Education as Greek Paideia, Chinese Xué (學), and Deweyan Growth

In K. Boudouris (ed.), Paideia: Education in the Global Era, Vol I. Athens, Greece: (2008)
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CONFERENCE PAPER: In the early 20th century, John Dewey helped revolutionize the way education was thought of in the United States. Nearly fifty years after his death, however, much of his vision is still yet to be realized. Perhaps one explanation for this would be that educators have not yet embraced the most important feature of Dewey’s thinking on education, viz. that education as a cumulative process is a interwoven with the continuous developments in social and ethical life, indeed culture itself. As he put it, “Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not preparation for life but is life itself.” When such a view is taken seriously, education becomes coextensive to the values and traditions that we call culture. This is the way that the ancients in Greece through the concept of paideia (perfectly reflected in the gnomic expression, “As I grow old I continue being educated.”) and in China (through the idea of xué) viewed education. This essay will explore how Dewey’s ideas reflected these earlier philosophies of education and the ways in which thinking about education as growth, a là Dewey, can supplement them.

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Christopher Kirby
Eastern Washington University


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