Learning Exchanges

From Growing Without Schooling 8.

A friend wrote to say that many of the Learning Exchanges that started in the past few years have closed because of lack of money. I replied in part:

“One reason, maybe the main reason they got in trouble is that they almost instantly got too fancy. They missed Illich’s point about being passive networks, and began to think of themselves as active organizations that has to plan and promote something. When Illich spoke of a card file, he meant literally just that, not programs, meetings, newsletters.

Here’s a model—To the Learning Exchange in Anytown, Ms. Smith sends a letter and a return postcard. In the letter she says (for example), I want to learn something about repairing appliances that she is willing to share. The Exhange looks under Home Appliances Repair in its files, takes out Ms. Smith’s card (and any others), puts down Ms. Brown’s name and address, and mails them back to Ms. Smitt and others who sent them in. They can then get in touch with Ms. Brown and work out some sort of plan. But that isn’t the Exchanges business. Its work is done with it sends back those cards.
If Ms. Smith is happy with what she can learn from Ms Brown, fine. If not, and she wants to look for more information, she sends a new letter and card and repeats the process. If she also wants to find out about something else, say Chinese Cooking, she send in another letter and card for that. Ms. Brown’s card stays in the “Have Information” half of the file. Once every year or two-maybe, if it feels like it-the Exchange prints up, cheaply, a list of the people in its “Have Information” file, and maybe gives it away, maybe sells it for $1 or so, more if it is fairly large.

How do people hear of it? Perhaps a few announcements on bulletin boards. People tell other people. A slow process? No doubt. But what’s the big hurry? Being in a big hurry is why all those Learning Exchanges have had to fold up.

Hard to see anything here that would cost $10,000+ a year, need government grants, etc. No office, no rent, no phone, nothing but-literally-two card files and a mailing address, which might best be a post office box number. If people write in asking how to use the learning exchange, a form postcard could tell them that.”