The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Ghosts of Paideia’s Past

Paideians play didgeridoos in the SU.

Paideia has undergone significant transformations since its original conception in 1967 by Michael Lanning, who was then a freshman at Reed. Lanning had proposed a 6-week break from classes during which students could earn credit for Unstructured Independent Study (UIS), which later acquired the current moniker, Paideia (a term that harkens back to Classical Athens and the concept of education as liberation). Although faculty did not approve of earning credit for UIS, a seed had been planted, and in January 1969 the first UIS was given a month-long run by interested students, staff and alumni.

On July 22, 1968, Kathy Lazar, the first Paideia chairman, wrote a letter to incoming Reedies, attempting to quell any nerves that new students might have had about the previously unheard-of Paideia program. As Lazar wrote in ’68, “The program was designed to meet a need at Reed that is stated by each student as ‘If I only had the time, I would…’ followed by whatever their personal interests and goals were.” Lazar invited students to contribute ideas about the germinating program. Lazar’s openness toward suggestion would ensure that Paideia responded to students’ interests.

Lazar also informed students that establishing Paideia was an arduous process. “Paideia underwent a long series of discussions,” she wrote, “first by students, then by the Educational Policy Committee, and finally by the faculty before it was approved.” Lazar explained that approval would only be granted on a temporary basis and that an examination of student participation and interest throughout Paideia’s first run would determine whether or not the program would continue. Lazar admitted, “There are many doubts among some students and faculty members as to the usefulness and probable results of Paideia.”

The Sunday Oregonian introduced Portland to Paideia later that summer. The August 11 issue includes the article “Reed College Moves into Independent Study Program.” The piece explains the Unstructured Independent Study, which would allow students to take time off classes for the entire month of January: “UIS is for students who want to engage in extra-curricular academic and creative projects that have not been feasible in the conventional schedule…students may use the time for creative endeavors like painting or film-making; for intensified research projects; or for social work, tutoring, and other urban educational programs.”

Rory Bowman (’90) explained that Paideia was originally planned and supervised by a committee of students, faculty, and director of student activities. Bowman said that these Paideia committees, appointed in early fall or late spring, served the entire academic year to survey interest, schedule events and recruit presenters. The committees often ran satisfaction surveys and formal reports at the end of each Paideia.

On March 24, 1969, the Memorandum to the Community of Paideia ’69 reported that the first Paideia was largely successful. The memorandum began “On a purely numerical basis it is clear that a sufficiently large number of people participated in the program.” It was also noted that “Certain seminars were inordinately successful (FORTRAN and Assembler Computer Seminars, Mythology, Calligraphy, I-Ching and Chinese Brush Painting, to name a few) attendance at cultural affairs was generally high, and workshops were likewise well attended.” Other classes that first Paideia included Metalsmith Jewelry, African Dance Studio, Creative Writing, and Survival Training Camp. The memorandum distributed a post-Paideia questionaire in which 86% of students voted to continue Paideia and 11% of students voted to discontinue it.

But within two decades of that founding year Paideia dramatically downsized its schedule. Bowman wrote that Paideia ran a month long well throughout the 1980′s, “with varying degrees of faculty participation, criticism and disillusionment.” Faculty and staff participation on the Paideia committee had declined by the mid-80′s. According to Bowman, Paideia ’81 ran from January 5-25, and in 1982 it ran from January 4-22. In 1983 it shrank to January 10-23. There were even suggestions to abandon Paideia altogether.

The “Paideia committee” system has since been abandoned. However, Bowman reported that “There is a cadre of alumni who care deeply about Paideia and there will be a session about Paideia at Reed reunions in late May. If a group of students cares about Paideia and wants to see it continue in a solid way, this semester would be a terrific time to come together. The stars are aligning for anyone who wants to steer by them.”

Bowman suggests that “The best Paideias are put together by a time that is identified before fall semester so they can brainstorm, survey and recruit; able to put out a printed, preliminary schedule before Thanksgiving, with a variety of events throughout the entire period, which bring together various aspects of the Reed community and the outside world.”

The future of Paideia, a tradition founded upon the desire for free-form exploration of intellectual and artistic thirst, will continue to thrive as long as current students and alumni make time to work together, early and often.

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