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Learning beyond Growth

Deschooling as a Path to Social-Ecological Transformation


“Deschooling is at the root of any movement for human liberation”, wrote Ivan Illich, today almost forgotten but once a world-renowned critical thinker, in 1971. With books like “Deschooling Society” and “Energy and Equity” he inspired in the 1970s both the emerging environmental movement and the renewed interest in progressive education. But where are the connections between growth critique and critique of school education? And how could a world beyond alienated learning and growth pressure actually look like?

Growth, we keep hearing from politicians and business leaders, is indispensable in order to guarantee prosperity, peace and liberty. However, fewer and fewer people believe these incantations, as it has become too obvious that growth does not benefit all, but only a small class of the rich and super-rich. In many countries the damages caused by growth already outweigh its benefits: environmental destruction, stress, noise, loneliness and social divide. In the global competition for increasing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), much of what makes life worthwhile is destroyed. On top of this, economic growth is ruining the ability of global ecosystems to regenerate – thereby threatening the long-term survival of humanity. In the face of these destructive consequences of growth, an intensive quest for alternatives to growth started in the 1970s, a debate which has been revived over the last years with the term “degrowth”.

Degrowth in this sense is not a static concept for an alternative system but rather an umbrella for a bunch of uncountable initiatives run by people who want to bring change to our day-to-day life: politically active people who oppose the continuous destruction of our environment and our societies as well as scientists who ponder how particular sectors of the economy or the infrastructure, e.g. transport or public health, could be designed in an ecologically and socially compatible way. These ideas have in common that they rely on the potential of alternative forms of social organization rather than on merely technical solutions. Nonetheless, the issue of learning and schooling is hardly ever discussed in this context, although it is deeply connected to the topic of growth.


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Olduvai IV: Courage
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