We Need To Talk About “Education” – Deschooling Society

We Need To Talk About “Education” – Deschooling Society

“School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.”

Thus spake Ivan Illich. Austrian (we owe them so much) Philosopher, polymath, and author of the classic work Deschooling Society. A book that sits permanently by my bedside alongside Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged , The Complete Works of TS. Elliot and, The Count of Monte Cristo. But it is to Illich’s short but powerful gem that I turn to most out of the four.

When it comes to what we define as education I have to come clean and declare a bias. I hated school. Almost every moment. I can only describe it as a purgatory from which I am eternally thankful to be freed. Corporal punishment, in my case the physical whipping of a child across the hands, was administered liberally and often merrily by fully grown women to mainly boys. I was barely 5 years old the first time. My crime? Apparently not paying full attention to the priest in mass that morning.

It is said that your school days are the happiest of your life. I can only imagine that whoever coined that phrase must have led the most miserable of lives as an adult. I have had some terrible times in the army, but never in my darkest hour did I ever wish I was back at school. As an adult you can always quit your job if it makes you unhappy, but a child, god help it, has no such choice.

It seems I am in good company. George Bernard Shaw who opined..

“Schools and schoolmasters, as we have them today, are not popular as places of education and teachers, but rather prisons and turnkeys in which children are kept to prevent them disturbing and chaperoning their parents.”

Albert Einstein..

“It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of education have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry.”

Winston Churchill..

“How I hated schools, and what a life of anxiety I lived there. I counted the hours to the end of every term, when I should return home.”

Helen Beatrix Potter..

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”

Last but not least, though the list is almost endless. Woody Allen..

“I loathed every day and regret every moment I spent in a school.”

But also some bad company…

“Education is a weapon, whose effect depends on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.”  Josef Stalin. More of that thought later.

In fairness there are some drab and lost souls out there who claim to have loved school. I bet Nicola Sturgeon is one of them. My Mother, God rest hers always said she loved school. But being the eldest of 13 children, of which two died in infancy. I can’t help but feel it was more of a sad reflection on her home life that she found school a respite.

Illich, in the first chapter of his aforementioned book entitled Why We Must Disestablish School, has this to say..

“Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in the place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work.”

Grim stuff for sure but was it ever thus? Maybe so but I think not. Schools as we know them today are a relatively new invention. They come to us via the militaristic and imperialist state of Prussia in the early 19th century. The purpose was to create small but efficient cogs in the Prussian machine. Good little soldiers, and good little citizens. It was austere and regimented and designed primarily to prepare the child for the adult workplace.

Little has really changed. We still send our kids to what amounts to an open prison from Monday to Friday during standard working hours. So once more preparing the child for the adult workplace and at the same time providing highly expensive (like health care it may be free at the point of delivery but that doesn’t make it cheap. Far from it.) child care for working parents. Could it be possible that there may be a more excellent way?

It would seem almost incredible to suggest so. Yet alternative teaching methods do exist and home schooling has proved it’s worth despite it’s detractors. Home schooled children often outperform their state educated counterparts, yet Germany and Sweden have both made home schooling a criminal offence. This should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares about individual liberty and the primacy of parental choice. Especially in Scotland where the SNP government is becoming increasingly authoritarian and no friend of the traditional family.

Before someone annoys me with the myth of “socialisation”. Think about this. Never again in your child’s life will they enter a workplace where almost everyone in the group is roughly the same age, roughly from the same area, and roughly from the same social background. It beggars belief to suggest that school socialises you in any meaningful sense. Besides there’s no reason you cannot enroll your child in other kinds of learning and play groups.

Despite government’s appalling record in this area over the last 30 years it seems staggering that we still look to them to educate children. The Scottish Family Party labour under the delusion that all we have to do is wrest back control of the education system from the leftists and all will be well. It’s not that I disagree with their assessment of the problems but as a solution this is sheer folly. Not only is that not going to happen, but I would no more impose my views on how and what to educate onto someone else’s child, than I would have them inflict theirs on mine.

It’s with all this in mind that I turn my attention to our current Covid lockdown situation with respect to schools. The mind boggles at the clamoring among parents for their reopening. Especially among conservatives and libertarians who have constantly complained of leftist indoctrination and falling standards. Why in the bowels of Apollo would you want to hand your children voluntarily back into the clutches of the state? What did they ever do to you?

It reminds me of the old Woody Allen gag about two Elderly Jewish ladies at a restaurant in the Catskills. Half way through the main course one says to the other ” You know I don’t know why we keep coming here. The food is terrible.” Her dining partner replies, “I know, and such small portions.” The joke being that if the food is so bad why would you want bigger portions?

Personally I cannot think of a better gift to our society than the closing down of state schools. Parents who are fed up with the program and are seriously interested in their child’s learning should be forming groups and organisations that can provide the alternatives. Not begging for the rotten, corrupt and anti family leftist system to get their children back under its control as soon as possible. If we don’t use this golden opportunity we are condemning our children to state abuse and our country to another 15- 20 years of socialist stinking thinking. Getting our children free from the indoctrination of the state is the only chance of saving Scotland. What do you think the state is going to teach your children? To oppose it? Why do you think they are so keen to give votes to 16 year olds? Remember that comment from Stalin?


Illich once again..

“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.”

He recommends the following tools as part of a means to achieve alternatives..


  1. Reference Service to Educational Objects – An open directory of educational resources and their availability to learners.
  2. Skills Exchange – A database of people willing to list their skills and the basis on which they would be prepared to share or swap them with others.
  3. Peer-Matching – A network helping people to communicate their learning activities and aims in order to find similar learners who may wish to collaborate.
  4. Directory of Professional Educators – A list of professionals, paraprofessionals and free-lancers detailing their qualifications, services and the terms on which these are made available.


I urge you to read Ivan Illich’s book. I also urge you all to think about what we want for our children. Education or indoctrination? Your child’s education is YOUR responsibility. We should be on our knees thanking whatever god or gods we believe in that the SNP are “neglecting” it.






Tam Laird  is Leader of the Scottish Libertarian Party and glad he doesn’t have to go to school.






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