Paideia for the 21st Century: Aims

“Omnia me mecum porto”

It’s been a little more than a week since I retired from the New York City public school system. I salute and feel the pain of all the good people who remain, struggling, achieving small victories through the cracks. I am now slowly waking up from a bad dream. Something is wrong, we all feel it.  The phenomenon is worldwide: this skepticism regarding these “systems”, especially education. No one believes in them, not the students, not the teachers, not even the administrators. Our data driven systems have enabled the technocrats to say that crime is down, employment is up, and more children than ever are going to college. More college graduates than ever are living at home with their parents to pay off student loans with their Starbucks job. The labor participation rate is as low as it was in 1977, the years of stagflation. Crime? We don’t know how the police department handles their “stats”. Yet everyone feels the stench underneath, that something is rotten with the whole edifice. My reference to Gatto’s work in my last blog illuminates the real function of “education” in today’s world, and it is universal. It becomes more glaringly obvious when one considers that most jobs really don’t require that much instructional time. Something else is afoot.

That something has to do with choking the individual out of their creativity, their natural impulses of wonder and exploration, their inner art and science, math, music and poetry, their soul. I used the word paideia because it is perhaps an outmoded word that is thought to have something to do with education. I have used it to refer back to Werner Jaeger’s description of the paideia of Socrates:

It is Socrates’ idea of the aim of life which marks the decisive point in the history of paideia. It threw a new light on the purpose and duty of education. Education is not the cultivation of certain abilities, it is not the communication of certain branches of knowledge…The real essence of education is that it enables men to reach the true aim of their lives. It is thus identical with the Socratic effort to attain phronesis–knowledge of the Good. (Jaeger, Paideia: the ideals of Greek culture, p. 69)

A few pages later, Jaeger adds, tellingly for our purpose here:

For the followers of Socrates, paideia became the sum total of “all that was his”—his inner life, his spiritual being, his culture. In the struggle of man to retain his soul’s liberty in a world full of threatening elemental forces, paideia became the whole unshakable nucleus of resistance. (ibid, p 71)

Are we now in a world full of threatening elemental forces? Do we need the kind of knowledge so that we can retain that unshakable nucleus of resistance.

In the blogs that follow, I will offer my humble views on what we can do to start healing ourselves, and perhaps our systems, and maybe even move toward a positive ideal of human unity, which now appears to be a unity of servitude and misery for most.













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