The Paideia Factor

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Christians today talk about worldview. But they often fail to understand the deeper concept of paideia–the term actually used in the Bible. The early Greeks realized the power of building culture intentionally through paideia. A parallel idea can be found in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 6). In Ephesians 6, we see the early Christian call to fathers to raise their children in the paideia of God. Various translations call this “education” or “training” or “fear” or “admonition” or any of about seven English words. Translations vary because there is no word that directly translates from “paideia” in the Greek.

Paideia is at one level, the transfer of a way of viewing the world from the teacher to the student. At another it shapes and forms the child in terms of his or her desires, passions, and loves. Put yet another way, paideia is a description of the values we actually love, the truth we actually believe, and what we assume about the nature of our world. All schools reinforce some type of paideia. The difference is that classical Christian schools intentionally design their programs to form a Christian paideia. And we do this with about 2000 years of experience.

Paideia is a big idea. So big, you will most certainly underestimate it.

Paideia at work

When we see younger generations embracing things that are not true, or condemning things that they should accept, we’re watching paideia at work. About 100 years ago, progressives realized the power of paideia. They realized that to change our world toward a progressive ideal, they must first change the paideia of the young. Historically, the only successful way of doing this was through education. That’s what John Dewey (the Father of Modern American Education) and other progressives set out to do at the turn of the 20th century. They succeeded. Now, less than three generations later, Christians have inadvertently absorbed the progressive’s paideia. Talk to generation-x’ers or millennials and you’ll see it, if you know what to look for. What you may not realize is that your paideia was influenced too.  If you’re under 90, you’ve almost certainly been shaped by the progressive paideia.  But, you just can’t see your own paideia very easily.

If we return to placing our hope in Jesus Christ, in and for all things, we have real hope for future generations. But, we cannot compartmentalize our faith. We must look through the lens of Christianity at everything. We must think. And, we must love that which Christ loves. Oh, and hate what He hates. We must rightly order our loves so that we will be prudent. We must labor diligently, and with fortitude. We must love justice. We must temper that love with grace. Above all, we must love— our God first, and then our neighbors. Our faith and our hope will only then become salty, influencing the world around us. This is paideia— the cultivated affections toward rightly ordered virtue in the soul.  If you’ve hungered for a deeper connection with Christianity, you’ve felt the loss of the Christian paideia.

Does this sound idealistic, or maybe “heady”? Maybe too philosophical? It probably does. But classical Christian education was designed to cultivate Christian paideia through very concrete and effective ways. To learn more about paideia, here are some resources:

Discover Classical Christian Education (also available at www.ClassicalAcademicPress.com) (light)
The Paideia of God and Other Essays on Education, Douglas Wilson (mid-level)
Paideia, The Ideals of Greek Culture, Werner Jaeger (heavy)

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