Edcentric Commission

My History of Schools was written for Edcentric Magazine; but they only printed a small part of it: this part:

Knatz.com / Teaching / Society / NoHier / DeGate / FLEX / Documents /

A Model for Educational Reform
by Paul Knatz
Founder and Coordinator note

More and more, people are being moved to action by Ivan Illich’s design for learning networks as the only institution necessary for education in our newly interconnected, electronic world. Incipient networks have developed on both coasts and in between. For about a year now, FLEX, the Free Learning Exchange, Inc., has embodied this system in New York City.

Here’s how it works. First, Interest Matching. Anyone who has an interest in pursuing any topic, subject, or skill registers that interest with FLEX. The sole institutional obligation of the Exchange is then to give that person the names, addresses, and way of contacting everyone else in the city who has expressed that same interest. No records are kept of anyone’s age or background so quality control is wholly up to the people involved.

Second, the Free Learning Exchange is compiling a Directory of human learning resources. Anyone is welcome to declare their availability as a resource person, no matter whether in the role of an expert, teacher, consultant, skill model, elder, or evaluator. Then anyone who wants to see how something is done by someone presumably more skilled than him-or-herself can shop through the list of people available for their particular subject, the same way you use the yellow pages except that no one is entitled to more space (or fancier decoration) than anyone else. Almost as important, and probably more difficult to develop will be a directory of non-human learning resources: the identities, location, and terms of access to whatever tools are available for the acquiring of a skill or the pursuit of an idea. I say probably more difficult because such a directory could not be ideally complete in a world with the restrictions of private ownership (as distinct from personal guardianship) and classified information.

If an analogy between the first directory and the telephone company’s yellow pages is possible, then an analogy for the second would be with the card catalogue in the library. An analogy for Interest Matching can be made to a computer dating service.

The third feature of the system is designed to keep the teachers registered in the first directory “honest” and to give would-be students the benefit of other people’s experience in making their selections. It is the Consumer and Peer Report. Anyone with knowledge of a registered teacher which is relevant to that teacher’s ability in her/his field, whether as a fellow expert or as a past student, is invited to give his evaluation of that teacher’s quality as a teacher. Like the second directory, such a report does not exist yet and will not until there are a sufficient number of responses to give the reports statistical significance. When the report is published, there will, of course, have to be an introductory set of caveats about how not to take them too seriously: rather too literally: how public opinion carries no guarantee of truth, how sometimes genius is not recognized, how sometimes fashionable mediocrity is apotheosized, to remember to allow for acrimony or over-zealousness, how hack theatricality often gets greater response than intensive critical analysis, that maybe theatricality is what someone really wants more than he wants information, that others’ past experience is no necessary predictor of yours, that perhaps someone will learn nothing from his contact with Einstein, that you may be the first person that Howard Hughes will talk to.

That’s the whole system, pure and simple. Of course it won’t be able to work as a complete educational service until everyone is using it as such. And that will depend on a radical change of attitude toward compulsion, curriculum, certification, etc. But the political changes necessary for that spiritual revolution can come only from the community at large. The people will have to will it to be so. But in the mean time, the network does exist and is being used by an increasing number of people. FLEX’s latest newsletter contains six fourteen inch pages in double columns listing the subjects being exchanged, offered, or sought by Free Learning Exchange registrants. ( Anyone can get a copy of the newsletter by sending a stamped self-addressed envelope and something to cover printing costs to FLEX, 305 Riverside Drive, #7E, New York, N. Y. 10025.)

Someone flipping through the 3 X 5 card file box of Interest Matches (there’s no real need for a computer yet) will come across subjects as fancy as [Biochemistry, advanced: e.g. Miscoding of proteins at site of ribosomes and as related to transfer RNA, mutations, methylation of RNA, ribosomal dynamics, and statistical distributions” and as simple as “Cooking: soups, breads, patés.”

People have offered their expertise in everything from auto mechanics to spoken Welsh. Students who have registered an interest for which there are no registered teachers have sometimes found one once his need is published in the newsletter.

I would like to quote at least one letter of registration in its entirety. I hope you find its cumulative effect as moving as I do.

Dear Mr. Paul Nef,

Sorry if I misspell your surname, neighbor. It was indeed an interesting broadcast I heard this morning from WRVR. Free Learning Exchange-what a splendid and grand idea. I am retired, a grandmother and live alone in NY-and would like to give a couple of Chinese cooking lessons to some one interested, in her or their home-l have a room and cannot have anyone come to my place. I am interested in improving my writing. I am planning to visit China soon, to see my son and his family. On Friday, there will be a lecture “China Today” at Hunter College Assembly Hall by Bill Hinton (author of Fanshen).

I have an extra ticket, if you or any one interested let me know. I am between 108 &109 Riverside Drive-and hope my guest will be good enough to see me to my building-elevator. Too many things had happen. I rarely go out at nights, but I do not want to miss this lecture. If one has a car I will pay something for the gas & expenses.

My one wish, that the Americans forget the word communist in China. Believe me, we Chinese know the pulse of our people and country more than any foreign expert on China. Even Pearl note does not know every thing about the Chinese. The present form of government is the best by far for the people and county no more foreign control, intervention and domination no more insult. Today China is one of three great powers more people free from hunger. Wonderful, great achievement taken place. Like everywhere there are die-hards who won’t believe or admit-of the good improvement-Their mind are set. The ignorant do not know that Taiwan is part of China as Long Island is US The Taiwan people there belong to China-not the National government, a puppet of USA Chiang selling out slave labor to American and Japanese factory owners in Taiwan-Paying 10¢-one dime an hour working in deplorable factory conditions-

The former Taiwan delegates to UN owe a debt of 3.2 millions $. Shameful thing to do-money went to some people own pocket.

I can go on & on. Stop.

Mrs. A.C.

How wonderful to see her warm to her subject as soon as she feels that someone is paying attention to her. Here is someone who certainly does not need to “improve” her writing. If her usages were “corrected,” a precious expression of personality and identity would be lost. As Marshall McLuhan says, we tend to become like our machines. A culture devoted to uniform, interchangeable parts for its mass production industry soon develops uniform, interchangeable grammar, spelling, people, and ideas. And schools have been one of the major instruments for homogenization. I will not object to our computers and our electronic communications tools having a corresponding influence on us if we use then for the unrestricted storage, retrieval, and movement of information.

The freedom of the Free Learning Exchange is in its being pure form with no content of its own. It is a structure which permits (and invites) any other structure and content to be formed, but in no way determines what they will be. It is itself trivial, while the human actions which can take place with its aid have the possibility of being profound and at the very least will be human. note
@ K. 2001 11 05


In founding FLEX I though long and hard as to what my title should be. I decided that “coordinator” would be the highest possible honorific in the new order of things: far above president, king, seizer, or God. No one got it. I’ve had executive after executive explain to me that “coordinator” is way down on the totem pole.


Don’t forget that the Chinese use the first name as the family name.


I have something to add about freedom in 2001 that I wish I’d thought of in 1971. I’d add it here soon.



About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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