[mass noun]

  • (in ancient Greece) a system of broad cultural education.
  • formal the culture of a society.


(Greek: “education,” or “learning”),  system of education and training in classical Greek and Hellenistic  (Greco-Roman) cultures that included such subjects as:

gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, and philosophy.

In the early Christian era the Greek paideia, called humanitas in Latin, served as a model for Christian institutions of higher learning, such as the Christian school of Alexandria in Egypt, which offered theology as the culminating science of their curricula. The term was combined with enkyklios (“complete system, ” or “circle”) to identify a large compendium of general education, hence “encyclopaedia.”  (

I so want this.  Well, I want this except for the gymnastics part.  I’m hoping that my yoga practice can substitute for the gymnastics parts.

I checked out another definition.  It said that paideia is the process of becoming your true form.  The process of paideia helps you become who you truly are.  Paideia is the process of identity formation – in its truest form.

Does this appeal to you?

Check out some other blog posts about education.

8 thoughts on “Paideia

  1. Oh, definitely… well, except for the gymnastics part.

    More seriously, though, I think we place too much emphasis on specialization these days. While it’s true that no one can be or needs to be a polymath anymore, still, I think most of us — including myself — could stand to be more well-rounded instead of just round at the waist (that’s where the gymnastics would help).

    1. Maybe we can substitute yoga for gymnastics.

      It makes me sad that we specialize. It makes me sad that we communicate to our kids that they aren’t smart because they’re not good at a specialization. It would be so nice – to have deep education – the one that leads us to our true form.

      Could you tell me more about what you see a well rounded education would look like? I’d love to hear more about that.

      1. Hmn. I had to think about that!

        I mean, “gymnastics, grammar, rhetoric, music, mathematics, geography, natural history, and philosophy” is an excellent curriculum. Still, there’s just too much knowledge out there for anyone to have even a basic understanding of all of it. And what one person needs to know, might be a waste of time for someone else to learn.

        My worry, though, is that we’re encouraged to pursue our own specialization to the point that we can’t hold a conversation with anyone outside our discipline without caricaturing their vocation or opinions.

        I mean, notice how we avoid discussions of politics and religion, despite those being the two issues most important to most of us. I think that’s a genuine knowledge problem: when all you know about someone’s opinions is a bizarre caricature, how can you take them seriously? Ignorance becomes a temptation to dehumanize others.

        So, I think a well-rounded education would, at minimum, prepare someone to be a citizen of their culture. Which brings us back to paideia in the original sense. But, I think that we should also be encouraged to “become who we are,” to tell our own story on our own terms, and be given an education that provides us with the resources for doing that, including appreciation of the arts, critical thinking skills, and exposure to other cultures. These all provide the resources for writing our own stories. The more stories you know, the easier it is to write a new one.

      2. Thanks for the comment James.

        You make some great points. First of all, I love that you talked about how we need to be “encouraged to ‘become who we are.'” I like that we need encouragement. I’ve been listening to a lot of Cornel West – who talks about Paideia. He says that we need courage to become our true selves. It takes courage to ask these questions and tell our own story. That’s so good.

        I definitely think that we need this type of education. We don’t even need to remember phone numbers any more. I remember growing up – when I had to have phone numbers memorized. Ooooh – I’m going to write about that in my next post. Thanks for the inspiration. But back to the reply – we don’t teach students to remember or think much these days. We google everything. There’s no need to memorize anything any more. When the Greeks were first talking about Paideia – they didn’t have books or even pen an paper really. They memorized everything.

        I’m with you on well-rounded education. We might not be able to know it all, but a basic understanding sounds like a good idea. Thanks again for the comment.

  2. Yes it certainly does. Agree that yoga/Pilates is a good as gymnastics. Something very spiritual & at the heart of God learning to breathe. Our each breath him. YHWH in YHWH out. He is transcendent & intimate all at once.

    Have a great week!

    1. Wow. Thank you. I hope you have a great week as well.

      I didn’t think of the breathing and education connection. I know that I take shallow breaths when I exercise. Deep breathing leads to Deep Living – sounds like a blog post that I need to research on.

      1. Looking forward to that. I wrote a script broadcast on the BBC on the idea that our every breath is God – ie our breath without moving our lips or our tongues says his name – he is the first, and the last, truly. He is on our every word, and that when we have no words, we cannot talk, He is there, with us. I think this is where the idea that a prayer is a breath comes from. You are right deep breathing does lead to deep living. Yoga has taught me so much about God’s breath, finding it holding it, about his presence in the every moment of my life, He is there when I struggle to breath – asthma – he is there, when I run, He is there when I sleep, when I laugh, when I cry, He is there. I am looking forward to that blog post Lem.
        So far a good start to the week.

  3. Just reading one of your earlier comments about ‘courage’ I heard on the wireless this morning a definition of courage, that I really like ‘Courage is telling your story from the heart.’ this definition comes from the original translation from latin into old English. I think there is a TED post somewhere on this – haven’t found it by googling, but if I do, I will let you know. Have a good one

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.