An Interview With Ivan Illich (SKOLE).pdf

An Interview with Ivan Illich edited by Chris Mercogliano, from the spring issue of SKOLE, the J ournal of Alternative Education   This brilliant interview, from which I have excerpted only the portions directly related to education, was conducted by David Cayley in September, 1988 for the CBC Radio program, Ideas. My thanks to both Cayley and Ivan Illich for their generous permission to rework the original material as I saw fit. A note about David Cayley: A native of Toronto
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  An Interview with Ivan Illich   edited by Chris Mercogliano, from the spring issue of SKOLE, the Journal of Alternative Education    This brilliant interview, from which I have excerpted only the portions directly related to education, was conducted by David Cayley in September, 1988 for the CBC Radio program, Ideas. My thanks to both Cayley and Ivan Illich for their generous permission to rework the srcinal material as I saw fit.   A note about David Cayley: A native of Toronto, Canada, and a writer/broadcaster at CBC radio for many years, Cayley first met Ivan Illich when he traveled to Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1969 to attend his seminars on the emerging issue of so-called third world development. He has maintained an ongoing relationship with Illich ever since. It is Cayley's depth of understanding of Illich both as a great thinker of the twentieth century and as a human being that enabled Cayley to translate the contents of an extremely complex mind into laymen's terms.   Editors note: It was actually my request to interview Illich for SKOLE - which he refused on the grounds of a life-long distaste for interviews and his failing health - along with my asking Illich for comment on the manuscript for my upcoming book , Making It Up As We Go Along : the Story of the (Albany) Free School , which resulted in an invitation last October to meet with the man who has had such a profound influence on my own ideas on education for the past twenty-odd years. I arrived in State College, Pennsylvania, on a glorious Indian Summer afternoon. Ivan Illich greeted me warmly with a generous smile and a great, bony hug. Without hesitation, his right-hand man and companion of thirty years, Professor Lee Hoinacki (quite a story in himself), invited me into the small international circle of men and women who gather around Illich when he teaches at Penn State University each Fall.   Although he's presently suffering through the final stages of a slow-growing cancer on the right side of his otherwise beautifully aging face - an illness doctors predicted he would succumb to over ten years ago - Illich continues to teach, both formally and informally, seven days a week. He remains an intense bundle of intellectual energy in spite of the physical pain which is at times quite apparent. Illich is a teacher in the most classical sense of the word: he loves his subject and his students with equal fervor. Once I recovered from the shock of seeing up close the enormous tumor disfiguring his jawline, what impressed me immediately about Illich was the ecstatic look of an almost boyish delight which overtakes his expression as he shares his latest ideas. At seventy, he has largely left behind the work of analyzing contemporary cultural patterns of thought and perception, which occupied him throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s, in order to develop what he calls a philosophy of history.   Over a long weekend at the university, I had the privilege of sitting in on both a classroom lecture and the much less structured weekend sessions in his office. Arriving from Albany just in time for the end of one of his weekly Friday afternoon wrap-up seminars, I was practically bowled over in the doorway by both the heat and the energy emanating from that crowded room, one from which the participants seemed in no hurry to depart. The following morning I would encounter a very different atmosphere as I joined a dozen or so of Illich's closest associates sitting in a ring on the floor of his threadbare office while he led us in a wide-ranging discussion.   Meanwhile, it was in State College where I first learned of the Cayley interview. My host, a professor of  economics at neighboring Bucknell University, had all of Illich's books in his personal library, including the most recent, David Cayley's Ivan Illich In Conversation, which I had never seen before. The book combines a very true-to-the-srcinal transcription of Cayley's exhaustive five-day interview with Illich with an extraordinarily comprehensible sixty-page synopsis of the life's work of this incredible scholar.   Reading Cayley's book late into my first night in State College, it became clear to me almost immediately that, even with Illich's cooperation, there was no way I could ever have come close to conducting an interview with such depth and breadth. Thus what follows is my heavily edited version of the srcinal, which I encourage everyone to obtain and read in its entirety (copies can be obtained from: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1800 Steeles Ave. West, Concord, Ontario L4K 2P3). Excerpts from Cayley's introduction:   In 1938, when he was twelve years old, Ivan Illich walked through the vineyards on the outskirts of Vienna and smelled the fetid wind that, in a few days, would bring Hitler's troops into Austria and change his world forever. He knew then, he told me, that he would never give children to his grandfather's house. This house had stood on its island in the Adriatic off the coast of Dalmatia since the Middle Ages. It had seen rulers come and go, and empires rise and fall, but daily life had scarcely changed in the intervening centuries. The very same olive-wood rafters supported the roof of my grandfather's house. Water was still gathered from the same stone slabs on the roof. The wine was pressed in the same vats, the fish caught from the same kind of boat ... For the people who lived off the main routes, history still flowed slowly, imperceptibly. Most of the environment was still in the commons. People lived in houses they had built; moved on streets that had been trampled by the feet of their animals; were autonomous in the procurement and disposal of their water; could depend on their own voices. All this changed in 1926, the year of Illich's birth. The same ship that brought the infant to be blessed by his grandfather carried the first loudspeaker ever heard on the island. Up to that day, Illich has written, all men and women had spoken with more or less equally powerful voices ... Henceforth access to the microphone would determine whose voice [would] be magnified. Silence now ceased to be in the commons; it became a resource for which loudspeakers compete.   By 1938 Illich already knew in his bones that the world into which he had been born was vanishing. Soon he would become a wanderer through the uncanny landscapes generated by the loudspeaker's many progeny. But he did not lose his tap-root into the soil of old Europe or his family's ancient affiliation with the Roman Church. He took this fading world within himself where it would nourish a stance so radically traditional that for a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s excited North American audiences thought it avant garde. Illich discussing his srcins:   CAYLEY: Where did you grow up?   ILLICH: Because I supposedly created difficulties for my mother, threatening her with my arrival, she was taken to the best doctors, who at that moment sat in Vienna, Austria. My father was not then living in central Europe. So I was born in Vienna. Then, at the age of three months, I was exported, with my nurse, to Dalmatia to be shown to my grandfather and to be baptized, there, in Split, on Vidovdan, the Day of Great Liberation, the first of December. There I grew up, spending a part of the year in Dalmatia, a part with the other grandparent in Vienna, and a part of the year in France or wherever my parents were.  Then, during the later 1930s, my place of ordinary residence was at the house of Grandfather in Vienna&emdash;where I got stuck as a half-Aryan with diplomatic protection - which being the son of my father afforded - to shelter my Jewish grandfather, until he died a natural death there in his own house in 1941. At that time, I ceased to be a half-Aryan and became a half-Jew, according to the law. We had to more or less go underground and slip out of what was then Germany. I spent the rest of my youth, from the age of fifteen, mainly in Italy, in Florence and Rome. CAYLEY:  With your parents? ILLICH:  No. My father was dead by then, and I took care of my mother and two smaller brothers, who are twins. They stayed in Florence. From 1951 on, I have been on this side of the ocean. Since I left the old house on the island in Dalmatia, I have never had a place which I called my home. I have always lived in a tent like the one in which you are sitting at this moment. Next I was five years in New York, as a parish priest, working with Puerto Ricans on 175th Street. I was in Puerto Rico for five years, officially engaged in educational institutions. I was five years in Cuernavaca, Mexico, renting a big hotel from which we ran a modest political effort to upset volunteer programs for Latin America, from 1961 to 1966. From 1966 to 1976, I made possible this alternative university in Cuernavaca, the Center for Intercultural Documentation (ClDOC). This center lasted exactly ten years to the day, from April first to April first. It began with a big fools feast and ended with a dance. So that gives you my whereabouts. CAYLEY: Your education was in Rome? ILLICH: It still goes on.  CAYLEY: You said you were fortunate in having only sporadic schooling.  ILLICH: I registered for purely practical reasons in chemistry, and finished in crystallography in Florence. CAYLEY: What was practical about that? ILLICH: I got legitimacy by obtaining an ID card, which provided me with a false identity, under the Fascists. It was one little tool which was useful. Later, I seriously studied philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University, in Rome. I also did a doctorate in history in Salzburg. Right after the war, I got stuck in Salzburg. I wanted a residence permit, and my lawyer advised me that the best thing would be to register at the university. So I went there in order to maintain my legitimacy, and then got fascinated with two professors, Professor Albert Auer and Professor Michel Muechlin, who became my great teachers in historical method and in the interpretation of old texts. Illich on Education:   CAYLEY: What was the srcin of Deschooling Society ? Did you begin as a conventional believer in schooling? ILLICH : No, I considered that school met the needs of others. I had been brought up without much schooling. At the age of six, when my normal languages were French and Italian and German, my mother wanted to put me in a school in Vienna, a very good school where they already gave tests to children. They found that I was a retarded child. That was a great advantage for me because for two years I could sit in my grandmother's library and read her novels and look up all the interesting things that might intrigue a nasty boy of seven in the dictionaries. Yes, I went to school, but only by bits. Practically everything I learned occurred outside of school. But I also never made an issue of schooling. So when in 1956 I suddenly found myself the vice-rector of the Catholic University in Ponce, Puerto Rico, and,  a year later, a member of the government's Board of All Education, the Consejo Superior de Ensenanza, governing everything from the universities to grade schools, I couldn't but ask myself, What is this stuff about education? I had never really reflected on it. You met up with me when for ten years I had been trying to puzzle out what the whole thing meant. CAYLEY: And why did you conclude that it didn't make sense? ILLICH: I first concluded that it was structured injustice to compel people to go to school and only then began to reflect whether it made any sense. On that road, the meeting with Everett Reimer was important for me. A good fifteen years older than I, Everett at that time - 1956 - was chairman of the Human Resources Planning Commission. I met him soon after I arrived at a meeting of top administrators on how to organize planning to design education. Bottles are designed. Packages for bras are designed. How to design education and how universities should collaborate in making design into a subject were the issues on that day. Most of my life is really the result of meeting the right person at the right moment and being befriended by him. This was the case with Everett. But I was confused by his title - planning - a word I had never used before. I looked it up in dictionaries and didn't find it. It appeared for the first time in dictionaries after World War II. Human resources was another issue. How do you make human beings - these Puerto Rican   jibaritos  with whom I was dealing - human resources? I remember on my next trip to New York going to Princeton to see Jacques Maritain, the philosopher, who was then living there. We had met up in Rome in a seminar and he had become a dear friend and advisor. His imaginative Thomism meant a lot to me. He was then an old man with a face, as Ann Freemantle once said, cut from a stained glass window in Chartres. In 1957, I was now sitting there with him again. He had a teacup in his hand and was shaking when I talked to him about the question which bothered me, that in all his philosophy I didn't find any access to the concept of planning. He asked me if this was an English word for accounting, and I told him no ... if it was for engineering, and I said no ... and then at a certain moment he said to me, Ah! Je comprends, mon cher ami, maintenant je comprends. Now I finally understand. C'est une nouvelle espèce du pêche de presomption. Planning is a new variety of the sin of pride. It was along this kind of circuitous road that I came to understand what this educational system of Puerto Rico was doing. First, thanks to years of conversation with Everett, I read my way into the pragmatists and empiricists of the English tradition of thinkers and philosophers. Second, I asked myself, what do schools do when I put into parentheses their claim to educate? Perhaps only in that way will I find out what they do. They then had a machine which was called a computer. It had nothing to do with what you see around now, but could already gobble up so-called data and organize them. So I was in a position to ask for data. When I looked at the printouts they gave me, it was quite evident that after ten years of intensive development (another one of these words!) of the school system in the country, which at that moment was, together with Israel, the showcase for development all over the world, schooling in Puerto Rico was so arranged that half the students - that half which came from the poorer families - had a one-in-three chance of finishing five  years of elementary education, the amount which was compulsory. Most of the discussion around me was about immediately making many more years of education compulsory. Nobody faced the fact that schooling served, at least in Puerto Rico, to compound the native poverty of half of the children with a new interiorized sense of guilt for not having made it. I therefore came to the conclusion that schools inevitably are a system to produce dropouts, and to produce more dropouts than successes. Because the school is open for sixteen years, eighteen years, nineteen years of schooling and never closes the door on anybody, it will always produce a few successes and a majority of failures. In the minds of the people who financed and engineered them, schools were established to increase equality. I discovered that they really acted as a lottery system in which those who didn't make it didn't just lose what they had paid in but were also stigmatized as inferior for the rest of their lives.
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