“Most people learn most of the time when they do whatever they enjoy; most people are curious and want to give meaning to whatever they come in contact with; and most people are capable of personal intimate intercourse with others unless they are stupefied by inhuman work or turned off by schooling.” – Ivan Illich, The Deschooled Society, p. 14
This morning, Good Morning America praised an 11-year-old who created his own documentary. In Yuck!, Zachary Maxwell exposes the disgusting edibles that NYC schools pass off as food.
As I drowsily sipped my hot tea and checked the weather forecast, I was appalled. Here we had a young man creating something innovative, using the tools available to him to make something creative and meaningful, and it was reported on because it so rarely happens. He did this in spite of his schooling.
We Americans, nay, we capitalist-consumerist-industrialists encourage children to use their intellect in creative ways, but consistently hold them back with meaningless years of school drudgery.
“Hey kid! Go be creative! Make something amazing! Carve out a meaningful life for yourself! But spend thirteen years sitting at a desk, taking meaningless tests first.”
We constantly send children this contradictory message. We tell them to think outside the box, then yell at them to stay in it. We tell them that the world is their classroom, then lock them into four cement walls for seven hours a day.
This is why Ivan Illich encouraged the deschooling of society. This is why suburbanites in the finest school districts are saying no thank you. Learning is part of living. Our English words are far too segregated. We are always living-learning. We are always doing-being. We don’t learn in preparation for life. We learn in life.
So yes, I was appalled, but not by Zachary Maxwell. By us. We who are so certain of our sacred cows that we make Zachary’s achievement a rare occurrence. Bravo, Zachary. Shame on us.
Illich, I. (1973). The Deschooled Society. Peter Buckman (Ed.). Education Without Schools. London: Willmer Brothers, Ltd.
Illich, I. (2004/1970). Deschooling Society. New York: Marion Boyars.