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Finding Ivan Illich in the Writing Center: A Case Study of Deschooling and Literacy Learning

posted on 01.05.2020, 00:00 by Russell F. Mayo
This dissertation presents a case study exploration of peer tutoring in a university writing center (WC) viewed through the lens of “deschooling,” a radical educational theory articulated by social philosopher Ivan Illich. In this manuscript, I explore my personal experiences of schooling in relation to Illich’s work and the rhetoric of Illich’s deschooling thesis. I also present research findings from the Great Lakes State University Writing Center (GLSU-WC, a pseudonym), a unique literacy learning space where students come together to learn about academic writing through pedagogies and interactions that more closely resemble “deschooling” than traditional classroom relations. My overall argument is that GLSU-WC’s pedagogy of reciprocal learning represents an “actually-existing” form of deschooling, albeit one that has developed within and in many ways supported by wider educational structures. That is, I view peer tutoring in the GLSU-WC as resonant with Ivan Illich’s vision for what “education” might look like in a deschooled society, a convivial, user-initiated system that no longer conforms to industrial, commodified forms of education. My central claim is that a deschooling approach to literacy and WCs can offer a radical alternative in and to education. In the end, I discuss how such conceptual questions take on a particular urgency when one considers the exigence of the climate and environmental crises which threaten to completely reshape human society and our environment in the coming decades. My purpose for this project is two-fold. First, I aim to revive the overlooked, critical scholarship of Ivan Illich, showing the relevance of Illich’s writing for scholars across English education, literacy, composition/rhetoric, writing centers, educational philosophy, learning theory, and environmental studies. In addition, this work presents argument about the importance of the peer-to-peer learning model for reimagining sustainable forms education in the Anthropocene.



Schaafsma, David


Schaafsma, David



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

DeStigter, Todd Cintrón, Ralph Woodard, Rebecca Stuchul, Dana

Submitted date

May 2020

Thesis type