The sheer determination of the founders prevailed, and the faculty resolved to try the experiment for a year, with the provision that the results would be seriously evaluated in order to determine if the program should continue. Sometime during the planning phase of the first year's program, the event began to be called Paideia, a word gleaned from the freshman humanities course meaning "training physical and mental faculties to produce an enlightened mature outlook, combined with maximum cultural development."

The first year got off to a rocky start, with both a student demonstration in December and unusually nasty weather in early January interfering with the ability of students and faculty to participate fully. Nonetheless, the first-year evaluation report determined that a "very large proportion of the community realized great benefit" from the program, both through structured activities and through independent pursuits (ranging from working on senior theses to simply "hanging out"). Most popular course offerings were Fortran computers, Chinese brush painting, calligraphy, and I Ching. A second year was approved, and a third, and a fourth.

In 1973, a report to the faculty outlined three or four options for the continuation of Paideia, ranging from discontinuation to fully institutionalizing the experience. Although some faculty members were skeptical about the value of Paideia for students, the prevailing vote was to maintain the program essentially as it was. Comments about Paideia by faculty members made it clear that they were benefiting personally and professionally from the long break from classes: "As long as the faculty remains overburdened with administration and teaching heavy loads I see no alternative to Paideia." "Paideia gives me time to grade a mountain of lab books." "The best argument for Paideia is that it gives some substantial time in the middle of the year to do one thing deeply for awhile."

By 1977, Paideia had gone from four weeks to three, and sometime in the '80s it was shortened to two weeks, where it remains today. Paideia today offers a bewildering array of courses in subjects (more than 200 this year) ranging from the academic to the perverse, generally hour-long introductions to everything from soap making to "ancient Greek terms of abuse." That vision held by the founding students to build a learning environment in which each student pursued his or her own ultimate passion at leisure seems to have become lost along the way. The "unstructured" part of the experience is missing.

As with any good tradition, change is both necessary and inevitable. Students of the '90s have different needs, different vision, different goals. Paideia endures because it still gives students, faculty, and the community at large an opportunity to learn, to teach, and to interact with each other in new ways. And who knows where that could lead?


A sampling of class titles from Paideia 99

    Ancient Greek terms of abuse
    Basic plumbing 101
    Dressing for your major
    Research on the Web
    How to Tuvan throat sing
    Broadway softshoe
    Powerbooks to the people
    Making apple strudel

A contra dancing class featured a live band.



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