Paideia, a Life of Action in Body and Mind

Recently, I was having a conversation with my mother about parent involvement (or lack thereof) in their students’ lives and schools. When I was growing up, she was always a big part of the education community, even continuing once my siblings and I left the school district. So it came as a big surprise to me when I started teaching preschool, and I realized that the large majority of the parents there weren’t involved with their child’s education. They were “too busy” or weren’t interested, or “didn’t understand”. For teachers, it can be very frustrating, especially when parents want things done a certain way, but aren’t willing to help. That’s why I really felt that the idea of “Paideia” really resonated with me. Paideia is an idea from Ancient Greece which suggests that a life of action creates democratic experiences that cause societies to flourish. In this instance, the life of action refers to parents who become involved in their community and their child’s education, supporting and helping teachers so that together they can help their students become the best members of society they can be.

However, after reading the article by Alfred North Whitehead called The Aims of Education, I realized that a life of action is not only referring to community involvement, but also involvement of the mind. He talks about what he calls “inert ideas”, which are ideas or knowledge we pile into the minds of our young that they don’t use, test, examine, or change (Whitehead, 1916). I think it is important for us as teachers (and parents!) to make sure that we are engaging those ideas and the knowledge we give them. We can do this by guiding students to asking more questions about a subject, letting them discover the information for themselves, and also to let them question it. Why should something exist because a teacher says so? Teachers should be encouraging these kinds of thoughts and interactions with a student’s own thinking, promoting the life of action that is so important.


Whitehead, A. N. (1916). The Aims of Education.


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