in which dreams were interpreted" versus a "world in which oracles were made", further illustrating the shift from an Epimethean world of natural interpretation to a Promethean world of engineered control.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "Deschooling Society" that resonated with readers.

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.

People learn most effectively when they are fully engaged and participating in a meaningful environment. This natural process of learning is often hindered by excessive planning and manipulation, which can stifle personal growth. In reality, people tend to learn best through hands-on experience and social interaction, rather than through rigid instruction.

School has become the world religion of a modernized proletariat, and makes futile promises of salvation to the poor of the technological age.

Modern education has become a widespread, unifying force that promises a better life to those who are disadvantaged. However, it fails to deliver on these promises, instead perpetuating inequality and limiting opportunities. This "religion" of education has become an empty ritual, offering false hope to those who are already struggling.

Schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life; that the quality of life depends on knowing that secret; that secrets can be known only in orderly successions; and that only teachers can properly reveal these secrets. An individual with a schooled mind conceives of the world as a pyramid of classified packages accessible only to those who carry the proper tags.

The traditional education system is built on the idea that knowledge is a hidden treasure, accessible only to those who have been taught by certified experts. This system assumes that learning must follow a predetermined order and that only teachers can unlock the secrets of life. As a result, people who have gone through this system tend to view the world as a hierarchical structure, where access to knowledge and opportunities is restricted to those with the right credentials.

Comprehension Questions

0 / 25

How well do you understand the key insights in "Deschooling Society"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What does the book propose as a necessary change to achieve universal education?
2. What are the four 'channels' or learning exchanges suggested to contain all the necessary resources for learning?
3. How does the book describe the current school system's relationship with knowledge?
4. What does the book mean by 'detaching competence from curriculum'?
5. What type of institutions support personal growth by allowing spontaneous use and client-initiated communication?
6. How do manipulative institutions differ from convivial institutions in terms of their impact on individuals?
7. What happens to the societal impact of institutions as they move from convivial to manipulative on the spectrum?
8. What are the main components of a learning web proposed as an alternative to traditional schools?
9. How does a learning web differ from traditional schooling in terms of accessibility and curriculum imposition?
10. What are some examples of resources that could be shared through a skill exchange in a learning web?
11. How does the peer-matching component enhance the learning experience in a learning web?
12. What role do reference services play in the structure of a learning web?
13. What is suggested by the notion that childhood is a societal construction primarily perpetuated by schools?
14. How does the book challenge the premises regarding where and how children should learn?
15. What does the critique of learning being the result of teaching imply about conventional educational methods?
16. Why is deschooling considered crucial for human liberation according to the book?
17. What is the fundamental flaw in the assumption on which schools are based, according to the critique of the educational system?
18. How do schools contribute to the commodification of education?
19. What does it mean to describe schools as 'false public utilities'?
20. How does the current school-centric model affect self-directed learning?
21. What is the suggested solution to overcome the limitations imposed by the traditional schooling system?
22. What core concept differentiates an Epimethean approach from a Promethean approach in education?
23. How does the Epimethean view perceive education in its essence?
24. Why is rediscovering the Epimethean approach described as crucial for the survival of humanity?
25. What does the example of Pandora's box illustrate about societal shifts in handling unexpected challenges?

Action Questions

0 / 14

"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "Deschooling Society". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you create or participate in learning environments that embody the principles of educational webs rather than educational funnels?
2. What steps can you take to ensure accessibility and inclusivity in educational resources within your community?
3. How can you distinguish between convivial and manipulative institutions in your community, and actively engage or support the convivial ones?
4. How can you leverage your current skills and knowledge to contribute to a local learning web or skill exchange?
5. How can you incorporate informal learning environments into your daily life to enhance personal and communal learning experiences?
6. How can you identify and employ alternative educational resources and settings outside of traditional schooling to enhance your or others' learning experiences?
7. In what ways can you contribute to the decentralization of education, making learning more accessible and less standardized for your community?
8. How can you participate in or promote educational practices that prioritize skill and competency development over traditional credentials and schooling?
9. What steps can you take to challenge and rethink the conventional wisdom that formal schooling is the only legitimate path to knowledge and skill acquisition?
10. How can you help to disrupt the notion that education is a commodity, facilitating a shift towards viewing it as a communal resource?
11. What can you do to support learning that occurs outside of the defined school environment, honoring unconventional but effective educational processes?
12. How can you advocate for educational reform that reduces reliance on institutional knowledge, emphasizing learning through practical and communal engagement?
13. Can you identify the educational roles traditionally imposed by schools that also appear restrictive or commodifying? How can you subvert these roles or offer alternatives within your community?
14. How can you incorporate more spontaneity and personal encounters in your teaching or learning processes to enhance engagement and curiosity?

Chapter Notes


Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Universal education through schooling is not feasible: The author argues that universal education cannot be achieved through the current school system or even through alternative institutions built in the style of present schools. Neither changes in teacher attitudes, educational technology, nor expanding the role of teachers can deliver universal education.

  • The need for "educational webs" instead of "educational funnels": The author proposes that the current search for new educational "funnels" should be reversed into a search for their institutional inverse - "educational webs" that increase the opportunity for each person to transform every moment of their life into one of learning, sharing, and caring.

  • Deschooling society: The author intends to discuss the perplexing issues raised by the hypothesis that society can be "deschooled", to search for criteria to help distinguish institutions that support learning in a deschooled environment, and to clarify personal goals that would foster the advent of an "Age of Leisure" (schole) rather than an economy dominated by service industries.

  • Collaborative research and dialogue: The author acknowledges the contributions of various individuals, including Everett Reimer, Paulo Freire, and others, to the ideas presented in the book, which grew out of a dialogue and research conducted at the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

  • Separate publication plans: The author and Everett Reimer have decided to publish separate views of their joint research, with Reimer working on a comprehensive and documented exposition, and Dennis Sullivan preparing a book that will place the author's argument in the context of the current debate about public schooling in the United States.

1 : Why We Must Disestablish School

  • Institutionalization of Values: The author argues that the institutionalization of values leads to physical pollution, social polarization, and psychological impotence, which he refers to as the "three dimensions in a process of global degradation and modernized misery."

  • Schooling and Poverty: The author contends that the modernization of poverty has made the poor increasingly dependent on institutions, rendering them incapable of organizing their own lives and resources within their communities. This phenomenon is most intensely felt in U.S. cities, where poverty is treated at great cost, producing dependence, anger, frustration, and further demands.

  • Failure of Compensatory Education Programs: The author examines the failure of compensatory education programs, such as Title One, to improve the education of the poor, arguing that educational disadvantage cannot be cured by relying on education within the school system.

  • Inequality in Educational Funding: The author highlights the significant discrepancy in per-capita educational funding between the rich and the poor, with the richest parents receiving ten times the public funds per child compared to the poorest.

  • Deschooling and the Disestablishment of School: The author proposes the "deschooling of society" and the constitutional disestablishment of the monopoly of the school, arguing that equal educational opportunity is desirable and feasible, but should not be equated with obligatory schooling.

  • Separating Learning from Social Control: The author distinguishes between skill instruction, which can be improved through drills and simulations, and "liberal education," which relies on the relationship between partners to explore ideas and problems creatively. He argues for the need to separate learning from the social control functions of the school.

  • Alternatives to Schooling: The author proposes alternatives to the current school system, such as skill centers, educational passports or "edu-credit cards," and computer-based matching systems to connect people interested in discussing specific topics or books, as a means of promoting self-directed and community-based learning.

  • Overcoming the "Schooled Imagination": The author argues that the major obstacle to a truly educative society is the "schooled imagination," which leads people to believe that the state can determine the educational deficiencies of its citizens and establish specialized agencies to treat them, rather than recognizing the educational potential of all social institutions and activities.

2 : Phenomenology of School

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Modern Concept of Childhood is a Recent Phenomenon: The chapter argues that the modern concept of "childhood" as a distinct stage of life separate from infancy, adolescence, and adulthood is a relatively recent development in Western culture, emerging only in the last few centuries. Before this, children were simply viewed as miniature adults.

  • Childhood is a Burden for Many: The chapter suggests that while childhood is seen as a privileged state in modern society, it is actually a burden for many children who are forced to play the "child's role" and go through the "inhuman conflict" between self-awareness and the imposed societal role.

  • Schools Produce and Maintain the Concept of Childhood: The chapter contends that without age-specific, compulsory schooling institutions, the modern notion of "childhood" would cease to exist. Schools are the primary mechanism through which childhood is institutionalized and perpetuated in society.

  • Teachers Wield Disproportionate Power over Students: The chapter argues that teachers are granted an unusual degree of authority over their students, combining the roles of custodian, moralist, and therapist. This allows them to exercise power over students that is less limited by constitutional and social restrictions than the power wielded by other professionals.

  • Most Learning Happens Outside of School: The chapter asserts that the majority of people, both in and out of school, learn most of what they know through means other than formal schooling, such as peer groups, media, and everyday participation in society. Teachers often obstruct rather than facilitate this organic learning process.

  • Schooling Compounds Societal Prejudices and Privileges: The chapter contends that the "hidden curriculum" of schooling, including its rituals and structures, inevitably serves to perpetuate societal discrimination against certain groups while reinforcing the privileges of others, regardless of the intentions of individual teachers.

3 : Ritualization of Progress

  • The Myth of Institutionalized Values: School teaches the myth of unending consumption, where learning is seen as a product that can be consumed and measured. This leads to the transfer of responsibility from the individual to institutions, resulting in social regression.

  • The Myth of Measurement of Values: School promotes the idea that personal growth and values can be quantified and measured, leading people to accept all kinds of rankings and comparisons. This undermines the ability to engage in unmeasured, imaginative endeavors.

  • The Myth of Packaging Values: School sells curriculum as a standardized, marketable commodity, where learning is manipulated and packaged for consumption. This conditions students to accept institutional planning and makes them resistant to authentic learning.

  • The Myth of Self-Perpetuating Progress: School promotes the myth of eternal, open-ended progress, where learning is seen as an endless process of accumulating credentials and consumption. This leads to a widening frustration gap and an inability to achieve true maturity.

  • The Ritual Game and the New World Religion: School functions as a ritual initiation into the myth of unending consumption, serving as a new world religion that venerates progress and credentials. This ritual compounds the original poverty and exclusion of the marginalized.

  • The New Alienation: School has become the world's fastest-growing labor market, with the engineering of consumers as its primary function. This results in a new form of alienation, where individuals are prealienated by the process of schooling itself.

  • The Revolutionary Potential of Deschooling: Challenging the assumptions underlying the school system and liberating oneself from its grip could lead to a revolutionary transformation of society, as school is a key institution that perpetuates the current social and economic order.

4 : Institutional Spectrum

  • Institutional Spectrum: The author proposes a spectrum of institutions, ranging from "convivial" institutions on the left to "manipulative" institutions on the right. Convivial institutions are those that facilitate spontaneous use and personal growth, while manipulative institutions impose control and addiction on their clients.

  • Manipulative Institutions: Institutions on the right side of the spectrum, such as law enforcement, the military, and social agencies, tend to be highly complex, costly, and focused on manipulating their clients through advertising, aggression, indoctrination, and other coercive means. These institutions often have effects contrary to their stated aims.

  • Convivial Institutions: Institutions on the left side of the spectrum, such as telephone networks, postal services, and public parks, are distinguished by spontaneous use and the facilitation of client-initiated communication or cooperation. The rules governing these institutions aim to avoid abuses that would frustrate their general accessibility.

  • False Public Utilities: The author argues that highways, unlike true public utilities like telephone and postal networks, are not equally accessible to all, but rather serve as an accessory to private automobiles. He suggests that poor countries should focus on building a network of trails and simple, durable vehicles rather than expensive highway systems.

  • Schools as Manipulative Institutions: The author contends that schools, like highways, are a "false public utility" that pervert the natural inclination to learn and grow into a demand for institutionalized instruction. Schools, he argues, belong near the extreme of the institutional spectrum occupied by "total asylums," as they lead people to abdicate responsibility for their own growth.

  • Institutional Convergence: The author observes that institutions across various domains, from education to healthcare to politics, have been converging towards a manipulative, bureaucratic style, regardless of their historical origins or national contexts.

  • Choice between "Making" and "Doing": The author suggests that the choice between a life of "making" (producing and consuming) and a life of "doing" (spontaneous, independent action) is at the heart of the choice between manipulative and convivial institutions. He argues that technology has increased the potential for discretionary time, which can be filled either with increased consumption or with increased opportunities for personal growth and interaction.

5 : Irrational Consistencies

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Crisis of Education Demands a Fresh Look: The chapter argues that the contemporary crisis of education, as evidenced by high dropout rates among students and teachers, requires a complete rethinking of the idea of publicly prescribed learning, rather than just focusing on improving teaching methods.

  • Contradictory Yet Complementary Goals of Public Schools: The chapter suggests that the seemingly contradictory goals of social control and free cooperation, both aimed at creating a "good society", have been the driving forces behind the growth of the U.S. public school system since the beginning of the 20th century.

  • Schooling as Behavioral Modification and Pacification: The chapter posits that the attempt to produce measurable behavioral changes in students, as advocated by educational technologists, is just one side of a coin, the other side of which is the pacification of the new generation through specially engineered enclaves that seduce them into the dream world of their elders.

  • Shared Beliefs Underlying the Schooled Society: The chapter identifies several tenets that go unchallenged in the schooled society, such as the belief that behavior acquired in the presence of a pedagogue is valuable, the assumption that social man is born only in adolescence, and a romantic yet politically conservative view of youth.

  • Irrational Consistency and Bureaucratic Logic: The chapter introduces the concept of "irrational consistency," which mesmerizes accomplices engaged in mutually expedient and disciplined exploitation, and argues that this logic becomes the logic of a society that demands public accountability for the behavioral modification produced by educational institutions.

  • The Need for a Twofold Inversion: The chapter suggests that an educational revolution depends on a twofold inversion: a new orientation for research that questions the inherited framework of education as a funnel for teaching packages, and a new understanding of the educational style of an emerging counterculture that values the wealth of connotation and the unpredictable outcome of self-chosen personal encounters over the efficiency of increased and more rigid syntax.

  • The Blind Spot of Educational Research: The chapter argues that the blind spot of educational research reflects the cultural bias of a society in which technological growth has been confused with technocratic control, where freedom is reduced to a selection among packaged commodities.

  • The Emerging Counterculture: The chapter suggests that the emerging counterculture reaffirms the values of semantic content above the efficiency of increased and more rigid syntax, and values the unpredictable outcome of self-chosen personal encounters above the certified quality of professional instruction.

6 : Learning Webs

  • Deschooling Society: The author argues that the current school system is fundamentally similar across different countries and political systems, and that true educational change requires deschooling society, rather than just reforming the school system.

  • Learning Webs: The author proposes four types of "learning webs" or "educational networks" that could replace the current school system: 1) Reference Services to Educational Objects, 2) Skill Exchanges, 3) Peer-Matching, and 4) Reference Services to Educators-at-Large.

  • Reference Services to Educational Objects: This network would facilitate access to educational resources and tools, breaking down the monopoly of schools over these resources and making them more widely available to the public.

  • Skill Exchanges: This network would allow people to list their skills and serve as models for others who want to learn those skills, without the need for formal certification or credentials.

  • Peer-Matching: This network would allow people to find others who share their specific learning interests or activities, facilitating peer-to-peer learning and collaboration.

  • Reference Services to Educators-at-Large: This network would provide a directory of professionals, paraprofessionals, and freelancers who could serve as educational guides or leaders, without the constraints of the formal school system.

  • Deschooling and Professions: The author argues that deschooling would also impact other professions, like medicine and law, by breaking down their monopolies and making their services more accessible to the public.

  • Epimethean Man: The author contrasts the "Promethean" nature of the current school system, which sees humans as clients who need to be controlled, with an "Epimethean" view of humans as autonomous and self-motivated learners.

7 : Rebirth of Epimethean Man

  • Distinction between Hope and Expectation: Hope refers to a trusting faith in the goodness of nature, while expectation refers to reliance on results that are planned and controlled by man. The Promethean ethos has replaced hope with expectation, which is detrimental to human survival.

  • Transition from Mythical to Institutional Worldview: Primitive man relied on mythical participation in sacred rites, but classical Greeks recognized as true men only those citizens who let themselves be fitted by education into the institutions their elders had planned. This transition reflects a shift from a world where dreams were interpreted to a world where oracles were made.

  • Institutionalization of Values: Modern society believes that the good life consists in having institutions that define the values that both they and their society believe they need. The value of institutionalized man is measured by his capacity to consume and degrade these institutional outputs, creating a new, even higher, demand.

  • Absurdity of Modern Institutions: Institutions meant to exorcise primeval evils have become fail-safe, self-sealing coffins for man. They create needs faster than they can create satisfaction, consuming the Earth in the process. This absurdity is evident in both military and non-military institutions.

  • Emergence of a New Elite: A growing minority across capitalist, Communist, and "underdeveloped" countries is becoming wary of the myths of the majority, such as scientific utopias and ideological diabolism. This minority is critical of the scientific deus ex machina, the ideological panacea, and the hunt for devils and witches.

  • Rebirth of Epimethean Man: The author suggests the need for a name for those who value hope above expectations, love people more than products, and collaborate with their Promethean brother to enhance their ability to tend, care, and wait upon the other. These "Epimethean men" represent a hopeful prophecy for a new mankind.


What do you think of "Deschooling Society"? Share your thoughts with the community below.