September 4 – Happy Birthday, Ivan Illich

Posted on September 4, 2018

Today's famous birthday was a man of the world!

Writer / thinker Ivan Illich was born on this date in 1926 in Vienna, Austria. His father was from Croatia, and his mother's mother was from Texas, in the U.S. He went to university in Italy, lived for a while in New York City, worked in Puerto Rico, traveled by bus and foot all through South America, started an organization in Mexico, and (once he was established as a philosopher and writer) split his time between Mexico, Germany, and the U.S. He died in Germany.

Illich spoke Italian, Spanish, French, and German fluently, but he also learned Croatian, Ancient Greek and Latin, English, Portuguese, Hindi, and bits of other languages as well!

Even though Illich was a Roman Catholic priest, he got into some trouble for criticizing the Vatican and the Pope (the center and head of Roman Catholicism)!

Illich also criticized contemporary / modern practices in medicine, work and business, energy production and use, and education. It was his criticism of education that brought him the most fame; his biggest contribution is his 1971 book Deschooling Society

Illich thought that education should not be institutionalized, and he pointed out examples of schooling not working well, or at times at all, to produce happy, creative, knowledgeable adults. He thought that modern school systems were so ineffectual, they should be entirely dismantled. He outlined some ideas of how self-directed learning could work within flexible, informal arrangements.

One idea Illich explored, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was matching learners and teachers through computer-based learning webs. At that time, of course, computers were not what they are today - they were huge and slow and limited in the way they could take in and display information. Ivan Illich seemed to be ahead of his time with this sort of computer-web idea, almost two decades before the World Wide Web - aka the Internet - was created.

Since Illich died in 2002, he did get to see a glimpse of the internet-driven "now" - but wouldn't he love to see how many people are using YouTube for self-directed learning, these days, and how many people are linking up over shared interests through social media and interactive game play?

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