Op-ed: Educational process is broken

A “Nation At Risk,” the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, stated that the decline in educational performances is the result of disturbing inadequacies in the way the educational process is conducted.

The report indicated that these inadequacies are causing the loss of markets, intellectual strengths and spiritual strengths.

Lastly, the report offered five solutions: modify the school curriculum, raise educational expectations, make better use of time, improve the teaching profession and create the proper learning environment.

Mortimer J. Adler, and the Paideia Group have written three books to indicate how these five solutions might be implemented: “The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto,” “The Paideia Program: An Educational Syllabus” and “Paideia Problems and Possibilities.”

The first book outlines the objectives, means and manner of operation of a Paideia School. It allows that everyone is called to earn a living in an intelligent and responsible fashion, to function as intelligent and responsible citizens and to lead intelligent and responsible lives.

Because of this, education should meet four basic objectives: to help the students develop proficiency in the skills that are indispensable to learning and labor; to help the student develop an adequate preparation for discharging the duties and responsibilities for citizenship; to help the student understand how to apply the skills of learning and labor and the knowledge of responsible citizenship to leading intelligent and responsible lives; and to help the student understand the demands and workings of a technologically advanced society and to become acquainted with its main occupations.

The means for achieving these four objectives are as follows: the intellectual skills are to be achieved through the development of a mastery of language and mathematics; the habits of language and mathematics will be acquired by studying those subject areas that prepare one to be a good citizen and to lead a good human life and regardless of sex, career interests or innate abilities all students will learn to handle basic tools and machines. Typing and computers are prime examples of the common skills that are appropriate in whatever career is chosen.

Clearly the skills of listening, speaking, writing, reading, observing, measuring and calculating are essential preparation for any job. But in a world of rapidly changing technology training in a specific vocational area can become quickly outmoded. Hence, students must learn how to learn so they can quickly prepare for new jobs and new careers.

The second book, “The Paideia Program,” provides the syllabus for these courses: oral/written English language and literature, mathematics, science, history, social studies, fine arts, manual arts and physical education.

Said Adler, “a prescribed curricular framework is unavoidable because it provides the only means by which the four ends can be achieved. The country has tried diversity of aims and means and that has failed. A common aim and a common general means are now imperative.” (Program 15.)

The third book, “Paideia Problems and Possibilities,” outlines the manner of operation of the Paideia School.

The kind of learning (knowledge, skills, understanding) will determine the method of teaching (lecture, coaching or Socratic dialogue.) In turn, the methods of teaching will determine the number of students in a class, the size of the room, the kind of furniture and the arrangement of the furniture.

Again, the kind of learning will determine the length of a class period of a particular subject. The matter of a particular subject will determine the order and sequence of instruction.

In conclusion, the principles defined in the Paideia Group makes plain a plan for achieving the five objectives in the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

The National Paideia Center worked with educators in 19 states. Hundreds of schools have adopted aspects of the program. According to the center, “these schools have reported better attendance rates, lower incidence of dropping out and improved test scores.” The Paideia methods have been especially effective with at-risk and minority students.


Dr. Lewis Rutherford, Ph.D, of Parkersburg, taught at West Virginia University, West Virginia University at Parkersburg and the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies for 35 years.


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