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Posted at 10:21 AM ET, 01/ 5/2010

Teaching philosophy in school

By Valerie Strauss

If the educators/politicians who dictate education policy were serious about teaching young people how to be analytical and think beyond the obvious, then philosophy would not be relegated to an extracurricular club that meets at lunchtime.

A Post story by Nelson Hernandez discusses the Philosophy Club at Kenmoor Middle School in Landover, where students meet to talk about ethics, fairness--and important things like “how to split dessert.”

The club was started by teacher Kathy Gregory while she taught at Glenardon Woods Elementary School, also in Prince George’s County, and she brought the concept with her when she moved to Kenmoor. Several dozen kids hungry for such discourse are involved.

Pity that philosophy is not part of the regular curriculum, other than the occasional mention of Locke or Hobbes or Socrates. It would only open up young minds to ways of thinking most have never contemplated.

Where, you ask, would it be squeezed into a school day that is jam-packed with math and reading and science and history?

How about dropping the hours too many kids take getting teacher-led standardized test prep?

A quick Google search of the word “philosophy” may explain part of the reason the subject is an afterthought in school. The first and the second references on the search I did referred to the skin care line of the same name.

Kant must be rolling in his grave.

Go ahead and tell me why I’m wrong, in the comments or at theanswersheet@washpost.com.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 5, 2010; 10:21 AM ET
Categories:  Learning  | Tags:  philosophy  
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Comments

Great stuff -- inspiring to see how the teachers and their students care about intellectual work. I second your statement, "Pity that philosophy is not part of the regular curriculum"; in fact, the longer I work with the philosophy the more I think that it's the FIRST requirement any school should have.

I developed and teach (well, taught and hope to teach again soon) a Philosophy elective at our suburb-of-Philly high school, which also started as a club. Our course begins with a unit on philosophies of education, then moves on to ethics, truth/logic, and finally aesthetics (which tends to be the favorite).

Unfortunately, it doesn't run every year because it under-enrolls. Still, the kids get into open-ended and often wide-ranging discussions that challenge them to make sound arguments, be wary of fallacies, develop and evaluate analogies, and enjoy considering the big questions that have troubled thinking people for thousands of years. They seem to love grappling with these authentically challenging ideas, regardless of whether school has tended to mean success or failure for them as individuals.

The course is full of discussion like that in the article but with one difference: it is a college-prep level course instead of being geared towards gifted students. Indeed, many of my students have not necessarily seen success and joy in schooling, although many others have. Sadly, the course's not being tagged "honors" discourages some honors and gifted kids from taking it because even an A hurts their GPAs (college prep = no GPA bonus).

My concern is this: that requiring philosophy may hurt it. A friend of mine teaches philosophy at a nearby university, and is generous enough to invite us (field trip!) to attend her class each year. Our last visit was to a required course. Although she is a fantastic teacher, the vast majority of her university-level students were less engaged -- and, to my eye, less prepared -- than my college-prep-elective-taking high schoolers. I was proud of my guys, but it also made me wonder about opportunities and requirements.

I hope the middle school students in the linked-to article get the chance to pursue philosophy in high school and college. Kids: let your schools know that you can handle philosophy...and love it!

Posted by: carlrosin | January 5, 2010 8:33 PM | Report abuse

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