School-ing and Group-work

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.” ~ Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.” ~ E.M. Forster

As I am approaching the end of what has been an interesting path through three completely different learning programs, I ask:

  • What is learning?
  • What is teaching?
  • Is there actual earning happening if we have only been exposed to concepts, ideas and processes?
  • Can learning happen without conversation, discussion even challenging and being challenged by others?
  • Can true learning happen in us if our paradigms, values, beliefs and arrogance of what we think we know and care for have not been deeply challenged?
  • Can learning be boxed to “x amount” of days or hours a week and would it “end” when the course ends and we are given our grades?
  • Can true learning happen in us if we don’t go through reflection and eventual acting g on that learning?
  • Can learning be measured and weighted by assignments, tests and examinations?
  • Is a certificate at then of our “learning” proof that we are better people, that this process has improved the world around us or that we have the potential of solving any of the issues affecting the world?

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.” ~ Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society

Seattle coast

As I am also approaching the closing of another year and my changing involvement with community groups and projects I wanted to ask:

  • What is “community”
  • Who “represents” community? Who represents you and me and what we care for?
  • What is our role in community?
  • Are we using our time and gifts wisely?
  • What is group-think and how can we avoid it?
  • How can we challenge people to help them face reality (and being challenged ourselves) and still love and care for them?
  • Are leaders necessary? Who appoints them? When and how would they realize when their time for leaving has come?


re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body. [From the preface to Leaves Grass]” ~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Carry a candle in the dark, be a candle in the dark, know that you’re a flame in the dark.” ~ Ivan Illich



2 Comments on “School-ing and Group-work

  1. Sylvia, this is such a thought-provoking discussion about education and community. I needed time to think before commenting – and patience proved to be serendipitous. I had an opportunity to spend time with my 15-year old grandson yesterday (Thanksgiving dinner), and we had a rare chance to talk about how school was going. I asked if he was reading anything interesting, and he told me that he hasn’t read anything other than school requirements for a while. I told him I was surprised – when he visited me 4 years ago, the first thing he wanted to do was go to Barnes and Nobel to buy books to read – a repeating pattern for each of his prior visits. So I asked him what he wanted to do when he graduated and what he really was interested in learning about. He really didn’t know, but he is interested in the class he will be taking next semester on plant biology. Then, I mentioned permaculture and remembered a book I recently bought (but hadn’t yet read) by David Holmgren. I gave it to him with an assignment – to read the book and send me “reports” about his thoughts for each chapter. Things he found interesting, questions he had, things he didn’t agree with. He said he would send me his thoughts via facebook messages….

    I worry about how quickly and easily it was for “education” to dull his excitement about learning, and the absence of curriculum that prepares youth for the future. I promised my grandson I would ask my friend (you) if there were and materials in print or online that were geared toward high school students. And in retrospect, any geared toward elementary school students. (My granddaughter who’s 7 is reading about the Titanic. I’m quite certain her teacher won’t be making any links between that historical disaster and the current challenges we face.)

    Is there a movement to advocate for schools to teach relevant subjects, like permaculture? PR materials that could be used to write letters to the editor or present to school boards and in educational forums? I would appreciate any resources you can recommend 🙂


    • Carol,
      Your comment touched a sensitive cord as I have two teenage sons (19 and 13) and have seen that transformation happening in them too…it is not only school but the constant bombarding of societal norms that tell them that video games are better than life, that formal studies are the only thing that matters, that we human beings are one thing and Nature is another…on the other side, teenagers are very intuitive and “know” that the current state of the world is wrong…they feel lost, betrayed, discouraged and frustrated so we can’t blame them for choosing denial, addictions or anything else that numbs the mind and the heart…
      Your comments and questions deserve a full post with research and resources and i promise I’ll do this soon: there is not enough for children or teenagers; I would say there is almost nothing out there: no books, videos or websites…there are a few community and school projects, mostly isolated work done by wonderful people, but the emphasis is in gardening and not full Permaculture. You have pointed out a gap, a huge mistake and a need and I thank you because this is probably the start of a project: not only mainstream lacks of full vision of how Permaculture can help, the other overlooked groups are seniors, immigrants, people with disabilities, people who live in poverty, children and teenagers: in sum, the groups who would need it most!
      Hugs to my sister in spirit

      Liked by 1 person

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