One of the conversations I get to hear a lot of, whether on the bus, at work, or with family, is about the exorbitant cost of a college education, the lack of jobs for graduates, and peoples desire to go back to school for a Masters or Doctorate as a way to defer paying accumulated debt, and as means of specializing further in the hopes of finding some niche in the job market. I’m not the only one having this conversation. What gets me the most though is how willing people are to think this is still the main pathway to take in life. Even as evidence mounts higher than the walls to the university itself, people are in denial about the pragmatic utility a degree will give them. This is because western culture at large has been thoroughly schooled.
E.L. Anderson, quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary writes: “It is not necessary to use a sharp spur upon a schooled horse.” The spurs of society continue to push on those who are still within the system enough to think its not collapsing to hop into the saddle of massive debt, at the expense of true learning, because they have been trained and disciplined to do so.
This has also had an effect on the Mysteries. As if a correspondence course or a weekend workshop will make you an initiate, anymore than a class in creative writing will make you either creative or a writer. Even more than these are the institutionalized bodies of initiates (think OTO, Golden Dawn, and even the various branches of organized Druidry) that aim to teach magic through a long drawn out process of grades. Just as “progress” is not a straight line from prehistory to industrialization, linear approaches to schooling magicians from neophyte to grand ipsissimus are counterproductive.
In his work Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich wrote, “the mere existence of school [in North America and Latin America] disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world school has an anti-educational effect on society: school is recognized as the institution which specializes in education.”  Society as a whole has been inculcated in the idea of school itself that it has become a form fundamentalist technocratic religion. Instead of looking to the interior realms for guidance from within, contemporary humanity is largely exteriorized. It would be one thing if we looked to the exterior of the grand book of Nature. Instead we look to certified teachers and schools and accept only those models which have been drafted up into curricula following narrow minded orders of progression. K-12 or from 0 to XI. Initiates want a certificate of having memorized all the colors of the Queen scale on the Tree of Life instead of stepping into the landscape of the Tree itself.
Gnosis and magic are wild. They tear through boundaries. They have no do not discriminate based on a badge of entitlement. “Curriculum has always been used to assign social rank,” Illich says. We see this in the way some schools only allow you to join in a particular magical or spiritual activity if you have passed through the other grades. For illuminated folks who say they envision an egalitarian society based on the principals of brother-and-sisterhood, those types of abject requirements will need to be done away with.
The Mysteries need to be deschooled.
Never mind that so many teachers are authoritarian figures merely by donning the name of teacher. Instead of the students choosing what they want to focus on and learn, a teacher imposes his or her will of what they think the students need to learn upon them. It’s as true in magical circles as it is in High School. Again Illich sees through the ruse. “Theme-matching is by definition teacher centered: it requires an authoritarian presence to define for the participants the starting point for their discussion.”
When money enters the equation you end up with other problems. Say a person has a skill you really want to learn. But its not a popular skill. If you only teach as a means for making an income, you might not travel, or connect in other ways with people who want to learn what you know, because it isn’t “cost effective”.
One of the upsides of collapse, outside all the trauma it is creating, is a natural deschooling of society. As institutions without dollars shut their doors, Westerners have an opportunity to deinstitutionalize themselves. For those of us tired of living in straight jackets with a needle of thorazine in the vein, it is a welcome relief, despite the challenges. And it is exciting to work on creating new ways of learning, and reinvigorating traditional ways that have fallen by the wayside. Tradition and innovation can truly work together, but we all need to deschool ourselves about how we think things should be.
Note: My current readings of Ivan Illich are forcing me to rethink some of my premises I laid out in my series of posts on guilds. However a third part to the guild essay is in the works, and there is still much humans can use again from the toolkit they created in medieval times.
1. Quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary under the definition for “schooled”.
2. Ivan Illich, Deschooling Society, 1971, Harper & Row, New York
Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.