Throughout its 49 year history, Paideia has faced two major dilemmas: low attendance and lack of organization. Paideia was originally conceived by a freshman named Michael Lanning in 1967. Lanning proposed a six week hiatus from normal classes, and proposed that students be able to request academic credit for the projects they carried out during the “Unstructured Independent Study.” 850 students signed a petition in support of Lanning’s proposal, and in 1969 a month between winter break and spring semester was set aside for an experimental program known as “Independent Activities Period.” This month long program embodied a very different vision than the week of fun classes held over Paideia today, focusing on bringing administrative and faculty resources to serve student interests beyond the traditional curriculum.
According to Classics professor Wally Englert, the Greek word paideia comes from the same root word as “child” (pais), and was the standard word in ancient Greek meaning “training, teaching, education.” It also came to have a somewhat broader meaning of “culture, system of learning.” While Reed’s January program was not originally called Paideia, it was dubbed so by students shortly after it began.
The original visions for Paideia were ambitious, focusing on collaboration between students, staff, and faculty on long term projects. Grand plans are described to host “symposia” on important topics such as a retrospective on the Vietnam war and presentations featuring panels of experts, speakers, and seminars. Field trips to hikes and camping in the Columbia River Gorge, the Coast, and the Reed Ski Cabin were proposed to take place during Paideia weekends. It was a beautiful idea.
Classes and workshops about engaging in activism with the wider Portland community and various world issues were very popular throughout the seventies, featuring projects in which environmental groups arranged meetings between Reedies and Portland city planners to discuss ways to improve living conditions in the city. Looking through the class catalogs and advertisements, you can appreciate certain years’ hot topics and student body interests.
Judging from its catalog, Paideia 1978 seemed to be especially vibrant, with movie showings every night, Nuclear Reactor operation classes, and several faculty lecture series. At this time, people outside of the Reed community were welcome to take Paideia classes, and many did, to the point where some classes were attended exclusively by the public. That year’s Paideia report mentions that students seemed more interested in relaxing than in the scheduled events and activities.
By 1980, Paideia had grown into an important part of the Reed education, while also having changed considerably in intention and scope since its early days. Criticism of Paideia was abundant and diverse: some students claimed that there weren’t enough interesting activities and events to make coming back to campus early worthwhile; others said that more events were not possible without increased participation. Paideia was critiqued for having lost its original purpose of providing time for serious projects and had instead become an extended vacation; others countered that anything students chose to pursue during that time kept in the spirit of Paideia.
In its early days, attendance of Paideia classes was recorded, and the percentages of students on and near campus was estimated between the first Paideia in 1968 until 1973: 75% in its first year, and 56% in 1973.
In the 1980s, Paideia was cut from its original month-long run to two weeks of programming, both to save costs that would instead be funneled into improving Student Services and to consolidate its organization by divorcing student activities from faculty control. This made the endeavor of organizing and planning Paideia entirely up to the Student Body. By the end of the 80’s, Paideia was run by an appointed signator and anyone they were able to recruit. Classes became almost entirely student-run with occasional support and programming from a faculty member or particularly committed alumni, such as radio host Dr. Demento, storyteller Cricket Parmalee, and Bear Wilner and his meatsmoking comrades. A report from 1980 mentions that finding faculty members with enough time to participate in Paideia Committee was a struggle. Before the days of the Internet, the preliminary Paideia class schedule was published in a special edition of the Quest during Fall semester Reading Week, followed by an updated version being posted on the first floor of Eliot Hall.
In 1992, Paideia was organized by themes, with the first week focusing on Reed Introspection and the second week on Storytelling and Oral Tradition. This level of coherence and extra-curricular content seems strange compared to today’s week of miscellaneous variety. Introspective events included a student workshop allowing everyone to re-design Hum 110 and share their proposals with Hum faculty, a lecture series about stopping violence against women, and an underwater basket weaving course are testaments to the scope of Paideia during this time.
Over the years, Paideia became markedly shorter and more limited in its offerings. In 1995, Paideia Coordinator Rory Bowman wrote a poetic introduction to that year’s Paideia Quest questioning dimming interest in the program and lamenting that it was shortest one in its then 26 year history. He emphasized that the true value of Reed comes from interacting with fellow Reedies, and that Paideia is fertile ground for community education. “There is more to life than dreamed of by the doctorates of philosophy, as much mystery in the melting of the January ice as in the most arcane construction of the organic chemist’s alchemy. It is to this idea of childlike wonder and a broader life of the mind that Paideia is directed, he wrote.
Paideia suffered a vexing problem:everyone liked the idea of Paideia, envisioned by many as a kind of receptacle for the community’s dreams of stress-free, broad learning created and enjoyed by everyone. Yet, time and again, few people were willing or able to devote the time and effort necessary to bring that vision into reality. The 1999 letter from the Paideia Signators sums it up well: “We all came here because we love to learn, and here’s a week chock full of good knowledge without any pressure. Now who’s going to tell me that Paideia’s not a great idea?”
Some classes, however, were not so universally appreciated. Three years before the infamous Paideiagate of 2013, campus was stirred into a maelstrom of controversy about a particularly polarizing class titled “Chokin’ the Chicken.” Gabriel Holt, a biology senior, scheduled a class on “how to properly slaughter, clean and dress a chicken.” The intent of the course was to build a connection between students and their food, as well as teach people how to eat poultry responsibly and sustainably. Holt and his roommates had a chicken coop in an off-campus co-op, and had killed and eaten chickens in the past. When the class was posted, students sent concerned emails and letters to Holt as well as the Office of Student Affairs, and one senior even tipped the Portland Animal Defense League with details about the class and where Holt lived, accompanied by the message, “I feel that it is sickening that Reed students are taking part in the killing of live animals.” Holt later received a barrage of threatening emails and Facebook messages regarding his class and decided to cancel it, only to later find all his house’s chickens stolen by associates of the PADL, even though those chickens were not the ones going to be killed in the class.
Then there’s Paideiagate itself, a controversy that this year’s seniors still remember. In 2013, two Paideia classes were cancelled and two others altered due to administrative oversight: a food fermentation class was not allowed to make kombucha, because the College could not guarantee that everyone in attendance was of age for consuming alcohol, while members of a class about cigarette rolling technique were told they could not actually smoke them until after the class had ended. The two cancelled courses included a class about how to prepare for a safe and pleasant psychedelic trip and another about smoking various legal herbs. About a week before Paideia, the instructors of these classes received emails informing them that President John Kroger would not allow the courses to be taught in their current state. The teacher of the fermentation class told the Quest that forced class modification was a breach in student-administrative relations as well as a transgression on student body autonomy. Willamette Week suggested that the administration’s decision to alter or cancel these classes was part of an effort to combat the perception of Reed as a hotbed of illegal drug use. President Kroger’s reasoning for the censoring of the classes was that they had the potential to cause “significant health and safety issues.”
The act of cancelling the two classes so last minute and without discussion caused an uproar from the student body. A Quest opinion article the week after Paideiagate titled “The Unregulated Depressant Manifesto” laments the short institutional memory of the student body and suggests that the only way to resist future administrative transgressions is to combat the controversial year with commemoration. Since Paideigate, class applications are vetted by a committee before being considered for funding or placed on the schedule.
Today, nearly all classes offered during Paideia are single sessions taught by students, with the notable exceptions of the Wilderness First Responder course sponsored by Reed’s Outdoor Program and the guest lecturers invited to the Reporters’ Bootcamp. Despite being a beloved and unique Reed tradition, Paideia seems to be gradually losing its attendance and breadth. In order to make the most of Paideia and keep our week of community learning alive in its 50th anniversary next year, we will all have to put in the effort toward making Paideia the community learning experience it was originally envisioned to be.