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  • Charles Farrugia

3. The De-Schoolers

Updated: Oct 7, 2020


The American author Mark Twain spent all his youth and a good part of his adult life piloting barges up and down the Mississippi River, avoiding its dangerous sand dunes. He claimed: My parents wanted me to have a good education, so they never sent me to school.”



On the other side of the world in Germany, the 20th Century most celebrated scientist, Albert Einstein, who as a Jew later escaped the Holocaust by fleeing to the USA, remarked: Education is what remains after what one has forgotten what one has learnt in school.

A critical view of schools

The censure of schools by such world-famous personalities sound sweet music to the De-Schoolers, who hold a very poor opinion on the value of schooling. They and the Marxists/Critical Thinkers (1960-90) have had a profound influence on the way schools have evolved since then. We should know about their scrutiny to gauge to what extent schools have improved since their disapproving comments.

The severest critic was the Austrian ex-Jesuit Ivan Illich who in his book DESCHOOLING SOCIETY asserted that most of the teaching and learning provided by conventional schools is unnecessary. He argued that through schools, the Establishment created artificial controls such as exams and certificates which had little relevance to people’s real abilities. Illich (and Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, as well as many other critical thinkers too many to name here) claimed that schools were invented by the rich and powerful to provide workers for their soulless factories. De-Schoolers accused schools of training the next generation of docile, passive, uncritical workforce to be exploited by an unscrupulous and dehumanising industry, as shown in Charles Chaplain’s brilliant film Modern Times.


The De-Schooler John Holt, an American, condemned the methods of how schooling was conducted. He spent a year at the back of classrooms observing how teachers and students interacted, and published his observations in the best-seller HOW CHILDREN LEARN.

He noted that teachers talked in the class far more than all their students put together. Teachers put questions to the class in general rather than addressing individual students. Worse still, they tended to answer their own questions instead of waiting for the students to provide answers.

Holt noted that teachers raised the pitch of their voices when they felt anxious to render their pupils anxious, restless and inattentive. Some teachers followed the time-table too rigidly even when the topic in hand was not covered sufficiently and the students were fully engaged and enjoying the lesson. Holt concluded that most schools made young people lose their natural spontaneity and creativity.

Educators took note of these criticisms. They also took steps to remedy the shortcomings of schooling. We note the improvements in the less rigid atmosphere in modern schools, as well as their colourful and welcoming atmosphere. The most noticeable improvement can be seen in the friendlier and more relaxed relationship between students and teachers. While the latter retain, as they should, their position as figurers of authority, they treat their charges as friends.


How do you react to the criticism of the De-Schoolers as described so briefly above and reflected in the attached cartoon? Do you think the condemnations by Illich and the negative observations Holt are still valid at your children’s schools?




A Balanced View of Schooling

Many of us, parents and teachers –and more so teenage students- find many faults in the schooling process. However, I still feel it safe to say that most of us regard schools in positive ways, as the places which prepare quite well our youngsters for their future adult pursuits. Most of us follow with great attention our children’s progress in school. We appreciate teachers’ work. We endeavour to ensure that schools provide the best educational services. However, it is our duty to be vigilant and ensure that schools improve their services continuously so that our children will have the best schooling they deserve.


In spite of what Mr Mark Twain’s and Professor Albert Einstein’s spiked remarks, I prefer Nelson Mandela’s claim that Education [provided by schools] is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. and Victor Hugo’s belief that “He [or she] who opens a school, closes a prison.”

Next Wednesday’s blog will reveal how students would like their schools to be like.


If you wish to get in touch, email me at education.backtobasics@gmail.com

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