Elvish, Batman, and Python. Paideia Rocks!

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | January 30, 2014

Ever wanted to try Pysanky, the art of Ukrainian egg dyeing? Take up fire dancing? Get up to speed on the history of Batman? These and more than 220 subjects were covered in this year’s Paideia, the festival of alternative learning that Reed holds each winter.

Paideia is difficult to translate, but denotes education in its broadest sense. For the ancient Greeks, this included philosophy, poetry, mathematics, physics, rhetoric, gymnastics, music, medicine, and many other disciplines. The animating idea behind Paideia is to give students a break from Reed’s rigorous curriculum and let them spend a week learning things they always wanted to know about but never had the time for. It also reverses the polarity of the classroom and gives students the chance to be teachers, sharing their mastery of the didgeridoo, High Elvish, the programming language Python, or virtually any other subject.

Kate Bredeson, assistant professor of theatre, taught a "Welcome to Twin Peaks" seminar that was remarkably popular. “I was expecting 20-25 students . . . Over 75 showed up and it was standing room only. When the dvd gave the option of playing the pilot with or without the Log Lady introduction, there was unison shouting: ‘With Log Lady! With Log Lady!’” 

Another highlight was a class in creativity and piano improvisation taught by Prof. Allen Neuringer [psychology 1970–2008], which included a surprise visit by composer (and Dartmouth prof) Jon Appleton ’61, who sat down at the keyboard and improvised with Allen.

First held in 1969, Paideia became a hot topic among alumni last year after President John Kroger questioned the propriety of a couple of classes on drugs and alcohol. Following extensive campus discussion, a faculty-student committee led by Prof. Darrell Schroeter ’95 [physics] (who taught his own class on working with power tools!) figured out a way to reinvigorate our ”exuberant celebration of Reed’s love of learning.”

The result? More classes than ever. Nor has the festival lost its edge, demonstrated in classes on the Science of Drugs (taught by a psychology professor), the Economics of Stripping, and Demonology 112. In fact, President Kroger got in on the act himself, teaching classes on Heidegger, law school, and “Mafia Hitmen I have Known.”

Tags: Campus Life, Cool Projects