Archive for December 7th, 2007
I just came across Ivan Illich’s Consitution for Cultural Revolution. Strikingly relevant today as it was in 1971, if not more. Yes, Illich is radical, provocative. But its hard to deny he has a point when he argues:
The goals of development are always and everywhere stated in terms of consumer value packages standardized around the North Atlantic – and therefore always and everywhere imply more privileges for a few. Political reorganization cannot change this fact; it can only rationalize it. Different ideologies create different minorities of privileged consumers, but heart surgery or a university education is always priced out of range for all but a few: be they the rich, the orthodox, or the most fascinating subjects for experiments by surgeons or pedagogues.
Underdevelopment is the result of a state of mind common to both socialist and capitalist countries. Present development goals are neither desirable nor reasonable. Unfortunately antiimperialism is no antidote. Although exploitation of poor countries is an undeniable reality, current nationalism is merely the affirmation of the right of colonial elites to repeat history and follow the road traveled by the rich toward the universal consumption of internationally marketed packages, a road which can ultimately lead only to universal pollution and universal frustration.
His proposal? Establish access to educational goods as a basic undeniable equal right, open to free choice and trade:
A cultural revolutionary must fight for legal protection from the imposition of any obligatory graded curriculum. The first article of a bill of rights for a modern and humanist society corresponds to the first amendment of the United States Constitution. The state shall make no law with respect to an establishment of education. There shall be no graded curriculum, obligatory for all. To make this disestablishment effective, we need a law forbidding discrimination in hiring, voting, or admission to centers of learning based on previous attendance at some curriculum. This guarantee would not exclude specific tests of competence, but would remove the present absurd discrimination in favor of the person who learns a given skill with the largest expenditure of public funds. A third legal reform would guarantee the right of each citizen to an equal share of public educational resources, the right to verify his share of these resources, and the right to sue for them if they are denied. A generalized GI bill, or an edu-credit card in the hand of every citizen, would effectively implement this third guarantee.
I wonder, isn’t this percisely the agenda of OLPC? And in a broader view, the open source education movement? Public debate tends to focus on cost and benefit, technical specification, production politics. Its not about that. Its about breaking the feudal structure of knowledge production. About the right of any person to own the means of intellectual production. About equal access to the global conversation. Which is probably why the focus is on children rather than schools. As Illich concludes:
The social and psychological destruction inherent in obligatory schooling is merely an illustration of the destruction implicit in all international institutions which now dictate the kinds of goods, services, and welfare available to satisfy basic human needs. Only a cultural and institutional revolution which reestablishes man’s control over his environment can arrest the violence by which development of institutions is now imposed by a few for their own interest. Maybe Marx has said it better, criticizing Ricardo and his school: “They want production to be limited to ‘useful things,’ but they forget that the production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”
I suspect Papert and Negraponte would agree.