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James Kirschberg

Owner - General Manager, Think Defy Unite LLC

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What topics/subjects/concepts do you think should be taught in primary public schools that are not being taught today?

It seems that most public schools are narrowing their curricula rather than expanding upon them. The impetus is towards standardized testing based upon standardized teaching rather than individualized learning and focused communication. As woeful as this approach is, there are still opportunities to work within that framework and present really useful information to Earth's most important individuals: Our Next Generation.

The classic subjects of Language, Math, Science, History, and Art/Music should be sacrosanct, but what of Collaboration, Empathy, Ethics, Responsibility and Self-Awareness? Maybe we should be teaching really useful things such as Project Management, Personal Finance, and perhaps even (gasp) Independent Thinking? Should these concepts be taught in public school? Can they be taught in public school? If not, why not? If so, how do we proceed?

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    Mar 15 2012: Hi James,

    "Empathy, Ethics, Responsibility and Self-Awareness" are all topics covered in philosophy, as is "Independent Thinking." So, to answer one of your questions, I think philosophy should *at least* be offered as an elective at the high school level. Students are learning a great many facts and, what is happening is, since they seldom use them (like facts about chemistry, for instance), they forget much of what they have learned. Philosophy is an excellent study that teaches students how to think well and consider alternatives. One study found that teaching students logic improved their critical thinking skills—http://jite.org/documents/Vol8/JITEv8IIP001-016Bouhnik681.pdf—which should not be a surprise. So philosophy ought to be taught because it teaches students how to think *well*.

    Second, an excellent education does not exclude an ethical education. "How should we live?" is, after all, one of the most important questions (if not *the* most important, as some philosophers have argued) that we can grapple with. By teaching students about ethics, we can teach them how to live better lives through ethical reasoning. I think philosophy satisfies a number of the qualities you bring up in your question regarding what a sound education ought to provide. What do you think?

    Lastly, I agree that public schools ought to teach courses that are more practical and prepare students for the "real world"—personal finance is a great example of this.
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      Mar 15 2012: Thank you Paul for your reply. To your point, perhaps some of the applied aspects of Philosophy (i.e. Critical Thinking, Ethics, etc) would be beneficial in a high-school setting. A protracted and in-depth study of the many branches of philosophical nuance would however be, to my thinking, more appropriate within a college-level framework.

      Can you think of any ways in which your local high schools could introduce new studies? Does it need to be mandated by the state?
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        Mar 15 2012: You're welcome, and thank you for a great topic. We're in agreement that an "in-depth study of the many branches of philosophical nuance would however be (. . .) more appropriate within a college-level framework. I don't think high school students need to spend an entire year studying metaphysics, for instance. What I propose is that three philosophy courses be offered: logic/critical thinking, ethics, and an introductory course (that covers epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics). This way they learn a little bit about philosophy and "right thinking," like what is and isn't permissible in argument, how to calculate the implications of any given belief, and how to relate this thinking to other areas of study. Philosophers are having to seek scientific understanding now more than ever—it is wise for metaphysicians to study quantum mechanics; ethicists to be well-read in psychology/sociology; philosophers of mind to be acquainted with neuroscience. Since science has many philosophical underpinnings, I think students should be familiar with philosophy because it will also sharpen their understanding of science. As for your questions, I'm not sure how it is done. I know of two professors at my school who are pushing to get philosophy into high schools (in North Carolina), but they're not really making any progress.
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        Mar 15 2012: Allan Bloom has some important things to say about all of this:

        "Education in our times must try to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion."

        And again:

        "Fathers and mothers have lost the idea that the highest aspiration they might have for their children is for them to be wise... specialized competence and success are all that they can imagine."

        But not only fathers and mothers, I would add. All that seems to matter today is the "specialized competence and success." I do not necessarily have a problem with "specialized competence and success" in themselves, but education has lost its way when it pushes the notion that these things are all that matter. Education should also provide what Bloom talks about in the first quote—"to find whatever there is in students that might yearn for completion, and to reconstruct the learning that would enable them autonomously to seek that completion."

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