Friday, July 22, 2005

The Paideia Proposal - Active Thinking

While in New Mexico, we had a chance to browse the bookstore at St. Johns College (a 'Great Books College'), and what a treat. Got to read Mortimer Adler's Paideia Program on the plane.

The three goals of Paideia in education are:

- Acquisition of Organized Knowledge (Didactic Teaching)
- Development of Intellectual Skills (Active Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Problem Solving, Exercising Control, Judging)
- Enlarged Understanding of Ideas and Values (Socratic Questioning, Discussion, Arts)

Conventional education usually spends most of its time didactic teaching, and the least of its time on personal clarification of ideas and values.

It always surprises us when we hear 'Great Books' and classical education as being a more rigid or less creative curriculum. If classical education is practiced well, it is not mindless drilling, copying in copybooks, or parroting 'Great Ideas'. Rather a 'classical' student is on a very personal journey to examine events, ideas, and values, to train themselves on habits of thought and reflective thinking, good manners of social discourse and disagreement, and to understand their location within the context of time.

Despite its ancient name (Paideia - the whole education and training of children - mind and morals), the goals of Paideia are to prepare students for active and thoughtful engagement in the world. That means a regular practice as drawing parallels about ideas, practices, and theories in the present as well as in the past.

The recommended reading list from Mortimer Adler and colleagues may surprise some - there's a little Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and even a reference to Zen and the Art of Archery. If we want clarify our thoughts and ideas, it's probably a good idea to read widely and well.
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One nice quote from Robert Hutchins in this book: "If I had a single message for the younger generation I would say, Get ready for anything, because anything is what's going to happen. We don't know what it is, and it's very likely that whatever it is won't be what we now think it is." Paideia might just be the answer.

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