REFORMING EDUCATION is a collection of twenty-four essays spanning the period from 1939 to the 1980’s; an epilogue presents Adler’s list of the great books from antiquity to the present. Only the prologue is a direct reply to Bloom’s book, which Adler regards as inaccurate, both on the causes of our educational malaise and its cure. He accuses Bloom of ignoring the extensive use of the great books in undergraduate education, and paying little attention to the deficiencies of basic schooling.
The heart of Adler’s book is his description of the Paideia project, which he pioneered in 1982 with the aim of making high-quality liberal education available to all American children. The program, which has been implemented in a hundred school districts in fifteen states, is based on a curriculum which emphasizes general, not specialized, learning. Adler cites John Dewey’s remark that vocational training is training for slaves; it is more important to produce genuinely educated people, able to fulfill their potential and engage in a lifelong process of learning. The Paideia project is based on three types of teaching and learning: acquisition of knowledge, development of learning skills, and an enlarged understanding of ideas and values (the latter achieved through Socratic questioning and active participation). It calls for equal educational opportunity for all, and is based on more genuinely democratic principles than Allan Bloom’s prescriptions.
This sober, incisive book, the distillation of a lifetime’s experience in education, is free of the polemics and the animus which characterized Bloom’s THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND. Perhaps for this reason it is unlikely to top the best-seller lists, but it is nevertheless a book which should be read by everyone who has an interest in the future of American education.