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Illich, Education, and the Wire

19 Pages Posted: 18 Oct 2012 Last revised: 26 Oct 2012

Erin Buzuvis

Western New England University School of Law

Date Written: 2012


This Article focuses on two texts — first, Illich’s 1971 "Deschooling Society," which calls for abolishing institutionalized education in favor of decentralized, personalized relationships that promote intentional learning; and second, "The Wire’s" fourth season, which is particularly focused on the exercise in futility that is the Baltimore public school system. Read together, these texts explore the problem of institutionalized education and the solution Illich proposes of intentional learning communities. But while both texts help us understand the shortfalls of institutionalized education, neither is particularly prescriptive when it comes to undoing the current state of affairs and weaning our society off of institutions, like education, on which we have grown dependent. Standardized tests are becoming more, not less, relevant in determining schools’ resources and prestige; newspapers have even been using test results to create and publish teacher rankings. Rather than democratizing the educational resources and freeing them from the confines of constructed institutions, we are enforcing those constructions so vigorously that we would criminally convict a mother who used a grandparent’s address to get her children into a “better” school district. Even with increasing popularity of classroom alternatives, as evidenced by the rising popularity of homeschooling, and the free school movement, it is clear that society is not going to deschool itself easily or any time soon. The Author notes that this exercise of reading Illich with "The Wire" does not solve the problem or provide a roadmap to an institution-less world, but it does help crystallize what is at stake and make more persuasive the case for radical re-envisioning of education.

Keywords: Ivan Illich, capitalism, institutionalized education, intentional learning communities

Suggested Citation

Buzuvis, Erin, Illich, Education, and the Wire (2012). Western New England Law Review, Vol. 34, p. 363, 2012; Western New England University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-18. Available at SSRN:

Erin Buzuvis (Contact Author)

Western New England University School of Law ( email )

1215 Wilbraham Road
Springfield, MA 01119
United States

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