A critique of deschooling : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Education at Massey University

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Massey University
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The focus of this study is "deschooling", a concept and a movement which has grown partly out of the crisis in education of the last twenty or so years. Unlike reformers in education, deschoolers demand a paradigmatic shift in the way we view the world. The thrust of their argument is that compulsory schooling, as we know it, is anti-educational and evil in its effects. Schools, even reformed ones, have a hidden curriculum which creates a mental set of dependence on institutions and a propensity for consumption of what the institutions produce. All manipulative institutions must eventually be abolished if mankind is not to squander its finite resources and if man is not to be reduced to a state of psychological impotence through becoming dependent on institutions from birth to death. The school is the key institution in all societies, irrespective of ideology, because it fashions our imagination through the hidden curriculum and because it controls entry to all other institutions. Schools create and perpetuate poverty and inequality, and determine our life chances on irrevelant grounds. Hence the school is the prime target. Without abolishing the schools, there can be no true revolution. The deschoolers propose the creation of convivial institutions. Learning webs where people would be in complete control of what and when and with whom they learn, would replace the compulsory, age-specific, and teacher manipulated structures we have today. The intention of this thesis is to outline the deschoolers' case and to explore the philosophical and theoretical assumptions underlying the concept of deschooling. The manner in which the deschoolers present their case for the abolition of schools, disguises a spectrum of issues which apparently unbeknown to them, philosophers of education have agonized over centuries before the concept of deschooling was coined. Deschoolers raise many arguments against aspects of schooling as if they are breaking new ground. What really is new, is that a number of key philosophical issues (in different terminology) have been marshalled and organised into a cohesive theory about man's nature, the nature and function of mass schooling, and their relationship with a new vision of society. What is also new in a sense, is the solution - the abolition of an institution men have long regarded as unquestionably essential to the survival and growth of present-day civilisation. Certainly anarchists have proposed the liquidation of all institutions, unlike deschoolers who do subscribe to convivial ones, but their respective motivations and views of social reality differ markedly. Beneath the iconoclastic imagery and emotive expressions, the rhetoric and the many seemingly extravagant claims, there is a vision of man and society that deserves to be seriously considered. There are a number of insights which, even if one ultimately rejects deschooling, can be illuminating and which in a sense do fundamentally alter how we view schools. A further aim then of this thesis is to disentangle the empirical issues from the philosophical, so that attention can properly be rivetted on the latter. As mentioned earlier, the issues are certainly not new - they range over the notions of freedom and authority in education, the relationship between teaching and learning, democracy and equality of opportunity, the concept of education, the nature of man, children's rights, the nature of institutions and of schools, the relationship between schools and society, and the nature and limitations of reform as opposed to revolution. The deschoolers' case cannot be justified or invalidated on philosophical grounds alone, for the simple reason that they draw upon a wide base of interwoven sociological, historical, psychological, political and economic arguments to present their conclusions. To dismiss or accept their case according to a strict philosophical analysis would be grossly unfair, for they do not pretend to be writing philosophical works. Consequently no attempt is made to explore all facets of the traditional philosophical concerns deschooling touches upon, but rather to indicate their presence and delineate the philosophical boundaries of the theory.
Education, New Zealand, Educational innovations