Mass schooling or De-schooling?

What does industrial-scale schooling mean?

“The establishment of more schools in Malaysia or Brazil teaches people the accountant’s view of the value of time, the bureaucrat’s view of the value of promotion, the salesman’s view of the value of increased consumption, and the union leader’s view of the purpose of work. People are taught all this not by the teacher but by the curriculum hidden in the structure of school. It does not matter what the teacher teaches so long as the pupil has to attend hundreds of hours of age-specific assemblies to engage in a routine decreed by the curriculum and is graded according to his ability to submit to it…

“People learn that they acquire more value in the market if they spend more hours in class. They learn to value progressive consumption of curricula. They learn that whatever a major institution produces has value, even invisible things such as education or health. They learn to value grade advancement, passive submission, and even the standard misbehavior that teachers like to interpret as a sign of creativity.” Ivan Illich 1971.


When this was written in the late 1960’s, “the curriculum hidden in the school” (despite the work of Summerhill on democratic education) was a contested concept reflecting the high point of the redistribution of income towards workers following WW2. Wolfgang Streeck looking at the end of capitalism (2016) highlights the decline of working class self-organisation from the time Illich was writing, and the hidden curriculum critique has lain dormant since.

Meanwhile there has been the growing influence, intellectually, of both critical and community-focused educational pedagogies e.g. Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, John Holt, A.S. Neill, even Louise Michel, and many others whose ideas are continually discussed and developed on the Infed website. However resources for community education with a priority on personal and community self-formation have been disappearing as local councils have lost funding and the powers to initiate such learning initiatives. Government funding mechanisms have increasingly been used to control both the curriculum, a National Curriculum about as exciting as the National Cheese of war-time rationing, as well as to regulate the number of providers receiving funding. The takeover of ALI by OFSTED is a key indicator of this managerially regulated process.

Nowhere has this been more starkly illustrated than by the manipulation of further education funding to drive the “skills” agenda, which has restricted the scope of further education providers to widen the scope of provision and provide “the second chances” for those failed by formal education in schools and innovative ways into higher education via access initiatives.

So government policy in the last 50 years has increasingly organised an industrial-scale production of time and motion controlled education (the education as factory metaphor) and has trained and recruited educational managers to keep the factories ticking over at full output…

The developing loss of the wider curriculum and more inclusive pedagogies, as we might see in community education, will be explored in later postings.

Nigel Ecclesfield


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