Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Book 2: The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto by Mortimer Adler

I first read this book when I was an undergrad probably 15 years ago. I wrote a philosophy paper about Mortimer Adler, and I received a "B" because, in the words of Dr. Beck, "It is a good paper, it just isn't about philosophy." I remember being inspired by the Paideia Proposal at that time, though it was already at least 12 years old. I wanted to see whether I still found it as innovative as it seemed to me as a student.

In the book, Adler outlines the ideas of the Paideia Group about the reformation of American education. The work is begun with the premise that true democracy cannot be achieved as long as there is unequal education, and that the true goal of our schools must be to teach in a way so that education will continue throughout life. The proposal outlines an educational reform based on a "basic curriculum", common to all students, K-12th grade. This curriculum is to be taught using three methodologies: didactic lectures, coaching, and discussion based on Socratic questioning. In order to spend as much time as possible on the basics, all electives and vocational training are to be eliminated from the program. One can imagine how popular this made the proposal with the shop teachers!

I found I was still intrigued. This was the work that put me on the road to classical homeschooling, working with the time I spent teaching in public schools and realizing how far from Adler's ideals the schools actually were. The Paideia Proposal is a beautiful and grand picture and Adler and the rest of the Paideia Group are vague about how it can best be implemented. Its strengths are its optimism and sheer brilliance, and its weaknesses are practical ones; how to enforce equality at school, when no other area in the students' lives reflect that equality. From the perspective of a homeschooler, the didactic lecture and the coaching I can handle, but where to find the other participants for a Socratic discussion could cause some issues!

The Paideia Proposal
: A


  1. This sounds a fascinating read. I have searched and searched for good debating societies, but it is the trickiest aspect of home-schooling. The main difficulty is that home-schooled children question and debate a great deal more than their school-based counterparts but they need many extra voices to challenge.
    Thank you for your review. I will look out for this book.

  2. I'm currently reading his "how to read a book". So I'm intrigued by this book. Sounds quite interesting. Another one for my wish list. Thanks.


Thank you for your kind comments.