A Case for Philosophy in High Schools (updated)


Back in 1982, Frank Breslin, a New Jersey high school teacher, wrote an article arguing that philosophy should be taught in high school. Huffington Post just reprinted a version of that piece, and it’s worth taking a look at. One of it’s main ideas is that philosophy is a natural fit for teen rebelliousness:

Adolescents are a skeptical lot. Anything and everything is fair game to them, and woe betide what is found wanting. Criticism comes easily to these professional skeptics. Irreverence is natural when one is taking the world’s measure, cutting one’s teeth, and finding oneself. However, American high schools waste this irreverence by failing to harness and turn it to educational use. By not providing programs which could tap into this natural resource, they forgo their most valuable asset — the intellectual restlessness of youth itself…. The study of philosophy is one such program which American high schools should introduce to channel this skepticism toward academic ends.

He makes other good points, as well. The whole thing is here.

Is there more philosophy in high schools now than in 1982?  Does the APA or some educational organization keep tabs on this?

UPDATE (9/18/15): Huffington Post just put up a second article by Breslin on the “how-tos” of teaching philosophy in high school.

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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
6 years ago

Philosophy is badly needed in high schools. These young folk are on the verge of having to decide how they are to live and, as citizens and voters, how society ought to be arranged. I believe that there is more philosophy in high schools now than there was in 1982, but it is still way too little.Report

Felicity Haynes
6 years ago

I’ve just had a long phone conversation with an English teacher currently teaching in a disadvantaged agricultural high school in rural Western Australia. He despaired of teaching his beliigerent students anything about the structuring of essays, the reading of novels, or even more remote the love of poetry, until he began on a topic of free will, and read them John Locke and the Social Contract. In his words “the lights went on” They are talking about it with passion with their parents after school, developing arguments for critical debate. Philosophy can be engaging, fun and life-changing.Report

Gaurav Vazirani
6 years ago

My guess is that the best people to comment on these questions will be folk over at one of these:

Squire Family Foundation: http://squirefoundation.org/
PLATO: http://plato-philosophy.org/
APA Pre-College Instruction Committee: http://www.apaonline.org/group/precollege

Would be great to get a guest post from people at one of these organizations.Report

Rory
6 years ago

I don’t have hard numbers on the growth since 1982, but there has been increased attention paid to pre-college philosophy since that time. I would selfishly point you to Questions: Philosophy for Young People (questionsjournal.com) , which is the journal of PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization). PLATO is the resource organization for many who do work in the area; it started as a project of the APA’s pre-college committee, but is an independent organization now.Report

Sacco
Sacco
6 years ago

It would be great, too, if such a guest post were to provide resources for getting a job teaching philosophy at the high-school level.Report

Furry Boots
Furry Boots
6 years ago

Mitch Green should get a mention here too: http://teachhigh-phi.org/Report

Chris Surprenant
6 years ago

I run a high school philosophy program at the University of New Orleans. In addition to going into local schools and teaching for-credit classes, we have an online version as well with some live components. I’m happy to talk with anyone about getting a program like this started or about our experience working with high school students.

You can find more information about the program here: http://www.uno.edu/tocqueville-project/high-school-dual-enrollment-program.aspx.Report

Rick Lewis
6 years ago

I’m very interested in these links – I’d like to add a new section on resources for high school philosophy to the Philosophy Now magazine website. Australasia seems to have a particular strength in high school philosophy at present, supported by many state-level organisations such as VAPS ( http://vaps.vic.edu.au ) grouped into a region-wide organisation called the Federation of Australiasian Philosophy in Schools Associations. http://fapsa.org.au. They also have an annual Philosothon competition for high school philosophy students (see report here: https://philosophynow.org/issues/104/News_September_October_2014). In Canada there tare a lot of high schools in Ontario teaching philosophy, judging from correspondence and subscription we receive. In Britain there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of high school students studying philosophy, evidenced by numbers taking national exams, and there are also several organisations campaigning for the introduction of philosophy teaching for younger children. Obviously the latter focuses more on developing thinking skills and debating rather than on history of ideas. Organisations involved include the Philosophy Foundation (http://www.philosophy-foundation.org ) who train primary school philosophy teachers and also lobby parliament for curriculum changes, and SAPERE (http://www.sapere.org.uk)Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

“The study of philosophy is one such program which American high schools should introduce to channel this skepticism toward academic ends.”

Hmm. This is not usually where scepticism leads. Or does it mean we should encourage young people to be sceptical of academic ends? It’s a little ambiguous if one is a perverse reader.Report