Separated by a Common Heterodoxy. Illich, Freire and the Perilous Spell of Radical Canonicity

John Baldacchino


Many scholars, students and teachers who admire and continue to find inspiration in Paulo Freire’s and Ivan Illich’s work often insist on a shared common ground. This is done for good reason: Illich and Freire sought a sense of hope and liberation beyond the limitations by which large sections of humanity remain oppressed. It is therefore too easy to argue that texts like Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Deschooling Society can be aligned in sustaining a liberating and emancipatory approach, just as Illich’s case for the disestablishment of education would make a lot of sense if it were aligned with Freire’s critical pedagogical narrative. However, as this paper begins to show, though noble, such an approach would be detrimental to the one foundational aspect which both works happen to share: the claim to heterodoxy by which both Freire and Illich have endeared to make their case. More than a standard academic paper, this is a reflection on decades of being engaged with these two books. In a mix of personal and academic thoughts, and mostly taken from an Illichian perspective, the author argues that one must clearly separate these books by further submitting them to a reading that would immediately dispense with the gloss by which they remain canonized though often confused. While not exhaustive, this paper is meant to provoke more questions than give any specific answers.


Illich; Freire; criticality; disestablishment; contingency; pedagogy; heterodoxy

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