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Guest Posts, Learning at its Best, Student Voices

The Peer Matching Network

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

-Ivan Illich

The above quote was from “Deschooling Society,” written by social critic and educational activist Ivan Illich. I read this book last month, and took away several ideas.

  • Education should be universal and open, but not compulsory
  • The current system, with its focus on certification before experience, fosters classism and exclusivity. This exclusiveness leads to idea that learning only happens in school. The concept of learning is trapped in institutions and stigmatizes everyone who “fails” to get a schooled education. *To that I add that  once people leave school, they cease to engage in an active learning process.*
  • A good universal education will have several features:
    • It will be constitutionally protected that people will have freedom of education, “the right to teach any skill,”and overall a separation of education and state.
    • The state will still be involved by allotting a certain amount of taxpayer money to be used only for education, “a basic credit.” Low income people will accrue interest on their credits for as long as they are unused.
    • There will still be certification tests for competency and certain job entrances.
    • Learning will happen in skillshares, apprenticeships, and learning centers (previous school buildings and other buildings). He also advocated for “learning webs” where people seek out in personals that they are looking for academic peers, reading buddies, or a person to teach them a skill.

The separation of education and state is a dangerous idea at this time in which many teachers, parents, and students are just beginning to think about ways to radically transform the schools we already have. We really do not have the collective mindset or social structure for that separation to happen without confusion as to how to learn. The interest of the post is to explore the ways in which many of Illich’s ideas have already sprouted. Illich wrote this in a time when people where barely beginning to use computers for personal communication, and so his idea of the “peer-matching network” has profound implications for access to learning today.

He explains that it would work by allowing someone to enter a learning activity and then wait for results to show up (immediately or by mail) of people interested in the same thing. The network would be secure. Non-computer matching would take place on “bulletin boards and classified newspaper ads, listing the activities for which the computer could not produce a match. No names would have to be given.” Likewise it would be “publicly supported.” In this book Illich also talked about having television booths where people could go to view material interesting to them.When I read these things I thought, Well wow, we have these things today, and they work better and faster than he described! Are we on our way to a deschooled, or unschooled society?

We have youtube which allows people to have discussions and transmit ideas and social commentary. We have forums that work the same way. And with the advent of open source education, there are now numerous ways for people to access knowledge and peers to share that knowledge with, sort of like “the global nets” experience in the recent 2076 school post. There are other sources that more resemble the “peer-matching network.” One of them is OpenStudy, a website that people log into to discuss subjects with others. In a podcast on The Unschooler Experiemement, I found about something that mirrors the network through and through – Zero Tuition College. At “ZTC,” students and MAGE’s (Mentors, Advisors, Guides, and Experts) contact one another to make and complete assignments in a course of study that matters to them. This is viewed as an alternative and supplement to traditional higher education, but this website is open to anyone.

These alternatives should be circulated and considered by more people. A society in which learning is self-initiated needs to become common place and unstigmatized. Check out the links in this post, and take a peak at Deschooling Society online.

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Discussion

4 thoughts on “The Peer Matching Network

  1. Truly love the reference to Illich, still a prophet in his own time, our time and all times. Thanks for this. (You might want to take a look at the distinction Stephen Downes tries to make (http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2011/08/review-edupunks-guide-by-anya-kamenetz.html) in his distinction between edupunk and DIY learning in his critique of Anya Kamenetz’ new ‘broadside’, The Edupunk’s Guide.

    You say, “We really do not have the collective mindset or social structure for that separation to happen without confusion as to how to learn.” I think Illich would say to go ahead anyway. You will never have a handle on the zeitgeist and why would we want to. That would only give us more of the same. I say be prepared for the pitfalls (or as prepared as one can be) an stalk on. The status quo will never be ready for change because it is always ready by definition to stay the same.

    Also, beware of putting the tech before the folk. Tech does change us, but more than that we change tech especially if it is allowed to be open and, as in the Maker’s Manifesto, openable.

    Posted by tellio | August 14, 2011, 11:52 am
  2. Thanks Tellio,
    I honestly do believe too that it’s best to go ahead without an official go signal or collective agreement, but at the same time I feel as if that runs counter to this country’s social norms of waiting for certification or grounded policies or some sort of permission. It’s weird because that’s not the way the country was founded, but that’s a different discussion.

    “beware of putting the tech before the folk.” Can you clarify what part of my post this is in reference to?

    And I checked out the edupunk post (which is funny, because I just started an “ecopunk” series on my personal blog). A quote that stood out was, “Kamenetz’s version of DIY education depicts it as a quick and inexpensive short-cut — the exact opposite of what it actually is.”

    I’m going to have to sit on this quote and what Downes is conveying. This is exactly what I thought self-directed learning was supposed to be. But then not really, because I realize that leaving college or any other school means that you are taking on a lot of responsibility and will have to do the run around to learn and figure out how to engage in your education (it’s still “inexpensive” though if you are not going after licensed professions or high science). What is the underlying concern with my post in light of mentioning this critique? What I get from his post is that it’s a mistake to leave school and do self-directed learning if you have the outlook that it is easier or faster or cheaper.

    Posted by teganor | August 14, 2011, 1:45 pm
  3. We’ve created false scarcities in education in an effort to get folks to comply with the latest and greatest score-boosting, yet cost-saving, innovations in efficiency. We’ve empowered the managers at the cost of the learners. We’ve celebrated “new” ideas (like, say, the Khan Academy) by commodifying them with corporate sponsorship and packaging them in desk- and/or screen-bound products.

    I think I’m finally ready to write a new post touching on some of these ideas – many thanks for the inspiration both to post and to keep on keeping on with Illich and all the learners.

    There are a lot of cool possibilities out there – technology is in some ways helping make what Illich proposes more capture-able, but that might not be the point at all, just a bias of mine in looking for ways to observe learning. I;m thinking of this and this. More generally, I’m also thinking of Deven and Ira and their experiences with learning – especially in high school.

    Best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 15, 2011, 8:46 am
  4. Yeah C, looking back on it, Illich’s “open source” learning was more “live” because the technology we have today was not available. You had to rely more on connecting with people. So In both of your comments I am starting to understand the message that technologies that mirror his network should not be the end-all-be-all of open and informal learning. Likewise, with technologies like khan and open university courses, the goal should not be to replace the current accredited education system with and new high tech one (although certification is still important for some jobs). I think the open badges and the switch to portfolios are a step in the right direction, but underlying all of this *is* a totally different point – we need to have more of a learning society rather than learning institutions.

    Posted by teganor | August 15, 2011, 3:33 pm

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