The Paideial Revolution

by Harvey Wheeler


Paideia in Webster's Third International Dictionary (unabridged) is defined as:
"Paideia — education; culture. From 'Paideuein' — to educate. Training in
the physical and mental faculties in such a way as to produce a broad
enlightened mature outlook harmoniously combined with maximum cultural
development."

This article discusses the need for a revolution in paideial acculturation; primarily secondary and college — but also earlier acculturation. Experiments were conducted eight years ago to find out why 55% of the students arriving at high school failed the entry English placement exam; and why four years later they had improved little. As 12th graders they were almost identically deficient in entry level college English. Nearly half the students graduating from a public high school in California were "PseudoLiterate" — unqualified for college and eligible for little better than service industry employment. A new computer-mediated pedagogy was successful. It is described toward the end of this article.

Paideia was the classical Athenian term for acculturation — cultural education of the highest quality. Pundits of all denominations agree that today's America faces a culture crisis. Nothing less than a complete cultural transformation will save our nation.

  • We no longer inhabit a culture that considers itself to be middle class and have Anglo/American roots.
  • "Americanization", "Melting Pot" and "Frontier" are no longer valid.
  • No longer are there common or shared neonatal and maturation "passages" possessed by all children when they enter school.
  • The new challenge to education is to provide an appropriate acculturation for poly-ethnic/poly-linguistic students who enter schools that are full of peer enemies and anxieties; whose teachers are unprepared to cope with either the diverse types of unpreparedness of the students, or with the new pedagogical arts teaching now requires.

These are some of the reasons parents of many different economic and cultural backgrounds find voucher programs attractive, permitting them to choose a schooling environment more congenial to their own children.

It is one of the reasons for the expanding popularity of Catholic and Temple schools, and the demand for their voucher support — in the face of the "wall of separation" prohibition of the Constitution, whose deistic founders implicitly presumed all students would have been given at home a thorough religious upbringing.

Today, most students receive little or no home bedtime and kitchen table neonatal literacy, biblical, or literary foundations. Disney, Nintendo, Pokemon and now, a literary surrogate, Harry Potter, seem to provide the common cultural foundations of childhood.

Most children have grown up in several different housing types and locations. Like "Army Brats" they have no natal or "home town" identity and hence no regional heritage. They are literally family-tree rootless and lack a kinship lore and identity. Their "family" is as polymorphous as is their environment.

The home-maker mother is gone.

The intact marriage is gone.

Multiple job-holding parents are common, as are siblings from different past marriages.

Single parent families are more prevalent than families with both birth parents.

Unmarried pair-headed domiciles are common. If there is marriage, divorce is its natural outcome.

These dysfunctionalities are normal for all locations but are exponentially magnified in our Inner Cities.

In the past, free public high school education was based on the John Dewey reforms of the 1920's.

A high school education was assumed to be a prerequisite to creative occupational and political participation in our democracy. Institutions and economic functions were relatively simple. Their operations could be understood intuitively. Literacy and a basic understanding of how machines and organizations worked were sufficient for functioning creatively in occupations and politics.

In college, these assumptions were continued into the two divisions that led to a BA, Bachelor of Arts, or a BS, Bachelor of Science. The first was more "classical" and qualified one for employment in organizations and commerce — and for graduate school in the professions. The second was more technical and qualified one for employment in technological industries — and for graduate school in engineering or science.

A college education was typically available to the middle and higher classes and constituted an informal class division, within the assumption that all Americans, even the rich, were "middle class". This meant we believed we had no hereditary aristocrats or castes, and could ignore their functional equivalents we possessed.

America was held to be the Promised Land. A Horatio Alger "career open to talents" was accessible by all, even immigrants if they became "Americanized" in night school and read the Saturday Evening Post, to learn how American social institutions worked. The Great Depression and World War II undermined all this. It showed that America did not reward individual industry and personal qualification. At War's end we tried to compensate in two ways. First by introducing Welfare State aid for individual failures, together with remedies for the failure of indigenous social institutions to sustain the people they produced. Second by providing higher education for nearly all willing to struggle for it. The assumption was that individual failures could be remedied by extending education to a higher level.

These efforts were inadequate. Few people were prepared for life in the post-modern "revolutions" that were taking place. The United States was at the forefront of a new form of urbanization, a new industrial order and a new scientific revolution.

1950 was the turning point; the apex of the old and the threshold of the new. We had not resolved the contradictions of the period before WW II but were also confronted with the:

  • Thermonuclear Age;
  • The Bi-Polar Cold War; (followed by America's World Hegemony);
  • The Computer Revolution;
  • The Biological Revolution;
  • A Multi-Cultural Poly-Lingual Society;
  • The Information Era;
  • Global Free Trade Corporatism;
  • Corporate Media Mind Control;
  • A Univocal Party System;
  • Extreme BiPolar Income Distribution;
  • Privatized Impoverishment of Public Resources, Welfare and Education;
  • DeCivilization of the MegaCity Environment;
  • Prison Exile of Deviants and Rebels;
  • Counter-Intuitive Institutions — Complex Beyond Comprehension;
  • Unrelieved Poverty and Illness;
  • The Obsolescence of Schools;
  • The Irrelevance of Education;
  • The Incompetence of Teachers;
  • Virtual Institutions in a Virtual Society.

We believed that full employment and mass marketing would solve everything. They solved nothing. They destroyed the working class, increased off-shore manufacturing, created the services economy, demanded style obsolescence, disposable goods, environmental depletion, and atmosphere degradation.

This country is in a deep, maintenance-deferred, violence-prone crisis.

Can education come to the rescue?

Not education as we know it. Our schools cannot cure anything.

A new form of education could clarify causes and reveal remedies; could take us beyond the failings of intuitive perceptions and into the computer-mediated world of systems-theoretic counter-intuitive understanding: a new Paideia hermeneutics.

Nothing else can.

An educational revolution is a prerequisite to American political, social and economic reconstruction. This is so because only a new kind of computer-mediated Information Systems education can extend the capacity of the human mind beyond the limits of its natural capacities and bring it up to the level of sophistication required for the reconstruction of our social system.

That level of comprehension must be made universal — available to all — or American democracy is dead.

The educational revolution America requires must be freely extended and officially required of all people: a total redesign of education, pedagogy, and its universal distribution.

Nothing like this is available today. That is why we much take an entirely new look at secondary and college education.

The C-MODE (Computer-Mediated Online and Distant) pedagogy is designed to cope with these situations. It does so superbly well. Its survey-based diagnosis of "PseudoLiteracy led to the computer-based "Boot Camp" training program that brought all students, including those diagnosed as "At Risk", up to competent literacy in standard English.

C-MODE's development of the conventional English curriculum into The Universal Humanities permitted providing a "Youth On Earth" foundation in the Wisdom Classics of the great cultures of the past, giving all students an understanding of the multi-cultural achievements of our species.

Special computer-based Socratic Dialogue tutorials using selected classics led the students through the gateway into Piagetian "Formal Operations" — the prerequisite to competence in the new Applied Hermeneutics.

Training in the C-MODE Romandala Process provided qualification for advance placement in college, or employment in the information processing professions — database entry and processing.

Today's conditions are so complex and so counter-intuitive, in the meaning of MIT's Jay Forrester, that the unaided human mind is incapable of crisis-solving. Not even our wisest minds can perceive the systemic roots of dysfunctional crises. Rather, like treating skin cancer with menthol salve, we deal only with the surface manifestations of dysfunctional crises. Superficial fixes of crises aggravate the underlying malfunctions that produced the crisis.

The prerequisite to social restructuring is the redesign, on a "paideial" scope, our acculturation. This goes against the traditional philosophy of education which has held that education is a reflective, not a causative institution. Even Robert M. Hutchins, the great reformer of the University of Chicago, believed education to be a derivative, epiphenomenal, institution and not itself capable of curing the root causes of social malfunctions.

The need today is to apply revolutionary principles to education as a whole, including college and the professions: a Paideial Revolution — the reconstruction our culture.

Harvey Wheeler


Text Version | Contents | Home | Constitution Society