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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Twelve: Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982)


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Mortimer J. Adler, The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto (1982)

Joseph Watras

When Mortimer Adler published the first volume of The Paideia Proposal in 1982, he told his readers that the term paideia was from the ancient Greek and referred to the general learning that was appropriate for all people in the society. Subtitled “an educational manifesto,” Adler’s The Paideia Proposal was a declaration of aims for school reform. Accordingly, it was more a political document than a reasoned philosophical treatise.

By reputation, Adler was a philosopher, yet he had not been trained in philosophy. Lacking a high school diploma, Adler entered Columbia University in 1921 after taking extension courses. The university granted him standing as a sophomore and extended a scholarship. He chose psychology as his area of study and, for his Ph.D., wrote his dissertation on ways to measure appreciation of music. Nonetheless, Robert Maynard Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago, asked Adler to join the philosophy department. When the faculty members complained that Adler lacked the proper training and background, Hutchins created a position for Adler in the law school as professor of philosophy of law.1

Synopsis and Climate of the Times

In the course of his career, Adler wrote several books in which he tried to make philosophy popular. His The Paideia Proposal took the same direction with what might be called general education. Adler...

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