May 21, 2005


What Kind of Education Is Required in a Democracy? (Tom Palaima, 5/02/05, History News Network)

Democracy depends on what the ancient Greeks called paideia. This word is often translated as "education," but, as you might expect from my other columns about ancient Greek ideas and realities, this word needs lots of nuancing. In its root sense, it means something like "the process of child-ing" - i.e., all that goes into making sure that a newborn baby will mature into an adult with the abilities of mind, moral sensibilities, self-discipline, habits, sense of cultural history and tradition, and intellectual skills that a member of a society should possess. It is, then, a flexible tool. The regimented, oligarchic-socialist Spartan state practiced one form of paideia. The radically democratic Athenians could and should have used quite another.

The Greeks meant something much different by "education" than we do. Just as they would not recognize our virulent strain of "government-bashing" - ironically, promoted by the government's leaders - or the notion that government is an entity separate from ourselves, so, too, they would find unimaginable how we discuss our "educational system" as something that we can blame others for getting it wrong. And they would find current proposals for improving this system, such as accountability through overloads of standardized testing, counter to what paideia is supposed to achieve.

So it is easy for us to misunderstand what it takes in the way of education, or we might call it preparation or even nurturing, for citizens to make democracy work. Proper democratic paideia incorporates respectful habits of mind and behavior, the ability to speak clearly and persuasively and listen respectfully in public forums, and a commitment to hard work. It takes dedication to the common good and a corresponding willingness to sacrifice personal desires.

The only thing we have public schools for we no longer allow them to teach.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 21, 2005 4:57 PM

Might thiss be termed "socialization".

Posted by: jd watson at May 22, 2005 5:30 AM

No, they need Math and Science also. What they do not need is anything the modern academy thinks of as "Humanities."

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at May 23, 2005 1:29 AM