How would we Teach Philosophy In Public Secondary Schools?

The teaching of philosophy in general will be be a minefield for any teacher, administrator, or school district to navigate.  Well it comes to religious belief systems, the idea that one can speculate in a public classroom the existence of god and not get slapped with multiple law suits is an exercise in stupidity.  The atheists will sue and so will the christians and the moslems (we do have an increasing number of that faith migrating into our country.  One would never dare to ask our teenagers to read Bertrand Russel”s book on philosophical problems.  We could teach the beginnings of philosophy as introduced by the Greeks but we all know that bunch were polytheistic and full of debauchery.  Imagine, going to drunken orgies for the so called purpose of debating competing views of philosophy.  Funny thing is that I have a philosophy professor who thought it would be a great day for the university if the philosophy department held a part and everyone was required to imbibe a little while debating the primary questions and the various schools of thought.  He thought such a group might just publish something original.  Well, a little inhibition generally helps the philosopher learn new ways of perceiving the world.

Let’s face it, when it comes to the Greek philosophers socrates was a jerk whose game was to get you to commit to defining your meanings, easiest way to win an argument.  Plato was a fascist and aristotle was a hack more interested in categorizing everything instead of being original.  The stoics took all the fun out of life and the carry over to the roman philosophers was more of the same.  As to the medieval group, well that is forbotten.  Besides, Aquinas was really kind of boring with all his talk about the right way to believe and the true existence of god and all that stuff.  Oakum had a razor that eventually cut his throat, seems hearsay was really a drag once you were accused.  Sort of like being white and being accused of having white privilege, you were always guilty even if you thought you could prove your innocence.  Maybe we should wait for the enlightenment.  But oh, god pops up here and there again.  You know the baptists are going for no Bishop Berkeley and his “it’s all in your mind”.  No, no way Jose.  No, it’s best to keep the faithful illiterate.  And don’t you go mentioning no Barouk Spinosa, neither.  Well, what about John Lock, a man who could write paragraph long sentences containing four or five ideas that all tie up in the last phrase?  Oh surely you jest.  Our teenagers have a hard enough time if a sentence has more than six or seven words, forget dependent clauses.  The only clause they know is named Santa.  No, one needs more than a running start at greatly extended attention span.

If I were going to start some program such as teaching philosophy in high school, I think I would teach it as a history of philosophy.  I think the least amount of resistance one would get from the various groups would be the historical aspect of philosophy.  We are not asking the student to regurgitate the various philosophical arguments for each school and thus come to a conclusion that god may not be exactly dead, maybe he is only sleeping and his alarm failed to go off.  A good place to start is Will Durant’s History of Philosophy.  It is general enough so as to soothe any feathers that might be ruffled.  I’ve read it and enjoyed it very much.  The focus is on the main schools of philosophy until one gets to the modern times.  If I remember, he stops about 1900.  Well, yes we can’t be doing all that nihilistic stuff about god doesn’t exist and it certainly doesn’t do to let them read god is dead, we killed him with our enlightenment by some mad German philosopher.  Heaven forefend!  God forbid we should let teenagers think for themselves.

I think back to my days in the service and that one book I found (it’s literally falling apart) that was such a good introduction for me.  I fear I shall never find another copy.  Now it did not detail every school and the modern schools were left out.  Still, to sit and read about these various schools was a great treat for me.  It was a very good introduction.  I think the beauty of it was that unlike the Oxford or Cambridge companions to philosophy, this one tended to be short and sweet.  Assuming one could obtain reprints, that is the one I would use.  My other favorite is History of Philosophy by Julian Marias, the translation from Spanish, naturally.  I have been reading that volume as a respite from the world of novels and science.  I must add a caveat that this would be geared more for the advanced placement student.  Durant would be for the average student.  You see, trying to teach the average student critical thinking is like trying to teach a horse how to drive a car.  If truth be known, the average individual can no more engage in critical thinking than he can run the hundred yard dash i nine seconds, let alone ten.  At age sixteen I could do the hundred in ten seconds and the fifty in five.  But that was my limit.  that is the point, we all have physical and intellectual limits.  I really think that if the average individual can see the history of philosophical ideas then he can start to recognize patterns of thinking.  Trying the teach metaphysical reasoning or symbolic logic is not for everyone.  I remember when the philosophy professor handed out the sheet of fifty proofs for us to do in the logic class, that was a real bear.  Most individual could barely complete fifteen to twenty of them.  Others could get to thirty or even forty.  I think I was the only one to ever solve all fifty and let me tell you it was a bitch and took a while.  After that computer chips and logic chips were a cinch.  Again, that kind of class is an advanced placement class in public school.

So, it is possible to teach philosophy in the secondary public school system?  Yes, but we must be careful to keep it general and historical, otherwise we rung into lawsuits.  Would you trust the average public school teacher to teach such courses?  Oh hell no, they haven’t the competence.  The education department is all to well known for its ignorance and stupidity.  If you got your degree as a teacher of mathematics, chances are you don’t know much about the subject.  If you obtained a BA in Math and then obtained your teaching certificate, then you know far more than the average public school math teacher.  That’s why common core is in such a mess, those who developed it had teaching degrees, not real degrees form the university world.  No, if you want student ot learn a bit of philosophy, then hire someone with at least a BA in that subject.  Otherwise we are left flubbing the dub in public and that is at least a misdemeanor.


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