Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Paidea Proposal: Mortimer Adler's Proposal to Reform Education

Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto, Simom & Schuster, 1998, 84 pages, ISBN 978-0-684-84188-5.

The Padeia Proposal is Mortimer Adler's proposal for reforming public education. This book presents his philosophy for reforming K-12 public education. Paideia is from the Greek pais, paidos: the upbringing of a child. It is similar to the Latin humanitas related to the term humanities which refers to the general learning that is needed to become an educated human being. Adler's basic proposal is how schooling can help students to become educated persons.

Adler believes that this type of education is required because of two advances in Western Civilization: "universal suffrage and universal schooling." Universal schooling refers to the privilege that all people once they reach a certain age have the right to vote. The second is that individuals are required to go to school for several years. One requirement of this schooling is to prepare students to fulfill their citizenship duties.

Adler believes there should be "a one-track system of schooling." In other words, he believes there should be one type of education for all students. In disagrees with the two track system of sending one group of students to college prep courses and another group of students to vocational courses. He believes that the best education for the best should be the best education for all. He thinks schooling should prepare students "for the duties of self-governing citizenship and for the enjoyment of things of the mind and spirit that are essential to a good human life." The end of education should determine the means of education. John Dewey said that vocational training is "not the education of free men and women." Adler agrees that students are "educable in various degrees," but he still believes that all students should receive the "same kind and quality of education."

Adler sees education as "a lifelong process of which schooling is only a small but necessary part." He believes schooling is to provide the tools to become educated in a lifetime. He thinks the ultimate goal of schooling "is to help human beings become educated persons." He generally thinks that people do not become educated till they reach their fifties. He believes that becoming educated requires both schooling and experience. In addition, he thinks schooling that "does not prepare the individual for further learning has failed, no matter what else it succeeds in doing." Schooling should not only prepare the student for further learning; it should also "prepare all of them for the continuation of education in adult life."

How can schools accomplish this task? Adler argues that they can do this "by imparting to them the skills of learning and giving them the stimulation that will motivate them to keep their minds actively engaged in learning." The skills of learning are basically the liberal arts: read, writing, speaking, listening, measuring, evaluating, and thinking. By having these skills the students will be able to be lifelong learners. To live well involves both learning "as well as earning."

The Padeia Proposal includes four parts. The first part covers the philosophy of schooling citizens of the rebublic which was covered above. The second part discuuses the "essentials of basic schooling." These include: The same objectives for all; the same course of study for all; overcoming initial impediments; and individual differences. The chapter on the same objectives for all discusses why the Padeia Proposal "advocates the same objectives for all without exception." He believes that having the same objectives for all is the way to achieve the goal of preparing the student to continue learning after they leave school. Students should be able "look forward not only to growing up but also to continued growth in all human dimensions throughout life." A two track system works against this goal. It provides only some students the means to achieve this end. A second reason is the need to prepare students for citizenship duties and responsibilities. The third reason is the student will need "to earn a living in one or another vocation."

In chapter four he describes the method of proving this basic schooling for all students. He divides schooling into three columns of learning. Column one is the "acquisition of organized knowledge." This is acquired through lectures and responses, and textbooks and other aids. The second column is developing the intellectual skills through "coaching, exercises, and supervised practice" by performing the operations of reading, writing, listening, speaking, calculating, problem solving, measuring, estimating, and exercising critical judgement. The last column is enlarging understanding and values through socratic questioning and active participation in the discussion of books (not textbooks), and involvement in other artistic activities. Schools today tend to spend most of their time if not all their column of column 1--didactic instruction and the use of textbooks.

Part three discusses teaching and learning. It includes a chapter on preparing teachers and  a chapter on the principal. Another chapter describes some things that need to be kept in mind. First, "all genuine learning" is active, not passive. It exercises the mind, not just the memory. How do we involve the mind in learning? We do it "by inviting and entertaining questions, by encouraging and sustaining inquiry, by supervising helpfully a wide variety of exercises and drills, by leading discussions . . ." All learning is by discovery either with aid from someone else or no aid from another. Most learning is done by receiving assistance from someone else. Someone who knows what needs to be learned. However, it is not by poring the information in the student's head. This is a form of brainwashing, not teaching. The main actor in learning is the learner himself with assistance from another. The teacher is like a midwife helping a woman to deliver a baby. It is the pregnant woman who is doing all the work. The midwife is assisting the woman to deliver the baby. Adler thinks Dewey's assertion that learning is by doing is often misinterpreted. He believes Dewey is talking about intellectual doing. The student learn to read by reading, to write by writing, and so on. The teacher is to guide the student in helping them to develop the intellectual skills of learning. Adler believes the third column needs to be emphasized more where the student both asks and answers questions.

The last part of The Padeia Proposal discusses issues beyond basic schooling. The first chapter of this part is on "Higher Learning." Dewey said, "The goal at which any phrase of education, true to itself, should aim in more education." In other words, basic schooling should prepare the student for more learning. As long as we are breathing, we should be learning. It takes a lifetime to become an educated human being. Another chapter discusses "earning and living well." Basic schooling has two goals in mind: "One is equipping all the children of this country to earn a living for themselves. The other is enabling them to lead good human lives." Aristotle's Ethics is a good guidebook on living well. It is prospering in all areas of our life. It is the goal of living a full and meaningful life. By acquiring the skills of the liberal arts, the student will be able to accomplish both these goals.

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