In the culture of ancient Greece, the term paideia (also spelled paedeia) (/paɪˈdeɪə/;[1] Greek: παιδεία, paideía) referred to the rearing and education of the ideal member of the polis. It incorporated both practical, subject-based schooling and a focus upon the socialization of individuals within the aristocratic order of the polis. The practical aspects of this education included subjects subsumed under the modern designation of the liberal arts (rhetoric, grammar, and philosophy are examples), as well as scientific disciplines like arithmetic and medicine. An ideal and successful member of the polis would possess intellectual, moral and physical refinement, so training in gymnastics and wrestling was valued for its effect on the body alongside the moral education which the Greeks believed was imparted by the study of music, poetry, and philosophy. This approach to the rearing of a well-rounded Greek male was common to the Greek-speaking world, with the exception of Sparta where a rigid and militaristic form of education known as the agoge was practiced.

Isocrates pushkin
Isocrates, shown here in a copy of a bust from Villa Albani in Rome, was one of the foremost thinkers about paideia.

The idea of paideia

The Greeks considered paideia to be carried out by the aristocratic class who tended to intellectualize their culture and their ideas. The culture and the youth were "moulded" to the ideal of kalos kagathos, "beautiful and good." This idea is similar to that of the medieval knights, their culture, and the English concept of the gentleman.

Greek paideia is the idea of perfection, of excellence. The Greek mentality was "to be always pre-eminent"; Homer records this charge of King Peleus to his son Achilles. This idea is called arete. "Arete was the central ideal of all Greek culture."[2]

In the Iliad, Homer portrays the excellence of the physicality and courage of the Greeks and Trojans. In The Odyssey, Homer accentuates the excellence of the mind, or wit, that was also necessary for winning. Arete is a concomitant of what it meant to be a hero and a component of warfare that was necessary in order to succeed. It is the ability to "make his hands keep his head against enemies, monsters, and dangers of all kinds, and to come out victorious."[3]

This mentality can also be seen in the Greeks' tendency to reproduce and copy only literature that was deemed the "best", in the Olympic games, and in literature, with competitions in poetry, tragedy, and comedy. "Arete" was infused in everything the Greeks did. The mentality of arete can be stretched even further to the competing paideias of the Greek philosophers Isocrates and Plato, who both created highly influential schools in Greece. Although both rejected the current polis education, their rivalry of rhetoric and science for leadership in the realm of education and culture became one that they could not overcome.[4] In Antidosis, Isocrates was compelled to defend himself against accusations that education makes people depraved, a charge that Socrates and Plato openly discuss in Republic. In Isocrates introductory speech Against the Sophists, it is clear that he has Plato's 'prospectuses' Gorgias and Protagoras, before him, and is deliberately trying to set up his own ideal of paideia in contrast to theirs.[4]

In modern discourse, the German-American classicist Werner Jaeger, in his influential magnum opus Paideia (3 vols. from 1934; see below), uses the concept of paideia to trace the development of Greek thought and education from Homer to Demosthenes. The concept of paideia was also used by Mortimer Adler in his criticism of contemporary Western educational systems, and Lawrence A. Cremin in his histories of American education.

The golden mean

The Greeks described themselves as "Lovers of Beauty", and they were very much attuned to aesthetics. They saw and appreciated beauty in nature. They noticed a particular proportion called the golden ratio (roughly 1.618) and its recurrence in many things. They spoke of the need for balance as the golden mean—choosing the middle and not either extreme—and believed that beauty was not in the superficialities of color, light, or shade, but in the essence of being, expressed in structure, line, and proportion.

The Greeks sought balance in all aspects of human endeavor and experience. The Golden Mean is the cultural expression of this principle throughout the Greek paideia: architecture, art, politics, and human psychology.

Isocrates' influence

Isocrates helped in making Athens one of the leaders in Greece through his paideia. Isocrates' goal was to construct a practice of education and politics that gave validity in the democratic deliberative practice while remaining intellectually respectable.[5] He wanted to elevate his Athenian audience to the level of philosophia by making them apply, in particular, a principle of intellectual consistency to their lives. The fundamental aspects of his paideia was achievement of consistency on the individual, the civic, and the panhellic level.[5] Isocrotean paideia became crucial to the survival of the polis through the identification of rhetorical with political excellence and the elevation of the Isocrotean audience to the status of philosophoi.

Sayings and proverbs that defined paideia

  • "'Know thyself' and 'Nothing in Excess,' which were on everyone's lips."[6] Words inscribed on the temple at Delphi.
  • "Hard is the Good."[7]

See also


  1. ^ OED
  2. ^ Jaeger, Paideia I.15.
  3. ^ Jaeger, Paideia II.56.
  4. ^ a b Jaeger, Werner. "The Conflict of Cultural Ideals in the Age of Plato." Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. Vol. 3. New York: Oxford UP, n.d. 46-70. Print
  5. ^ a b Morgan, Kathryn. "The Education of Athens." 125-153
  6. ^ Plato, Protagoras 343b.
  7. ^ Plato, Republic 435c.


Further reading


Arete (Greek: ἀρετή), in its basic sense, means "excellence of any kind". The term may also mean "moral virtue". In its earliest appearance in Greek, this notion of excellence was ultimately bound up with the notion of the fulfillment of purpose or function: the act of living up to one's full potential.

The term from Homeric times onwards is not gender specific. Homer applies the term of both the Greek and Trojan heroes as well as major female figures, such as Penelope, the wife of the Greek hero Odysseus. In the Homeric poems, Arete is frequently associated with bravery, but more often with effectiveness. The person of Arete is of the highest effectiveness; they use all their faculties—strength, bravery, and wit—to achieve real results. In the Homeric world, then, Arete involves all of the abilities and potentialities available to humans.

In some contexts, Arete is explicitly linked with human knowledge, where the expressions "virtue is knowledge" and "Arete is knowledge" are used interchangeably. The highest human potential is knowledge and all other human abilities are derived from this central capacity. If Arete is knowledge and study, the highest human knowledge is knowledge about knowledge itself; in this light, the theoretical study of human knowledge, which Aristotle called "contemplation", is the highest human ability and happiness.

Bannister Academy

Bannister Academy (Filipino: Akademyang Bannister) is a private school located in Circulo Verde, Bagumbayan, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Bannister Academy first opened its doors in school year 2010–2011. It currently offers classes from preschool to high school, following the current K to 12 curriculum. It offers a holistic program which includes a mentoring system for its students, and an academic discipline inspired by the Paideia Program.

Barbara Lerner Spectre

Barbara Lerner Spectre (born 1942) is an academic and philosophy lecturer, who is the founding director of Paideia, the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, a non-denominational academic institute established in 2001.

Cincinnati Public Schools

Cincinnati Public Schools (often abbreviated CPS) is the U.S. state of Ohio's third-largest public school district, by enrollment, after Cleveland and Columbus, but ahead of Toledo. Cincinnati Public Schools is the largest Ohio school district rated as least 'effective'. Founded in 1829 as the Common Schools of Cincinnati, it is governed by the Cincinnati Board of Education.

Dallas Baptist University

Dallas Baptist University (DBU), formerly known as Dallas Baptist College, is a Christian liberal arts university located in Dallas, Texas. The main campus is located approximately 12 miles (19 km) southwest of downtown Dallas overlooking Mountain Creek Lake. Founded in 1898 as Decatur Baptist College, Dallas Baptist University currently operates campuses in Dallas, Plano, and Hurst.

Josefa Martín Luengo

Josefa Martín Luengo (Salamanca, Spain, 1944 - Salamanca, Spain, 1 July 2009), was a free pedagogy researcher.

Merrol Hyde Magnet School

Merrol Hyde Magnet School (MHMS) is a K–12 school in Hendersonville, Tennessee adhering to the Paideia philosophy. It is the only magnet school in Sumner County and ranked third in Tennessee and 64th in the nation.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Metro Nashville Public Schools, or MNPS, is a school district that serves the city of Nashville, Tennessee and Davidson County. More than 82,000 students are currently enrolled in the district's 73 elementary schools, 33 middle schools, 25 high schools, 18 charter schools, and eight specialty schools.

Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer Jerome Adler (December 28, 1902 – June 28, 2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. He lived for long stretches in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, and San Mateo, California. He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler's own Institute for Philosophical Research.

Oakland Technical High School

Oakland Technical High School, known locally as Oakland Tech or simply "Tech", is a public high school in Oakland, California, United States, and is operated under the jurisdiction of the Oakland Unified School District. It is one of six comprehensive public high school campuses in Oakland. Oakland Tech's attendance jurisdiction includes several neighborhoods, including Oakland Chinatown, Rockridge, North Oakland, and Temescal.

Tech received the maximum 6-year accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 2009.

Paideia Institute

The Paideia Institute for Humanistic Study is a non-profit educational organization, focused on promoting the studying and appreciation of classical languages.

Paideia Proposal

The Paideia Proposal is a K–12 educational reform plan proposed by Mortimer Adler. Adler was a prolific author, and references to the Paideia plan for educational reform can be found in a number of his books listed in the references below.

Queens Paideia School

The Queens Paideia School (QPS) is a progressive, independent school in Long Island City, Queens. Established in 2009, the school serves students in kindergarten through 8th grade. The school is a demonstration project with a goal of proving the Paideia model can be expanded and implemented economically while maintaining the 6:1 student-to-teacher ratio.

Robert Palladino

Robert Palladino (November 5, 1932 – February 26, 2016) was an American Trappist monk, calligrapher, and academic. He was a professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where he taught Steve Jobs, and replaced Lloyd J. Reynolds as the head of the calligraphy program. Jobs credits Palladino's class with inspiring him to include multiple fonts on the original Mac. Despite his influence on Jobs, Palladino never owned a computer.Although Reed's calligraphy program was dissolved in the 1980s, since 2012 The Calligraphy Initiative in Honor of Lloyd J. Reynolds, a program of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, has introduced a new generation of Reed students and community members to the study and practice of calligraphy and paleography through a weekly Scriptorium. A month before his death in 2016, Robert Palladino returned during Reed's Paideia as a guest instructor.

Seymour Itzkoff

Seymour William Itzkoff (born 1928) is an American professor who has published research on intelligence. He has taught at Smith College since 1965 where he is professor emeritus of education and child study.

Shroder Paideia High School (Cincinnati, Ohio)

Shroder Paideia High School, also known as Shroder Paideia Academy or Shroder High School, is a public junior high and high school (7-12) located in the Madisonville neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. It is part of the Cincinnati Public Schools.

The school is a team-based magnet school dedicated to the Paideia philosophy. The Paideia philosophy is based upon the belief that all students can be successful in a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. Their classroom instruction includes direct, didactic teaching,

coaching activities and in-depth seminar discussions.

The Paideia School

The Paideia School (pronounced "pie-day-uh") is a private independent school in the Druid Hills neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. It enrolls children ages 3 through 18.

The Paideia School of Tampa Bay

The Paideia School of Tampa Bay is a private, classical Christian school serving grades K - 12, located in Tampa, Florida, United States. "Paideia" is the Koine Greek word for "education". The school's stated goal is to use classical education techniques, based on a traditional Christian philosophy, to teach logical thinking, elegant speech, and persuasive writing.

University Paideia

University Paideia is a United States 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation founded by Stanford University alumni Jack Schneider and Michael Dunson. The program is an intensive four week summer institute designed to give low-income students a greater sense of educational self-efficacy, a higher level of comfort in an academic environment, and a greater ability to make connections between different topics and ideas. The program also has a second objective – exposing college undergraduates interested in teaching to working with talented underserved students.

In its inaugural summer, 2008, the program brought together three undergraduates and 13 low-income students in a curriculum focused on teaching and learning. The program culminated in three days of school, designed and run by teams of four to five high school students and one undergraduate.

The aim is to:

improve the educational outcomes of high achieving minority students by using the expertise of former and prospective teachers to provide high school students time and space for self-cultivation and the pursuit of their intellectual passions.

To encourage talented undergraduates to enter into the teaching profession, and to do so in underserved communities.This aim is pursued through a summer institute that will bring high school students, undergraduate prospective teachers, and former teachers together in a program that breaks down traditional school roles and enables the individuals involved to learn from each other.

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