Did Ivan Illich apologize for being part of the Catholic University of Puerto Rico or his subsequent teaching at different universities? At some point he formed the opinion that schools cannot not help students. Did he have this opinion when he was a young adult or was it something that he gradually came to believe?

How did Illich reconcile his love of the Catholic Church with its many schools when he himself was so opposed to schools?

Update on 4/28/19:

I tend to think Illich didn't like any type of school. Is there a way to know he made an exception for Catholic schools?

The pupil is thereby "schooled" to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new.

...we must disestablish school... The power of school thus to divide social reality has no boundaries: education becomes unworldly and the world becomes noneducational. ... Unquestionably, the educational process will gain from the deschooling of society even though this demand sounds to many schoolmen like treason to the enlightenment. But it is enlightenment itself that is now being snuffed out in the schools.

The above was taken from chapter 1 of Deschooling Society. He wrote an essay with the title "Why We Must Abolish Schooling."

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    Why exactly should he apologize? If one wishes to bring about social change one has to work through the existing institutions, even if they envision abolishing them. Karl Marx also earned his living in a capitalist system, unapologetically.
    – Conifold
    Commented Mar 11, 2019 at 21:33
  • I don't think he would make an exception for Catholic schools since they contribute to the institutionalization of society. However, he was not opposed to any type of structured learning. See the "learning webs" as examples of what he would approve of. I imagine he approved the structured learning he set up at CIDOC. As another way to look at this institutionalization consider the debt today students take on to get an education. One can also make comparisons with the institutionalization of health care. See Medical Nemesis. Commented Apr 28, 2019 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


According to Wikipedia Ivan Illich opposed "institutionalized education" or "compulsory mass education", but he favored "self-directed education, supported by intentional social relations, in fluid informal arrangements".

It may be a misrepresentation of his position to simply say he was "so opposed to schools" unless one clarifies that what he was opposed to was an institutionalization of society one example of which was mandatory public education. Another example of this institutionalization that he did not favor could be found in his book Medical Nemesis.

He favored "learning webs". His language school, training for missionaries to Latin America and sessions of seminars at Cuernavaca in Mexico (Centro Intercultural de Documentatión) may have been an attempt to illustrate how a de-institutionalization could be accomplished. One might look at libraries and these stack exchanges as learning webs.

The OP asks this question:

How did Illich reconcile his love of the Catholic Church with its many schools when he himself was so opposed to schools?

Having schools is not the problem. Rather the problem is institutionalized, compulsory mass education. So his position need not be directed against the schools run by organizations such as the Catholic Church as long as they did not encourage an institutionalization of society.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, January 21). Ivan Illich. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:10, March 11, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ivan_Illich&oldid=879396399

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