Theses Doctoral

Toward a Pedagogy of Paidia: A Re-imagining of Education through the Lens of the Philosophy of Plato, Schiller, and Gadamer

Ignaffo, Timothy

In the wake of the French Revolution and the failure of subsequent governments to enact humanistic reforms, Schiller observed in frustration that “a great moment has found a little people…” As we emerge from a once-in-a-century pandemic, navigating crisis after crisis amidst uncertainty and instability, it is easy to sympathize with Schiller’s frustrations. For parents and teachers, the pandemic and its effect on public education have been eye-opening, and present a clear call to action. We are currently in an important historical moment with both challenges and opportunity. For education theorists and policy makers, this moment calls for a rethinking and reimagining of our schools (and schooling), if not our entire educational paradigm. This is a moment that calls for a re-evaluation of contemporary education reform - a deeply flawed movement guided largely by assessment and accountability culture.

Unfortunately, this moment has been met by characteristic smallness and a lack of imagination and dedication to our public commons and social infrastructure of which our schools are an integral component. It is not a reimagining to defund public education; and it is not a reimagining to transfer our current, inadequate curriculum (guided by a flawed neoliberal paradigm) onto a synchronous or asynchronous digital platform. This moment called for imagination, creativity, kindness and audacity, but instead we got a doubling down on efficiency, assessment, and a model of schooling closer to “educational accounting” than anything even remotely resembling a rich and broad humanistic education.

The goal of this dissertation is in part to highlight an important concept that could broaden our thinking about contemporary education. That thing is play, not in a narrow, gamified sense but rather the robust rich conception paidia. In this dissertation, I argue we must re-engage with paidia in order to reclaim the ancient notion of paideia, or an ideal education in the broadest sense. This exploration of the serious play as the basis of education in the philosophical tradition begins with Plato, Aristotle, and others in Greek antiquity, and evolves through the thought of Kant, Schiller, Heidegger, Gadamer, Dewey, and others. Once we have traced this concept from its foundational discussion in Plato’s philosophical dialogues through German romanticism and into the 20th century and beyond, we can put this concept into conversation with contemporary schooling and the philosophical underpinnings of contemporary education reform.

We also will look at how this idea of a broad, engaging education has been lost, what is at stake if we lose it permanently, and what paidia can offer our present age with respect to reimagining education for a post-pandemic 21st century. This discussion attempts to retrieve something important from the tradition of thinking about education more broadly - paideia - education not merely as a matter of utility, efficiency, or credentialing, but also as a matter of justice. This discussion will inform our understanding of education as a matter of justice and lifelong learning that encourages real fulfillment and has the potential to open structures and potentialities. We will demonstrate that the concept and history of paidia are relevant for reflecting on the impoverished education paradigm we have today, but it is also helpful in pointing the way towards a new paradigm.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Philosophy and Education
Thesis Advisors
McClintock, Robbie
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 7, 2022