Paideia Present

“I think the future of Paideia is an open question,” Chris Lydgate, a Reed alumnus (’90) and the editor of the Reed Magazine, says, leaning back in his chair. He has had a lot of experience with Paideia; he has put on a Reporters’ Bootcamp during Paideia week for the past ten years more or less. This year was a particularly ambitious year for Lydgate’s Bootcamp. Planning a dozen events ranging from a class taught by Zach Dundas, editor of Portland Monthly, on how to write for a magazine, to special workshops on radio news taught by NPR extraordinaire Robert Smith, these events drew the greatest participation in the Bootcamp history yet.

Reporters’ Bootcamp receives a relatively large amount of advertising. Posters around campus ask: “are you interested in journalism? Do you obsessively read the news? Do you dream about wearing a fedora and dashing into a newsroom shouting ‘Stop the press!’ Now’s your chance!” The event is sponsored by the Quest, the Grail, the Center for Life Beyond Reed, and Reed Magazine. Lydgate’s organization and the range of professionals invited to help teach classes and hold panels add to the appeal of the Bootcamp. Between the networking and learning opportunities, it’s not surprising the turnout for Bootcamp is consistently substantial every year.

This year might mark a decline in Paideia’s popularity as a whole, though Lydgate’s high turnout seems to be an anomaly compared to other Paideia classes. Last year roughly 200 classes were taught throughout the week. This year only 160 classes were registered to take place. There are extenuating factors, though that make it hard to say if Paideia is “dying,” so to speak.

The first, and most problematic of factors that may have contributed to a decline in Paideia participation this year, is the Snowpocalypse of 2017. On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, Reed College was declared closed due to emergency weather conditions and all Paideia classes and events for that day were canceled due to the weather. While many students interpreted this as an overreaction on the college’s part, the institution was worried that those not living on campus might get in accidents trying to get to campus for the events. Better safe than sorry! However, the burden of rescheduling these events was largely placed on the teachers of the classes and advertising for the rescheduled events was almost nonexistent.

Another contributing factor to low Paideia participation is the application deadline for applying to teach classes. Students want to teach classes, but the application deadline is December 9. For many students, this one of the hardest times of the semester. Finals are approaching and a Paideia class application is pushed to the backburner.

There seems to be a changing culture regarding Paideia week as well. Aaron Ramcharan, a senior at Reed College, said, “it’s a really great concept, and it makes a lot of sense to have a structured time when people can share with one another interests they have. It’s a great feature to come back to campus before classes begin.” However, since freshman year he has used Paideia week mostly as a restorative time to move back into the dorms, relax, catch up with friends, and prepare himself for spring semester. He’s not alone. When interviewed, students tended to agree that Paideia events were something they’d stopped going to after freshman year. Maybe they’d attend an event if it was taught by their roommate or a friend, or if it was a big lecture, but overall students seemed to even be unaware of majority of the Paideia events taking place on campus.

Some of this can be contributed to the repeat classes. A lot of classes and lectures are given every year. Why go to a class when you saw if last year? However, more of the ambivalent feelings towards Paideia can be attributed to a lack of advertising. “It’s the fucking website! How’re we supposed to find anything on that website?” says a sophomore when asked about her thoughts on Paideia. The website for Paideia this year was not mobile-friendly, required a sign-in to see certain classes, and was overall fairly disorganized. Students planning classes had to not only apply to teach a Paideia class, pass their first semester classes, organize the class, and teach it, but they were also largely responsible for the advertising of their event because the website did such a poor job. Many students tried to overcome this hurdle by posting on Facebook. Sharing events with friends on Facebook can be effective, but it can also get lost in people’s newsfeeds. With the poorly designed website, very little other institutional advertising, and the Snowpocalypse rescheduling disaster, it’s no wonder students had a hard time figuring out what classes were taking place.

The problem with achieving better advertising, however, comes down to the way Paideia is planned. Organizing a week of classes is no small feat. In charge of this endeavor is a panel of Reed staff and two student “Paideia Czars.” This year, the Czars were Isabelle Sullivan and Hadley McCammon. Hadley stated when asked about the greatest frustrations with organizing Paideia that, “Organizing Paideia can be tedious at times. There are so many moving parts.” Chris Lydgate, one of the staff members on the Paideia committee, spoke to how great of a responsibility is placed on the student Czars to not only focus on their school work but read applications for Paideia classes and help organize rooms, budgets, and schedules. The best way to make the labor of love worthwhile? According to Hadley, “Paideia relies on the collective efforts of every instructor and attendee. The more work and thought that everyone pitches in, the better Paideia is.” For those thinking about becoming a Czar, Hadley did say that “Being a Czar was, overall, a positive experience.”

Perhaps the most confusing aspect of Paideia is the emphasis Reed as an institution puts on the event. In September 2015, Reed College made one of the essay questions on the Common App about what a prospective student would want to teach at Paideia. The college also advertises Paideia in their recruiting material for prospective students. A sophomore math major, Austin Serif, said, “I found [Paideia] to be fairly underwhelming. Paideia represented the school’s two most important/compelling characteristics: independence and initiative of the student body, and the desire of people to attend classes (in this case by their peers), solely for the sake of learning. And in retrospect, it didn’t really live up to the hype.” When asked about Paideia, plenty of students didn’t feel quite so strongly; however, there was general agreement that Reed seemed to hype the event up to prospective students. Aaron commented that it is strange that once you get to Reed, the institution hardly talks about Paideia, when it is featured prominently on the application.

Despite confusion about events and rescheduling, Snowpocalypse, and the odd institutional Paideia plug, everyone interviewed had good things to say about the concept of Paideia. Freshman, Ema Chomsky stated, “I think it’s a huge opportunity for there to be all sorts of exchanges between students that could generate tons of knowledge, and the only thing that could make it better would be if more students were actively involved in it.” This seems to be the consensus. Paideia is an amazing idea that hopefully will continue to be an important Reed tradition.