AP Philosophy for High Schools: Input Sought


Next month, the Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Asssociation (APA) is holding a session on “Building an Advanced Placement Philosophy Course in High School from the Ground up.” The panel, organized by the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, is scheduled for Saturday, March 5, from 2:45-5:45pm. One of the participants, Baron Reed (Northwestern), is seeking input about the idea. He writes:

At the upcoming Central APA, I am scheduled to take part in a panel discussion, sponsored by the APA Committee on Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, on the possibility and desirability of an AP Philosophy exam. If the College Board company did decide to invest the time and energy in putting an Advanced Placement exam together, one consequence would probably be that it would standardize, to some degree, how philosophy is taught in high school. Another consequence may be that more schools would be inclined to offer philosophy courses and more students would be inclined to take them.
 
There is a lot to be said, I’m sure, both in favor of and against an AP Philosophy course. I would be very interested in hearing the thoughts of others in the profession. In particular, would they advocate to their home institutions that credit be given for an AP Philosophy course? Would they be willing to have this credit count toward partial satisfaction of a philosophy major or minor? Any feedback I could get, from you and your readers, would be most welcome.

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Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

My initial reaction is that it would be great and should be done. But we’d need to think about who would teach it, since few high schools will have teachers with background in philosophy nor want to hire someone to teach one class (and that’s all it would be at almost any school, one class). IB programs teach Theory of Knowledge, but rarely is it taught by someone with an MA or higher in philosophy and often it’s probably taught by someone who did not major in philosophy. Students who get AP credit would place out of Intro, but overall I think it would increase credit hours for college philosophy programs, since the AP class (if done well!) would inspire more students to become interested in taking more college philosophy courses and considering the major or minor.Report

Greg Gauthier
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
4 years ago

“…we’d need to think about who would teach it, since few high schools will have teachers with background in philosophy nor want to hire someone to teach one class (and that’s all it would be at almost any school, one class). IB programs teach Theory of Knowledge, but rarely is it taught by someone with an MA or higher in philosophy and often it’s probably taught by someone who did not major in philosophy…”

This is a curious objection, to my ears (others below make very similar objections). I was taught algebra and geometry by a high school teacher that lacked a masters in the subject. I was taught german and spanish by a high school instructor without a masters in either language. I was taught technical subjects like biology, and welding, and electricity, all by instructors without masters degrees. All of them did relatively good work. Why would a teacher only schooled in pedagogy with perhaps a bachelor’s level of knowledge of philosophy, not be able to get high schoolers started on the right path?

What’s more, I was taught almost no history, and absolutely no civics, political science, or philosophy in high school even at the AP level (I suspect, this was more political than resource related), and had to *teach myself* these things, by buying books and reading a lot. Much of it ending up being blind alleys and wil-o-wisps (have you perused the “philosophy” shelves of your local chain bookstore lately?).

Surely *some* guidance, even from a decent generalist with pedagogical skills, is better than buying Ayn Rand at the bookstore (or Amazon, these days, I guess)? Report

Joseph Shieber
5 years ago

Assuming that the AP course is appropriately designed, I second Eddy’s thought that students with AP credit ought to place out of Intro — which, at my College, is one of the courses required for the major in Philosophy, as well as being a prerequisite for many of the upper-level courses in the major.

(As a separate note of some interest, perhaps, the President and CEO of the College Board, David Coleman, was a Philosophy major at Yale. I believe he wrote his senior thesis on some aspects of Kant’s moral philosophy, if I remember correctly.)Report

Dan Bonevac
5 years ago

While I would like to expose more people to philosophy, I’m not sure this is the right way to go about it. Do we want students to be introduced to philosophy by high school teachers with no training in the subject? Do we want even fewer people taking intro philosophy on campus? Do we want national standards for an intro philosophy course? And do we want students taking more advanced philosophy courses, having placed out of intro, without any idea of the appropriateness of what they’ve done in high school to the kind of thinking we expect of more advanced students? Some of those questions may have good answers, but I think we need to think this through carefully.Report

Eric Wiland
Eric Wiland
5 years ago

Most people who major in philosophy come to the subject remarkably late in college, largely because they don’t have an accurate view of what philosophy is until they stumble into a philosophy course. Imperfect as it would be, a high school course in philosophy could go a long way to remedying this problem. If a 16 year old student takes a philosophy course in high school and loves what she discovers, she is much more likely to take additional philosophy courses in her first year of college, as Eddy has already said. Having an AP course in philosophy also signals that philosophy is a serious and central academic subject. Report

Grad Sockpuppet
Grad Sockpuppet
5 years ago

Um… I’m almost certain that when I took my AP exams almost 15 years ago, there *was* an AP philosophy exam (which I didn’t take for reasons I don’t recall). Is this no longer the case?Report

Daniel
Daniel
Reply to  Grad Sockpuppet
5 years ago

You might be thinking of the defunct philosophy GRE.Report

Senior Undergrad
Senior Undergrad
5 years ago

As someone who was lucky enough to have studied philosophy in high school (and equally awestruck to learn that almost nobody else at my university had been) I think an AP curriculum would be a great way to engage more students in philosophy before college. I think it would likely increase the number of students enrolled in university philosophy courses (rather than decrease it) because more freshman would already know that they want to study philosophy from the get-go. (This was the case for me.)

I do, however, think the standardization question is an interesting one. For what it’s worth, I think some kind of history-based approach would be the best way to go. Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
5 years ago

I’d think there is a wide variety of risks and rewards here. I mean, one could work up an obvious dystopian scenario here – unqualified high school teachers blandly and poorly teach watered down historical biographies of philosophers and inaccurate and superficial presentations of their ideas, and then administer exams with questions written and graded by a testing company without philosophy expertise. Then, to boot, these same students get credit for Intro to Philosophy, and so decide never to take a college philosophy course because they’ve already knocked it out as a Gen Ed. Likewise, we could work up a utopian scenario here – philosophers write up a great curriculum and run workshops with high school teachers to prep them how to teach it. Grad students in philosophy increasingly choose high school teaching as a rewarding alt-ac career. The teachers administer exams written by philosophers and graded by philosophy grad students, thus forming two crucial links between philosophy grad students and an alt-ac career path. Students enter college with philosophy on their minds and the number of majors drastically increases.

I think both the dystopia and utopia are perfectly plausible. But I do think this is an idea worth cautiously pursuing. I’m also adding a disclaimer here that I work for The College Board’s biggest competitor in the non-profit testing world, since the disclaimer seems especially appropriate to this discussion. Report

Chris Surprenant
5 years ago

While an AP exam in philosophy might be better than nothing, there are better alternatives to an AP exam if we want to make high school students aware of philosophy and get them interested in philosophy before college.

For the last two years, I’ve run a high school dual-enrollment program in philosophy through the University of New Orleans. Through the program, high school students can take college courses taught by UNO faculty or our affiliates working with us who have at least 18 graduate credit hours in philosophy. The cost per student is $120 per 3 credit course and students can take 1000-level Introduction to Philosophy, 2000-level Ethics, or 2000-level Philosophy of Law.

Students can participate either through one of our partner schools or online. Right now, we are working with 7 schools throughout the greater New Orleans area to offer philosophy classes to their students as part of their regular academic program. But we don’t have to simply work with students in the New Orleans area. If a teacher at, say, a high school in Milwaukee with a MA in philosophy wanted to teach a one-semester philosophy class to his/her students, we could work with that teacher to design a course syllabus (or approve a syllabus the teacher had already) and the students could receive 3 philosophy credits through UNO. If and when the course was a full-year, like many AP and high school courses are, the students can leave with 6 philosophy credits.

For students who don’t have access to one of our partner schools, they can participate in the program online. Each week, the students listen to about an hour of recorded lectures, delivered as narrated podcasts; participate in directed, online discussions via a course message board (we use a private board on Reddit); and take part in one, live, 90-minute discussion section through Adobe Connect. I have been pleasantly surprised by how well these online courses have gone. The discussions have been surprisingly good and there has been noticeable improvement in the quality of student work. (We also screen pretty heavily for the online courses and all of these students are selecting in.)

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

We are always looking for additional partners, so if you know any high school teachers with at least an MA in philosophy (or the graduate hour equivalent) who would like their students to earn college credit and have university support for their courses, please have them reach out to me. Similarly, if you know any outstanding high school students who may want to participate in our online program (and we offer courses in the spring, summer, and fall), please let me know as well. I am also happy to talk with anyone who may be interested in starting a similar program.
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Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Here’s what appears to exist now: https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/apcourse
I’d be surprised if there was ever a philosophy AP (there is psychology), but if so, that’d probably be a good place to start the process of building a course.
However, there does exist an International Baccalaureate (IB) course in Philosophy (which probably only a minority of IB programs offer, whereas the all offer Theory of Knowledge): http://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/curriculum/individuals-and-societies/philosophy/
That outline looks like a good start to me. (They don’t say much about critical thinking and argument analysis, but that should certainly be included.)
I’m not too concerned about “national standards for an intro philosophy course.” Surely, something could be put together that would be WAY better than nothing (=current high school exposure to philosophy for 95+% of Americans). Don’t most of us think that the reading, writing, and critical thinking (argument analysis) skills students get in college philosophy courses are both better than what they get in most coursework and useful for most of their other coursework across disciplines? I do. And if we can help get more high school students exposed to these skills (not to mention the content!), it’d be great. And AP is also a way to sneak into the electives, as I suspect happened with psych and maybe econ, though maybe it was the other way around. Either way, at many high schools, the AP teacher for these subjects also teaches a non-AP elective version.
The main problem will be how to get the certified teachers to teach AP Philosophy. 2 possibilities off the top of my head, but both would likely require certification sessions by AP as well:
1. Part-timers from nearby community colleges and MA and PhD programs (lots of problems with this, including whether they would be allowed to teach in high schools because of certification, though they could do it in private schools).
2. Existing high school teachers (probably in social studies or English) who either have substantial coursework in philosophy and/or could get ‘certified’ with extra coursework. Maybe we could even get more people to get phil majors because of this benefit.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Eddy, there used to be a completely independent IB course in Critical Thinking. It was a pretty good one, too. That’s probably why that material is not included in the Philosophy course.

If I recall, the Critical Thinking IB course was scrapped a year or two ago.Report

Chris Surprenant
Reply to  Matt Drabek
5 years ago

The IB course right now is “Theories of Knowledge” and it can operate as an introduction to philosophy course.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Chris Surprenant
5 years ago

Yeah, I was thinking about the A-Levels, not the IB. There was an A-Level Critical Thinking course that had a lot of useful content.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Ack, scratch that. The Critical Thinking course that was scrapped was A-Level, not IB.Report

Stephen Bloch-Schulman
Stephen Bloch-Schulman
Reply to  Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

I am very interested in your question: “Don’t most of us think that the reading, writing, and critical thinking (argument analysis) skills students get in college philosophy courses are both better than what they get in most coursework and useful for most of their other coursework across disciplines? I do.” Particularly, I am wondering what would make us justified in such a claim. Is it that we think philosophy as a subject matter is better for student learning, or that we are better teachers, or some of both?Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
5 years ago

Sounds like a good idea. I think the difficult part would be constructing the Exam and grading procedures. If this is done well, then it will allay the fears about people getting credit for a poorly taught class. If students don’t do well on the exam (whether the fault is theirs or their teachers) they don’t get college credit. I think the route to more students is more people majoring or minoring in philosophy, not more people taking intro courses, so I’m willing to gamble one for the other. I think pt. #2 above by Nahmias is a good point too in that if this because wide spread we will have more people who want to be high school teachers majoring/minoring in philosophy. There are currently a number of subjects that have a built in career – teaching that subject in high school. Philosophy might be seen as a safer field to get a degree in, if it had that option.Report

Daniel
Daniel
5 years ago

Several people are suggesting that this is a good idea if we can require a minimal level of qualification for teachers of AP philosophy. This is simply an unreasonable expectation. There are not currently qualification requirements for teachers of AP courses (https://professionals.collegeboard.com/k-12/assessment/ap/plan/training).

I am deeply skeptical of the value of an AP philosophy course. One of the great values of intro philosophy at the college level is its focus on developing writing skills. This simply will not be the focus of a class directed at enabling students to complete a 3 hour exam. I think this is just as likely to teach bad habits and turn off students to philosophy.

I agree that it’s a good thing for people to be exposed to philosophy. But I think that what’s more important is the quality of that exposure, not its timeliness. In fact, I often think that philosophy is something you get more out of if you’re more mature.Report

Another Grad Student
Another Grad Student
5 years ago

Philosophy at the high school level is something that I have championed in casual conversation for a long time (as I’m sure is the case for many other philosophers). But reflecting on it more now, there are certain worries that I think need to be taken into consideration for any implementation of an AP course to be successful.

1) Teachers need to be adequately prepared for the material. Most of the other comments have raised this concern. It isn’t limited to philosophy either – I don’t wish unprepared teachers on any high school course (though it might be easier to wing it in, for example, biology, if one is teaching primarily rote facts from a textbook). It does seem especially difficult to do for philosophy, however, as hopefully the next point emphasizes.

2) A philosophy AP course should not just be literature review for philosophical authors. This is probably going to be a somewhat controversial remark, but it’s worth making, whether or not I argue for it successfully. One prima facie difficulty I see for a philosophy AP course is that testing has to be standardized for the entire country, which means a certain kind of test that accounts for differences in teacher and grader qualifications. The best model that exists now for a philosophy exam would be the AP literature exam. But how satisfying is that model? So far as I can tell, there are two important desiderata for introductory learning in philosophy: (i) to expose students to philosophical literature and arguments in a non-superficial way, and (ii) to teach philosophical reasoning and writing. The problem emerges, then, of how to construct a syllabus such that students read enough historically important philosophy, but also feel encouraged to present their own ideas and arguments as clearly as possible (that is to DO some philosophy themselves!). In particular, students ought to feel like their arguments and interpretations can be valuable if well argued. It would be a shame, for example, if AP philosophy students emerged from the course touting their expertise in ‘bullshitting’ their instructors, rather than feeling empowered by their newly acquired critical thinking and reasoning skills. The former is a trope I see associated with high school literary analysis often enough so as to be disconcerting. Students go on to write AP exams where they regurgitate accepted analysis positions, and leave feeling as though which sorts of analysis are accepted and which aren’t is an arbitrary matter! I’m highly skeptical that you can teach philosophy to high school students in a way that promotes a lot of open discussion and emphasizes the unique skills involved in doing philosophy while at the same preparing them to do well on a standardized exam.Report

Ian Werkheiser
Ian Werkheiser
5 years ago

I admit I’m not very familiar with it, but I know there’s a philosophy component to mandatory testing for high school students in France, the “Bac Philo,” which has a bit of a mixed reception (e.g. http://theweek.com/articles/562230/strange-ritual-frances-national-philosophy-test , http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22729780 , http://www.france24.com/en/20110616-france-baccalaureate-exams-philosophy-europe-curriculum-university ). It isn’t an exact parallel to what’s being discussed, since it’s a mandatory exam rather than an optional AP course for college credit, but the arguments for and against keeping the Bac Philo might be an interesting resource, and the format (open-ended questions rather than reviews of thinkers) is an interesting model for discussion.Report

Baron Reed
Baron Reed
5 years ago

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the discussion so far. It may be helpful to know that there are many people who given a great deal of thought to how philosophy may be taught in high school–e.g., the people in PLATO (http://plato-philosophy.org).

Twice a year, I visit the philosophy classes at Hinsdale Central High School, taught by Chris Freiler (also on the panel at the upcoming Central APA). I am very happy to report that his students are exceptionally well-prepared for philosophy in college. Indeed, I have had several of his former students pass through my classes at Northwestern, where they have excelled. By the end of their high school course, they are definitely comparable to Northwestern students who have taken introduction to philosophy. Chris has an MA in philosophy from NIU (and was a student of mine when I taught there); my sense is that some other high school philosophy teachers have similar qualifications, but this is certainly not universal. Matt Drabek mentioned above the possibility of philosophy professors running workshops to help provide training for high school teachers. I know that Mitch Green has done something like this through the NEH, and I would hope that there would be widespread interest in taking part. The broader point, though, is that there already is excellent pre-college instruction in philosophy taking place. The question to consider, then, is whether having an AP Philosophy exam would bring this to a wider group of students (without also bringing new problems into existence).

To me, there are several positive considerations in favor of the idea. One of them has been mentioned already (by, e.g., Senior Undergrad): it would probably help boost enrollments because there would be more incoming undergraduates with an awareness of what philosophy is like. Some high schools already do offer philosophy courses, but without a related AP exam, there is often trouble getting good enrollments for them. High school students are now highly attuned to the potential risks and benefits of everything they do. Philosophy courses are not an easy A, so there is some risk to their GPA. At the same time, AP courses provide a GPA boost, as well as the promise of college credit. With those benefits, many students will take a chance on something new. Without them, they may opt instead for US Government and Politics, Art History, Psychology, or Music Theory–all of which have AP exams.

In any case, I would very much like to encourage people to come to the APA session, with both positive and negative considerations.Report

Nick Smith
Nick Smith
5 years ago

Greetings: I support an AP philosophy course for many of the reasons already mentioned, and I wanted to note here two things we are doing with high school students in New Hampshire. First, we have an annual philosophy conference for about 1000 local high school students at UNH. It is run and organized by high school students. Here is a short video on the event a few years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUyHGvZ3sMk. We are a small state, so 1000 students choosing to come and do philosophy with us is heart warming. Also, we have a one or two week long summer sleepover “philosophy camp” at UNH for high school students: http://cola.unh.edu/chi/fli. Both programs generate a lot of interest from students, and an AP course would add some institutional structure and mainstream “credibility” that would support interested students (and assuage parents who might see more value in a philosophy course with the AP stamp) . I know of several cases in local schools where students had to choose between a philosophy course and an AP course, and an AP philosophy course would change that dynamic. Report

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

I like Chris Surprenant’s comments and line of thinking about alternatives to an AP course. One thing that worries me with an AP course is that the kinds of schools that are in a position to offer such are most like to be suburban, upper middle class, probably private (but not necessarily so if the local property values are high and local public education well-funded), and largely white. i’d like to hear more about and support programs that bring philosophy into underfunded and less advantaged schools and neighborhoods, where they might make a difference beyond gaining college credit.Report

Jon Shaheen
5 years ago

First, Justin, thanks for hosting this discussion.

Second, Baron, although I won’t be able to make the Central APA, I am very glad to have the opportunity to hear some of your thoughts here. I also want to thank you for raising the visibility of the topic by bringing it up here.

Third, as a member of the APA Committee for Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, I think it’s safe to say that past and current members of the committee, as well as the membership of PLATO and a wide variety of institutional and community partners, have been thinking about the pros and cons of an AP course for some years now. It remains a rather contentious subject, but at least some of the committee members were interested in exploring the idea a bit more seriously than we had in the past. But that is not the end of the conversation so much as a new beginning.

I am personally at the stage where I am trying to decide what exactly I think the framework for an AP course should look like. Indeed, that’s why Kris Phillips and I have organized a panel (featuring Andrea Woody, Michael Ruse, Peter Railton, and Evan Fales) for the Pacific APA on whether there is a place for philosophy of science in high school curricula. I hope you will all come to the Central APA and Pacific APA panels, and continue sharing your thoughts with me and the many other concerned parties as we try to figure out whether to do this, and if so, how to do it in a minimally damaging and maximally beneficial way.

Fourth, I don’t really think it’s my place to shape the public discussion, but I will mention one worry about AP courses that I share, and one thing that convinces me we should do it anyway. The worry is that there are already a wide variety of initiatives to teach philosophy at the high school level, and by promulgating a standardized curriculum, we would risk undermining or paternalistically reshaping many of them. But ultimately I think of this as a reason not to require particular authors, not to insist that they read particular dead white dudes, even though I really love some of those dead white dudes and got interested in philosophy because of them. Instead we should require discussion of truth and good and so on.

The thing that convinces me is that initiatives like Chris Surprenant’s require Chris Surprenants. That is, they require at least supererogatory and probably superhuman efforts by heroic individuals, and I don’t see how that’s sustainable at scale. The best thing we were able to do with Michigan’s high school outreach program was to make it not dependent on any individual. (Michigan now accidentally has an individual who is ridiculously good at the job doing it–she got us on NPR!–but there is also some community and national infrastructure in place to keep things going now.) I think of The College Board as pre-scaled infrastructure for bringing philosophy to the masses.

Ok. I’ll hang up and listen.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

I’m a former philosophy instructor who now teaches high school AP English. We offer a one-semester Philosophy course (which I teach) and it (along with a philosophy discussion club) get a lot of interest at my school. My school is in suburban Atlanta and is a relatively mixed demographic.

As for who would teach the course, finding people who specialized in teaching philosophy would be hard, but a broad certification in Social Studies-Behvioral Sciences (where our course is housed) allows one to teach Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, and Philosophy electives.

To felonius screwtape’s comment about the kids taking the exam: if a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch, there is a fee reduction available for them. (At my school, FRL students can take any AP tests for free) This would encourage more of the non middle and upper class students to take the test.

http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/waivers/guidelines/ap?excmpid=MTG54-ED-1-appub

I would be very interested in the development of this process. I would love to offer this course. Report

Eddy Nahmias
5 years ago

Jon and Baron and Chris and anyone else involved, Thank you for working on this project. I strongly share Jon’s point about the need for an infrastructure if we are going to scale up from the few current projects to a national movement. Putting aside the practical problems of developing a curriculum that is good enough (do we really think that university profs in other fields think the AP curricula in their fields are perfect?)–and I think diversity of traditions, authors, areas will be crucial, but also cause debates–and figuring out how to find the teachers for it, is there really any decent argument for not trying to get philosophy into the high school curriculum? (The idea that it’s better to wait until students are more mature is not convincing anyone else, is it?)
My wife runs the IB program at the high school here. Let me know if it would help to get more detailed syllabi and information about the IB Philosophy course. Since IB typically has better courses, a better philosophy of education, and a better grading setup than AP, trying to build off of what they’ve already created seems like a plausible start.Report

Eric
Eric
5 years ago

After reading the comments, I was taken a little aback by how philosophers seem to view high school teachers. For instance, Matt Drabek’s “dystopian scenario” envisions “unqualified high school teachers blandly and poorly teach watered down historical biographies of philosophers and inaccurate and superficial presentations of their ideas, and then administer exams with questions written and graded by a testing company without philosophy expertise.” I’m not here to defend the College Board, but my students who take the AP Lit and AP Lang tests tend to pass the test, carry in some English credit to college, and do extremely well in college-level English (and Philosophy) courses. The College Board English courses are curated by people with degrees in English, many of whom are either (or both) college professors and classroom teachers. I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case with a philosophy test as well.

Another Grad Student says “Teachers need to be adequately prepared for the material. Most of the other comments have raised this concern. It isn’t limited to philosophy either – I don’t wish unprepared teachers on any high school course ” This seems funny to me…why is there not an outrage about ‘unprepared college instructors’ on the same level? As a high school teacher, I’m evaluated six times a year. As a full-time college instructor, I was never evaluated once by my superiors. In ELEVEN YEARS, I never had a single in-class evaluation. I have known a LOT of terrible collegiate level teachers, from adjuncts to full professors. The claim seems more like a claim about philosophy’s ‘turf’ than anything else.

Given the recent discussion here about philosophy trying to ‘reach out’ to the more general community, both of these comments seem to imply that the best possible way for one to learn philosophy is by someone far more qualified than a mere high school teacher. By implication, of course, you would mean someone who had done a PhD in philosophy, which makes philosophy the sole province of a very small group of people. And, of course, it makes philosophy only accessible to the college bound, but offering philosophy in public schools would allow students who might not be college-bound a chance to explore it.
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H.F.Ghost
H.F.Ghost
5 years ago

Agreed. I’m going to use your format because it’s efficient [for me to write]. “The College Board English courses are curated by people with degrees in English, many of whom are either (or both) college professors and classroom teachers. I don’t see why that wouldn’t be the case with a philosophy test as well.”
This is a great idea, and the APA should look into this.

“As a high school teacher, I’m evaluated six times a year. As a full-time college instructor, I was never evaluated once by my superiors. In ELEVEN YEARS, I never had a single in-class evaluation. I have known a LOT of terrible collegiate level teachers, from adjuncts to full professors. The claim seems more like a claim about philosophy’s ‘turf’ than anything else.”
Yes. High school teachers are held to higher standards when it comes to managing their classrooms- and they should be. They are more responsible for their students than college instructors are.

And your whole last paragraph was on-point. Look, if people love philosophy, they will see the value of teaching it to any group of people- whether it’s a group of college kids, prison inmates, eighth-graders in an urban charter school, or even high schoolers. And given the current job market, we should probably want to create more job opportunities for ourselves- and this seems like a pretty good way to do it.

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Jon Lawhead
5 years ago

Baron et. al.,

This is something that I’ve wanted to see for years now, and I think it’s a wonderful idea. There’s a steadily growing body of information out there now suggesting that pre-college philosophy instruction confers a number of tangible benefits to students across many backgrounds and trajectories, and (at least in my experience) high school aged students tend to also have a lot of fun exploring the subject. While I was in grad school, I helped launch Columbia University’s philosophy outreach program, which paired graduate students in philosophy at Columbia with graduate students in Philosophy & Education at Columbia Teachers College in order to help New York area middle and high schools integrate philosophy into their curriculum. The program was (and still remains) extremely popular and successful, with involvement ranging from the facilitation of informal philosophy clubs, to guest lectures in other courses, to the design and implementation of full year-long accredited philosophy courses. The students, graduate instructors, teachers, and secondary school administrators almost all thought it was beneficial and great fun. I’ve also taught several high school level intensive philosophy courses during the summer over the last ten years with Johns Hopkins’ Center For Talented Youth program. Based on what I saw working with students in those two settings, I’m inclined to think that very many people at that age are naturally drawn to philosophical topics, and capable of surprisingly sophisticated philosophical reasoning, given a little guidance. A national AP course would be quite popular, I think, and would be a wonderful way to prime incoming first year college students to appreciate philosophy.

I can imagine two basic tracks such an AP course might take. One possibility is a class built like the more common “philosophy 101” curriculum, focusing on a historical overview of some of the most important figures, movements, and ideas from the history of philosophy. We might call this the “Great Ideas” philosophy AP. A student taking the Great Ideas type of class would (ideally) come out of it with a general sense of the trajectory of philosophy, some familiarity with major figures from different historical periods and their arguments, and the ability to analyze, compare, and contrast the views of different thinkers effectively. Critical reading and critical exegetical writing would be natural skills on which to focus.

A second possibility might be to focus less on a general historical survey and instead focus on the exploration of some of the problems that are of interest to philosophers today, and the methods used to tackle them. We might call this the “Philosophical Problems” AP philosophy. A student the Philosophical Problems type of class would (ideally) come out of it with a sense of what sorts of things are going on in philosophy today, what makes various problems interesting to philosophers, and how to rigorously approach complicated problems to better understand them. Critical reading and persuasive argumentative writing based on textual analysis would be natural skills to focus on there.

Each of these two approaches would have its associated advantages and disadvantages, and would leave students with skills and knowledge that, though overlapping in many respects, would also be distinct. I can imagine developing distinct assessment tools and curricula for each, with the choice of which course to pursue depending on the interests of the students, background of the instructors, and thematic fit with different secondary schools’ core curriculum. In an ideal case, the two classes might be offered in tandem: either in parallel or as part of a AP philosophy sequence: something like what the AP English Language and AP English Literature courses already do. Offering this sort of choice might also somewhat decrease the difficulty of answering questions centered around whether, how, and where a university should “count” the AP credit.

In either case, universities might choose, rather than issuing a waiver for a particular class, to allow the AP work to count as an elective toward a degree–work that yields collage credits toward completion, but doesn’t “excuse” a student from any particular class at the university. An approach like that would reward the student without the necessity of ensuring that all courses offered at all institutions are similar enough in content and approach to analogous courses at most major universities. This sort of pluralistic design would give the high school instructor some creative control over how his or her own course might work best given student talents and interests (along with the instructor’s interests and knowledge), as well as give college philosophy departments some say in how each course fits best into their own overall curriculum.

With some good curriculum guidelines developed by professional philosophers who also have an interest and background in pre-college philosophy, I think this could work remarkably well. I would hope that, among other things, courses like these in high school would help attract more members of traditionally underrepresented demographics–who frequently find themselves feeling pushed away from the discipline now when their first exposure to it comes in the form of a university seminar–to college philosophy.

I’m very anxious to see where this goes, and would like to help in any way I can. I think it’s a great idea, and long overdue for consideration. Report

Nick Byrd
5 years ago

I took AP Psychology in high school (from someone without graduate training in psychology) and I didn’t like it, so I took zero psychology courses in college. About 3 years after I finished my BA I started studying psychology on my own and decided to take a graduate course in psychology. It was among the best academic experiences I’ve ever had. But I was mid-way through grad school in …not psychology, so I didn’t have the luxury to take many more courses in psychology.

This seems to be an instance of the kind of worry that many have expressed above …except, ya know, it’s about AP Psychology, not AP Philosophy.

Of course this isn’t a reason to not develop an AP Philosoohy course. It’s just a reason to make sure that AP Philosophy courses are taught in a way that gives academic philosophy a fair chance. Report

Matt Nagel
Matt Nagel
5 years ago

i’ve been teaching a philosophical ethics class in a public school for ten years. It’s a very popular class…. it’s mostly just a historical review of the philosophical tradition for the first semester and then application of what we’ve learned in the context of contemporary moral dilemmas. Not sure how to test it in the vein of AP testing… maybe the prompts could be like high school ethics bowl problems and students evaluate the problem using a philosophical framework….this could work. How do I get involved in helping to make this happen?Report

Chris Surprenant
Reply to  Matt Nagel
5 years ago

Matt,
Can you email me at [email protected]? It might be possible for us to work with you and your students. If so, your students would qualify to receive 3 transferrable college credits. But I’ll need to know more about your background, what’s being covered in the course, the students, etc. Thanks!
ChrisReport

Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
5 years ago

It seems like as long as philosophers are very involved in the design of the AP exam, it doesn’t matter if those teaching the class have coursework in philosophy. So any worry about how to uphold standards doesn’t seem very persuasive to me. And like many others I think there are serious questions about whether such an exam should test their knowledge of historical figures, of good arguments, of how to apply philosophical concepts in practice…but I think whatever we did it would be a step forward.

And of course we shouldn’t stop with just an AP exam. Many philosophers, including groups like PLATO, are pushing for more K-12 philosophy and it isn’t like their efforts would be over once we got an AP course.Report

Baron Reed
Baron Reed
5 years ago

Thanks, everyone, for all of the helpful comments so far! You all have given me much to think about as I prepare for the panel at the Central APA. That will happen on March 5, from 2:45-5:45–if you can, please do come. My sense is that this does represent an excellent opportunity to help push philosophy further into the public square. As Kristina said, too, we should view it as a beginning rather than as and endpoint.Report

Paul Gagne
Paul Gagne
5 years ago

I have taught Philosophy at both college and high school levels, and found that while our discipline is sometimes considered as a kind of elitist field “for the smart people,” the truth is that thoughtful (and relatively literate) persons at either level enjoy the activity and challenge of Philosophy. I prefer to use a thematic approach–the “great questions”–which enables a certain tailoring to the audience without diluting the intent or the mature reading and conversation required by the subject. Report

Interested Grad Student
Interested Grad Student
5 years ago

Any update on how this went?Report

JM
JM
4 years ago

Any update? I would have gladly chimed in months ago. I’m a AP public High School Teacher with his bachelors and masters from top ten philosophy schools. So yeah, I would love to teach an AP philosophy course. As to the concern about high school teachers ruining philosophy, it’s not unique to any subject, is it? Yet somehow the other subjects thrive. Some AP tests are structured very well and by teachers just teaching to the test are able to do fairly well. Never mind those who would be sincere and rigorously engage with philosophy. How’d it go?Report

David Smith
David Smith
4 years ago

I would love to see an AP philosophy class in the high schools. Although I only have a minor in philosophy, I have been teaching philosophy to my high school debate students for years. I also included a considerable amount of philosophy in the few college ethics classes I taught before deciding to abandon my legal profession and pursue teaching full time. On another note, I have had several students over the years ask me about AP philosophy. Although almost all of these students were active in the debate community, they represent a distinct niche of students who would welcome and take the course were it to be offered. Report

Laura
Laura
4 years ago

Any update on this? I too would love to teach an AP Philosophy class!!Report

Jon Shaheen
4 years ago

Here is something like an update on AP Philosophy: there is a committee composed partly of some members of the APA’s Committee for Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy and partly of some members of PLATO, which is aimed at creating an AP Philosophy course. I am the chairperson of the curriculum subcommittee of that committee, and we continue to work actively on a draft curriculum framework for AP Philosophy.

Our work is one step in what is actually a pretty long process to create an AP course. But if you think your school might be interested in participating in an AP Philosophy course, please do send me an email. I’ll make sure you and your school are on the relevant lists.

The next public event in some sense related to the project will take place from 4-6 pm on April 15 at the Pacific APA in Seattle. Kris Phillips (SUU) and I organized a panel for the Committee for Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy, which Kris will chair, on curricular and extracurricular approaches to philosophy. Brian Collins (CLU) and Geoff Sayre-McCord (UNC) are scheduled to talk about their experiences with extracurricular approaches to philosophy in the US, and their thoughts on the advantages and disadvantages of extracurricular vs. curricular approaches to pre-college philosophy instruction. Floor Rombout (UvA) will talk about the national philosophy curriculum in the Netherlands and her ongoing research on its implementation.Report

hs philosophy teacher
hs philosophy teacher
3 years ago

I am currently a high school teacher who (a) has an undergraduate degree and state endorsement in philosophy and (b) teaches high school philosophy and logic courses.

In our philosophy course, we introduce students to epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics. The logic class covers informal fallacies, “informal,” natural language logic, and propositional logic (with truth-tables, truth-trees, and natural deduction). Because we draw from a (6200 student) three-school campus, we typically enroll 300-350 students in each year’s offerings.

While an AP Philosophy class would likely increase enrollment, I can see a couple of issues in offering the class: as said above, it would lead to a standardized curriculum (e.g. perhaps moving from a our topical approach to a historical approach); it could also fall victim to the AP-teach-to-the-test-syndrome (which, given philosophy’s emphasis on independent analysis, would be both ironic and tragic).

Even so, I’m eager to see what an AP Philosophy class would “look like.” Report

Greg Jones
Greg Jones
2 years ago

Has there ever been an AP Philosophy course? I don’t think so but could be wrong.Report