A Paideia Seminar text is a tangible artifact or document appropriate for the participants’ current level of intellectual and social development. We have found it important that the seminar text is tangible (in whole or in part) for common reference. The text provides the anchor for the dialogue in that the facilitator can bring the participants back to the text if they begin to digress. Furthermore, the seminar text helps create a level playing field.

Types of texts

Texts can vary widely in form or type from print to non-print. For example, a seminar text may be a poem, a painting, a chart or graph, a short story, an essay, a word problem, a diagram, a map, a sculpture, or the description of a scientific experiment.

Characteristics of seminar text

A Paideia Seminar text is selected for many reasons, but an effective text will have the following characteristics:

  • Ideas and Values
  • Complexity and Challenge
  • Relevance
  • Ambiguity

Ideas and values

An idea is a thought, mental image, or notion. It is, by definition abstract rather than concrete. A value is an idea that is desirable or worthy for its own sake. The ideas and values that are most powerful in discussion are often those that are most complex and difficult to summarize. That is why a text that is rich in ideas and values has the most potential for challenging thinking skills.

Complexity and challenge

A good text is a “complex system”; it requires “reading” and rereading; it is not easily disposed of; and it is beyond the ability of any one participant to understand fully. (We mean reading in the broadest sense of the word, including viewing.)

Relevance to participants and curriculum

Where possible, the text has a compelling connection to the participants’ lives. Sometimes this connection emerges only in discussion, but it should exist even when not obvious. Furthermore, the ideas and values in the text should align with the intended conceptual curriculum.

Ambiguity

The text can be legitimately considered and discussed from a variety of different perspectives, including perspectives that seem mutually exclusive.