Philosophy In the School Curriculum

Philosophy In the School Curriculum

A small movement to include instruction in philosophy in the public school curriculum rises from time to time, but goes nowhere. Perhaps the on-going “core curriculum” controversy does not need another issue. However, Western civilization is largely based on the philosophy of the Greeks of 2500 years ago. Without its development into modern science, we might be no more advanced than most other areas on the earth. Yet our schools rarely address the debt we owe to the ancient philosophers and those who, over the succeeding centuries, carried on their traditions of thinking, learning, and progress. Nor do they honor the processes of logical thinking on which philosophy is based.

The inclusion of philosophy courses is not an option today, primarily because almost no teacher education curricula require it, so there would be an immediate shortage of teachers. Nevertheless, I believe at least some reference to how our civilization became what it is should be provided to our children. Perhaps a philosophic thinking reference might be included as required reading for history or social studies courses. In any case, teachers should at least be aware of our cultural heritage and be able to transmit that knowledge as part of their overall perspective on what is of most value to our society.

An Internet search will turn up some useful material for those who want to pursue further what is now available. However, I have found a book that might be a useful reference. (Chris Horner and Emrys Westacott. Thinking Through Philosophy: an Introduction. Cambridge Univ. Press: Cambridge UK: 2000). In fact, it has suggested reading, but no internet references.
The book’s purpose is “to help readers come to grips with some of the most fascinating and important problems of philosophy.” It tries to show what it means to “think philosophically.” Questions used to “tweak your interest” are: “what explains the astonishing progress of science….in the age of science, is it irrational to be religious…..what is it about art that we value…..when I make a choice, am I really acting freely?’
Here are some chapter headings: Theory of knowledge, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mind, of Art, of Religion, Philosophy of science, Ethics, Political philosophy. The book provides brief descriptions of some philosophers, and focuses on “how to think logically about these topics.”

The value of using philosophic issues in teaching is first of all the essential need to use the mind “to get and examine the facts logically.” The inevitable trappings of modern media personalities too often intrude their “charisma” and irrelevancies into issues too serious to be trivialized by media reporting. How to live one’s life should not be limited to the subject of the latest rapper’s hit tune, the whim of a spoiled couple’s example of a “happy” marriage, or how to live one’s life without ever growing (or looking) old. “Learning to think logically” as a specific task can be helpful for those who may be or might become overly-focused on electronic toys, social media, or celebrities..
The writers begin each topic by posing a question that is likely to be familiar to most readers. Then they discuss it in a way that stays in touch with what issues are likely to arise “for someone who travels this road for the first time.” A glossary of several pages makes it easier to understand “philosophic” (abstract) concepts and words used in specific ways.
In any case, putting social, ethical, scientific, religious and economic issues into a kind of basic “intellectual neutrality” is what this approach to philosophy provides. In a “pluralistic” society, many important issues are not addressed effectively in our schools.
The reason is that they are often associated with unacceptable groups or individuals. Our society pays “lip service” to “political correctness,” and, increasingly, makes public statements that “offend” any group unacceptable. Philosophic thought permits students and teachers to deal more easily with the abstract and logical ideas of “fairness,” “justice,” “tolerance,” “kindness,” and a willingness to accept “otherness.”
In a time of increasing factionalism, social inequality, religious conflict, and media distortion, a logical mind is an important tool for every student. Many will say it is too late for logic on such issues now; but that has been said about many, even most social crises. And then there are others, perhaps only the most optimistic, who believe it is never too late.


John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

One Comment

  1. Steve Sawmelle says:

    Excellent piece, sir. Apart from the book review, per se, what I’ve highlighted to friends on Facebook is this comment you made: Philosophic thought permits students and teachers to deal more easily with the abstract and logical ideas of “fairness,” “justice,” “tolerance,” “kindness,” and a willingness to accept “otherness.”
    In a time of increasing factionalism, social inequality, religious conflict, and media distortion, a logical mind is an important tool for every student.

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