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"Nils Christie's classic If Schools Didn't Exist is more relevant today than when it was first written. Christie reminds us of the connection between education, meaning, values, and what it means to be educated as critical and engaged citizens."

—Henry A. Giroux, McMaster University Professor for Scholarship in the Public Interest

"If Schools Didn't Exist is a classic statement of what participatory schooling should be like. With echoes of Dewey, Freire, and others, it deserves to be read by anyone who cares about creating a truly responsive education."


—Michael W. Apple, John Bascom Professor of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Christie reminds us that schools can serve either as vital assets that are essential to a community's growth and survival, or they can be the source of degradation and debasement. Though his illuminating analysis Christie shows us that we can choose to see schools as collective expressions of culture and the means through which we articulate our aspirations for a better life and future to our children."


—Pedro A. Noguera, Dean of USC Rossier School of Education

A classic in the philosophy of education, considering the fundamental purpose and function of schools, translated into English for the first time.


The open access edition of this book was made possible by generous funding from Arcadia – a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin.


This classic 1971 work on the fundamental purpose and function of schools belongs on the same shelf as other landmark works of the era, including Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society, Paulo Frei-re's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and John Holt's How Children Fail. Nils Christie's If School Didn't Exist, translated into English for the first time, departs from these works by not considering schooling (and deschooling) as much as schools and their specific community and social contexts. Christie argues that schools should be proving grounds for how to live together in society rather than assembly lines producing future citizens and employees.


Christie presents three examples of schools in different settings—a French village school that became the bedrock of its community; federal government–run schools for Native Americans that facilitated the experience of inferiority; and a British secondary school that reinforced class stratification. He considers the school's function as a storage space (for an unproductive segment of society), as a means for differentiation (based on merit), and as distributor of knowledge. He introduces the idea of the school-society, a self-governing body of students, teachers, parents, and community; and he offers a vision of a society based on normalizing the needs and values of local communities.

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