Students anywhere from kindergarten to twelfth grade are given a text to examine: a poem, a painting, a chart or graph, a short story, and essay, a word problem, a diagram, a map, a sculpture, or the description of a scientific experiment. With the class sitting facing one another, the teacher initiates the conversation with the goal of improving students’ individual ability to think about and communicate in “a discussion of the ideas, the values, and the forms embodied in [the] products of human art.” (Mortimer Adler) When engaged in a seminar, the individual participant is witness both to the thinking process of other individuals and to the collective thinking process of the group. Both of these can serve as an educative model for clear, flexible, coherent thinking. The Paideia Seminar is also designed to support collaborative discourse, and therefore, requires that students practice complex social skills.
Objectives for a seminar can be intellectual, social, and/or curricular, and connects to specific ideas, values, or concepts, such as, beauty, citizenship, compassion, perseverance, slavery, physics, war and peace, and a host of other possibilities. A set of objectives for a seminar on the Pledge of Allegiance, for example, might read: to think about liberty and justice; to practice building on others’ statements.
We have faculty seminars designed to invite the school’s adult learners into a dialogue about ideas and values relevant to the profession. We have schoolwide seminars designed to unify and strengthen the culture of our school. We also have content-area seminars design to be integrated into the learning life of the individual classroom in order to support student thinking about the curriculum in one or more subjects.
Paideia is that… and much, much more.
“Paideia” is a wonderful term—rich and ancient—yet quite accessible. Basically it means “education.” From the Greek pais (child), paidos, paideuein (to educate, to develop the child), it is essentially the upbringing, the rearing, of a child. Those Greek words are also related to “pedagogy” and “pediatrics.”
Paideia is the Greek word for instruction, discipline, and upbringing. In Athens, paideia became the means to produce the kind of person who could take an active part in the affairs of the polis, the city-state. Collectively these people would make the decisions about domestic policy, foreign relations, and the appointment of military leadership. These people would ultimately determine the quality and fate of the community.
Our goal is the same: to develop citizens “both beautiful and good,” servants of the community. Through Paideia we address the culture of the mind and the civilized life, as well as the influences, processes, and techniques for the making of such a person. MCA’s democratic and moral classicism is well suited for this purpose because it has a profound and far-reaching goal: the wise and virtuous soul.