Minding the Columns

Mortimer J. Adler and his collaborators in the Paideia Proposal, should be viewed from the current vantage point as an important but mostly failed attempt to recover the Liberal Arts in the early 1980’s.  That happens to be when I was beginning to consider the art of teaching for myself in college.  Many of the arguments that the Paideia Group made struck me as mandated by the system, the government school system, that they were seeking to reform.  In other words, they only suggested certain reforms or principles because those fit the public school system.  Fixing a broken thing is much different from trying not to become broken.

But a very useful and positive distinction was made by the group, one that I have written only briefly on in this blog, and that was several years ago.  So I am going to pump the volume a little on the great discussion in the Paideia Proposal of the Three Columns of learning.  I will briefly overview them here, then draw each out more in succeeding blogs.

So I’ll briefly overview them here, then draw each out more in succeeding blogs.t discussion in the Paideia Proposal of the Three me caveats are required up front.

  • The columns overlap. They are not cut and dried distinctions, but rather something like a continuum upon which all learning lies.
  • While practical things come from contemplating these columns, they are not themselves necessarily “practical” in the sense of directly applying to a lesson, but rather lie behind the lesson and the teacher’s understanding of what is happening in a lesson.
  • “Skills” is a very oily word these days in education. John Dewey is probably to blame for that.  He emphasized in his form of progressive education a much different meaning for “skills” development than what Adler and his bunch meant by the term.  Dewey was seeking to instill skills that brought one into societal awareness and becoming a part of the collective.  Adler is speaking of those skills necessary to pursue truth, or in other words, the Liberal Arts.  The corrolation of a “skill” with the ancient notion of “art” can be read about here.

Without further ado, here is a chart of the three columns as presented in the Paideia Proposal:

Columns Content Ideas Skills
Goals Acquiring organized knowledge Embodiment of Virtuous Ideas Development of the Skills needed for Learning
Means Questioning




Mimetic Sequence with Socratic Questioning Coaching



Supervised Practice

Classical Trivium Grammar Logic


More will be coming in the weeks to come.

This is a list of related posts that came after this introductory one:

  1. Contents Under Pressure – First column, Content
  2. What is the Big Idea? – major points on Second column, Ideas

4 thoughts on “Minding the Columns”

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