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The School of Deschooling

Author(s): Howard Ozmon

Source: The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Nov., 1973), pp. 178-179
Published by: Phi Delta Kappa International
Stable URL:
Accessed: 21-01-2019 11:12 UTC

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Howard Ozmon


A firsthand look at the Centro Intercultural de Documentaci?n and Ivan Illich. Is Illich a
"house revolutionary running a school for affluent Americans who have flunked Spanish"?

TM he Centro Intercultural Docu the
During that summer months
Illich hasn't really dealt with the
mentaci?n (CIDOC) is enrollment
about threemay range
miles from
question 150
of women. One to
girl said 350
he was
from the center of students,
Cuernavaca in an
mostly a "male
from the chauvinist
United pig." Another
area known as Rancho T?tela where
and Canada. Although Latin
pointed out he hadAmericans
three things going
beautiful villas that dot take
the all courses against
surrounding free, they
him: being a priest,are very
being single,
few in
hillsides cloak the poverty number
that exists in
in theand
being European. months.
Illich says
abundance below. Cuernavaca is there
already are more during the
5,000 feet above sea regular
level year.and the extra
half-mile you have to All students up
walk and teachers
the must
steeppay a __rVlthough CIDOC considers itself a
hill that leads to CIDOC after
registration fee of $50,the bus
which, according free school, there have been numerous
lets you off causestosome
one student, unexpected
is a kind of class-leveling criticisms which question just how free
puffing. The school comprises
thing. some
Those taking Spanish pay for that it is. The language program, for ex
program ($30 per week),
three or four acres (founder Ivan and Illich
those who ample, is highly structured, with stu
wasn't sure) that are wish to participate in ICLAS, akept
meticulously number dents attending set classes, repeating
of free-wheeling
with landscaped gardens, shaded courses strangely
walks, drills, memorizing dialogues, and chang
apple and lime trees, enough
towering dubbed Institute
cacti Contemporary
and ing teachers at the sound of a bell. The
for Latin American
palm trees. It is a place thatStudies,is bothmust pay catalogue says that the language course
secluded and luxurious. Illich
an additional says
registration he $3
fee of from is run this way to prepare, in the
landscaped it with histo brother,
$8 a week, depending and upon whether
they shortest possible time, technical assist
pay $1,000 a month rent.
they are in the language program. Stu ance personnel assigned to Latin Ameri
The CIDOC catalogue dents dolists
not find over
CIDOC cheap;100some ca. According to the literature, over
courses presently being
say it's agiven, although
rip-off, particularly in an area 2,200 teachers, nurses, technicians, so
some 700 have been where there are bargains
organized since elsewhere.
the cial workers, and missionaries who
school began in 1963. Since the Everything is
school has no living quarters studied at the center have gone on to
for history
offered, from Mexican students, theyto
live move
with nearby work with voluntary agencies in Latin
ment and encounterfamilies
games. or in one of the numerous
Illich says America.
hotels and motels
he really doesn't know what goes either in townon;
or near Not only within the language courses
the center. and teach it
anyone can give a course but throughout the school in general
any way he wants. Most of the
If a student has paidcourses
his ICLAS fee, there is an aura of strictness and con
he is
are in English, though entitled to
some, attend various icios
particularly trol. Many students who expected, from
those taught by Illich,
betweenmay11 o'clock be ineach
and noon En day. reports of CIDOC in the media, to find
glish, Spanish, Portuguese, and
During this period French,
instructors present a free and easy Summerhillian environ
with Illich answeringlectures designed to encourage
questions in other you to ment are surprised at the rules and
languages as well. Theenroll in most
their classes. heavily
If you like what regulations that exist. Students cannot,
enrolled courses are in hear at the icio and want to pursue
Spanish, for example, wander into lectures with
which is an intensive program
the subject further, then ofyou six
and the out paying, nor can they attend the
hours per day with one instructor arrange a fee and for
instructor plan to icios without both a registration fee and
every four students. meet at regularly
Most U.S. scheduled times. Fees
colleges an icios fee. Although Illich maintains
usually range study
accept previously authorized from $10 to $30 for a
done that the regulations reflect the serious
at CIDOC for accreditation,
two-week course, thoughbut the
Illich says that ness of the enterprise, some students
school provides no certificate; no
some instructors pay list students
particular of feel that they are more reflective of his
former students isto kept (except
take their courses for
when they judge Austrian beginnings, and especially his
informational purposes), norcanis
that these students helpthere
the instruc own very formal educational back
any record of attendance or per ground. When I discussed the language
Students often meet after their program with students, about half of
ICLAS classes to discuss ideas or work them thought it was a good way to learn
on project. I sat in on one women's
Uni lib Spanish; but another half said that
group where they were of
versity Chapter) is professor writingeduca
a paper instruction was not all that good and
on the role of women in the
tion, Virginia Commonwealth "convivial"
Univer that the teachers (all of Mexican back
sity, Richmond. society. The students pointed out that ground) were very inexperienced in


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their teaching techniques. Students 'A Strange Nonschool' 1 met with Illich for a personal
complained that courses consisted most interview in his office. It was an asceti
ly of rote learning and that the teachers > Jack Fields, the first recipient cally bare room with only a large
frequently become exasperated with the of a "scholar-teacher" appoint crucifix on the wall. It reminded me of
slowness of students in learning Spanish. ment given by Teachers College, a priest's cell. I could see he was tired;
Although one can understand why Columbia, speaks of CIDOC as "a he had taught in the morning and in the
the language course is so formalized, he strange nonschool containing a afternoon. He said that when CIDOC
would not expect it of the ICLAS curious mix of revolutionary fer
was first incorporated, he opposed the
vor and traditional methodology."
program. And indeed it is not tradi A teacher of English at Great move. Now he accepts it. CIDOC is not
tional. Yet ICLAS is not as free as one a school, he said, but a "snack bar." He
Neck North High School, New
might expect. After all, students are York, Fields describes a visit to still agrees with the basic ideas of
paying to hear the teacher, not the CIDOC in an article titled "Sour Deschooling Society, which he talked
views of the students, which they can Apples in Eden: Ivan Illich at about as "disestablishing" society, but
hear at the cafeteria (La Cucaracha). Work," which appeared in the he did indicate that his ideas were
ICLAS courses tend to end up as either September, 1971, issue of the ranging farther afield now. He pointed
lecture or limited discussion courses. A Teachers College Record. The out that he had influenced a lot of
article is based on what happened educational thinkers in the United
plaque inside the administration build
at CIDOC during the 1971 spring
ing says that ICLAS is not a university term, which was devoted to the States, Canada, and India. Illich told me
and that a "course" is not a "curricu not to identify him with CIDOC, but
theme, "Alternatives in Educa
lum." Yet, from all outward appear tion." Among the 78-man teach pointed out that CIDOC couldn't pos
ances, it does seem to be a university, ing staff were Everett Reimer, sibly exist without him, due to his
and a course does seem to be a course, Joel Spring, Paulo Freir?, John managerial and public relations skill.
except without credit from CIDOC. Holt, Clarence Faust, Edgar Fried Illich said that anything goes at CIDOC
Another statement says that CIDOC is enberg, Paul Goodman, Chris except organizing against the Mexican
an environment for surprises, but there topher Jencks, Jonathan Kozol, government and lewd practices in front
seem to be no surprises except in Carl Bereiter, and George Den of the gardeners. Illich likes to shock.
courses that never meet or that termi nison.
Among the ironies Fields re He showed me CIDOC publications
nate abruptly. Roberto Rossellini's son, ports: About half the class walked dealing with eroticism and other "lib
for example, came to give a two-week eral" areas.
out on John Holt, author of How
course dealing with his father's films, Children Fail, 20 minutes before Illich talks a lot about Everett
but left after one week saying that he his talk was scheduled to end. Reimer (School Is Dead: Alternatives in
could not really interpret them. Education). "Our views are very close,"
The only common viewpoint I could he told me. "We have a real academic
discover at the school was that Illich is relationship and see each other several
an impressive lecturer, a person with times a year."
strong points of view, a person who has Illich is always in a hurry. I followed
changed his position over the years. white peasant blouse and sandals. He him throughout several offices, the
Illich talks about CIDOC in terms of a draped the serape he was carrying on a library. He likes to talk. Yes, he knew
movement of reconstruction, and al ledge and began to lecture on trans Eric Fromm lived nearby. No, he didn't
though he has been noted primarily for portation. Some of what he said seemed really have much contact with him. He
educational reconstruction, his ideas to be mainly for effect (e.g., everyone is pointed out that many of the students
seem now to be turning to other areas going back to bicycles), and most of it, at CIDOC, since they were only in the
such as medicine, law, and transporta as many students agreed, was rather language program, didn't even know
tion. After all, in Latin America educa elementary in nature. Illich is a forceful who he was. I found this to be true.
tion is still a luxury. There are more lecturer, however. He smiles a lot and Although Illich preaches revolution,
pressing needs that people can under his poses, while he is answering ques it is the kind of "peanut butter" one
stand ? a broken arm that needs to be tions, range widely. He plays with a associates with Charles Reich's "Con
mended, a jail sentence to be dealt with. rubber band, holds his head, strokes his sciousness III." Illich is not political in
Although Illich is strongly critical of hair. He has a certain intensity and the way some ex-priests are (the Berri
the United States as an "institu seems to be pondering deeply while he gans, for example). He seems to be a
tionalized" society, there is the feeling talks. His lectures touch upon a variety house revolutionary presently running a
that his deeper criticisms are for the of subjects, yet seem unified. His atti school for affluent Americans who have
Latin American countries, such as tudes range from the very authoritarian flunked Spanish. The reforms that Illich
Mexico, where outright criticism could to a very humble "I don't know" or "I talks about are desperately needed in
be more dangerous. But if there is any am in the process of changing my Latin America, but one wonders how
anti-American feeling it is justified on opinion about that." Illich says that he educating kids from Scarsdale and
the basis that the U.S. really controls is an opinionated man. He seems to Shaker Heights will lead to it.
Latin America anyway. stimulate people, and the audience was Illich purports to believe in "power
receptive. He would often say to his to the people," although he does not
listeners, "Why don't we work on yet seem to have worked out what
I attended one of Illich's ICLAS pro that?" Much of the work that students power is (education, or what?) and how
gram seminars that ran for two hours in and teachers do at CIDOC ends up, a la it gets to the people. But Illich has an
an outdoor Grecian arbor. Illich is a tall, Ralph Nader, in one of about 200 inquiring mind, and he does seem to
thin man with imposing features; he CIDOC publications that have been want to make ideas work. Perhaps he
looks something like a lanky Gandhi in printed so far. will yet find a way. D

NOVEMBER 1973 179

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