Saturday, November 21, 2009

Excerpts from Mortimer J. Adler's "The Paideia Proposal"



Equality of educational opportunity is not, in fact, provided if it means no more than taking all the children into the public schools for the same number of hours, days, and years. If once there they are divided into the sheep and the goats, into those destined solely for toil and those destined for economic and political leadership and for a quality of life to which all should have access, then the democratic purpose has been undermined by an inadequate system of public schooling.
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We are politically a classless society. Our citizenry as a whole is our ruling class. We should, therefore, be an educationally classless society.
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Vocational training, training for particular jobs, is not the education of free men and women.
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There are no unteachable children. There are only schools and teachers and parents who fail to teach them.
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Education is a lifelong process of which schooling is only a small but necessary part. ...Learning never reaches a terminal point. As long as one remains alive and healthy, learning can go on - and should. The body does not continue to grow after the first eighteen or twenty years of life. In fact, it starts to decline after that. But mental, moral, and spiritual growth can go on and should go on for a lifetime.

The ultimate goal of the educational process is to help human beings become educated persons. Schooling is the preparatory stage; it forms the habit of learning and provides the means for continuing to learn after all schooling is completed. ...Schooling, basic or advanced, that does not prepare the individual for further learning has failed, no matter what else it succeeds in doing. ...Schooling should open the doors to the world of learning and provide the guidelines for exploring it. ...Every child should be able to look forward not only to growing up but also to continued growth in all human dimensions throughout life. All should aspire to make as much of their powers as they can.
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The reason why universal suffrage in a true democracy calls for universal public schooling is that the former without the latter produces an ignorant electorate and amounts to a travesty of democratic institutions and processes. To avoid this danger, public schooling must be universal in more than its quantitative aspect. It must be universal also in its qualitative aspect.
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Specialized or particularized job training at the level of basic schooling is in fact the reverse of something practical and effective in a society that is always changing and progressing. Anyone so trained will have to be retrained when he or she comes to his or her job. The techniques and technology will have moved on since the training in school took place.

Why, then, was such false vocationalism ever introduced into our schools? As the school population rapidly increased in the early decades of (the 20th) century, educators and teachers turned to something that seemed more appropriate to do with that portion of the school population which they incorrectly and unjustly appraised as being uneducable - only trainable. In doing this, they violated the fundamental democratic maxim of equal educational opportunity.

As compared with narrow, specialized training for particular jobs, general schooling is of the greatest practical value.
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Electives and specialization are entirely proper at the level of advanced schooling - in our colleges, universities, and technical schools. They are wholly inappropriate at the level of basic schooling.
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Participation in the creation of works of art is as important as viewing, listening to, and discussing them.
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The idea behind the Head Start experiment was, indeed, a sound one. Preparation for schooling is not a dispensable accessory to the reform we are proposing. It is an essential ingredient....
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Our future teachers should...follow a course of study that is general, liberal, and humanistic. That course of study will add to their knowledge, develop their intellectual powers, and enlarge their understanding beyond the level of attainment set for basic schooling. ...

The course of study here proposed for the preparation of teachers does not include most or much of what is now taught to college students who plan to teach and specialize for it by taking their majors in departments of education or in teachers colleges.
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"The goal at which any phase of education, true to itself, should aim," John Dewey declared, "is more education. Other objectives may surround that goal, but it is central."
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Our concern is double-edged. We have two fundamental goals in view. One is equipping all the children of this country to earn a good living for themselves. The other is enabling them to lead good human lives.
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A basic human right is the right to obtain a decent livelihood by working for it under decent conditions. Those whom the economy leaves unemployed through no fault of their own are unjustly deprived of an essential human right which is indispensable to their pursuit of happiness.
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You may be skeptical about the efficacy of your own involvement in political affairs. But you cannot love your country and at the same time be indifferent about the future of its free institutions.
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Human resources are the nation's greatest potential riches. To squander them is to impoverish our future.

Mortimer J. Adler
--The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto

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