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Adler, Mortimer, and the Paideia Program

Mortimer Adler, professor, philosopher, and educational theorist, was born in New York City in 1902. He left school at age 14 to write for newspapers and initially enrolled in Columbia University to improve his writing. Because he never passed the swimming test, he never earned a baccalaureate degree, but he did eventually earn a PhD from Columbia University where he studied with John Dewey. Adler eventually repudiated Dewey’s faith in progress and in science, positing instead the argument that while human situations may change, human problems remain the same. For education, then, we should look to the ancients and to philosophy rather than to fashion and science.

It is not surprising, then, that “Mortimer Adler” and “great books” are often considered synonymous categories. Adler believed that ...

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