Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.


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Why is philosophy so commonly taught in prestigious private prep schools and yet so rarely taught in public schools?

The ideal of a critical, reflective thinker which has driven the tradition of the liberal arts education seems to have a well-recognized and appreciated value in the hallways where the sons and daughters (etc.) of senators and governors and so on are sent. If the ability to read about and discuss and evaluate complex arguments on deep issues like justice and ethics is important to the education of future leaders, why, then, is it not voted in and funded as part of the education for public school students?

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    Apr 25 2011: Because the industrialists & Fabians who designed the American education system felt philosophy, critical thinking, logic, etc. were not useful skills for factory workers and that assumption is inbuilt at the base level of the modern approach to education. Private school was intended for the social elites and managerial class, and that is where the liberal arts are taught. As Woodrow Wilson put it,

    "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

    Or as it was put in a pamphlet released by the Rockefeller education lobbying group, which was highly influential in the design of the American education system,

    "We shall not try to make these children into philosophers, scientists, statesmen, etc. We have not to raise up from among them educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not prepare them to be great artists, painters, musicians, doctors, lawyers, preachers, politicians, etc., of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple... We will organize children ... teach them to do in a perfect way the things their parents are doing in an imperfect way."

    There is no mystery here. The school system is functioning as designed and intended. What is mysterious to me is that people expect it to produce something other than it was designed to produce without fundamentally altering its operation. You might as well try using a gun to heal and improve physical health as use the education system to heal and improve minds.
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    Sky F

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    Apr 22 2011: I heard an idea being tossed around before that we should outlaw private schools. The idea is that the rich are removed from the education system, and thus are able to let it rot, while meanwhile at private schools they have relatively intimate contact with the entire "school system" (because it is one school) and therefore are a whole lot more empowered to improve their child's education.

    The separation of the two just seems to lead to the growing divide you illustrate in this paragraph. Public school is becoming a joke and private school is more in line with reality (which is only getting more and more competitive.)

    Any thoughts on this?
    • Apr 22 2011: I wonder if instead of outlawing private schools, maybe we should outlaw public schools and run the entire system based on the private school model.
      The entire school system piece is intriguing. It would be worth diving into that.
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        Sky F

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        Apr 23 2011: So the rich get the best education? Eh...
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      Apr 22 2011: Sky, see my comment about segregated communities. Don't know why it didn't post as a reply. Alas.

      Robert, see same comment. It is unclear how a fully private school system would work any better, as the ability to set prices to exclude most of the current public school kids would create a similar (or worse!) system.
  • Jul 21 2011: I work in a private school in the UK teaching Philosophy and Religion. I am very interested in the diverse attitudes and approaches taken to this area of education across the world. In the UK Philosophy and Religion are taught in all schools as it is widely recognised that being able to think freely and intelligently about questions of meaning, value, purpose and justice is a vitally important part of being a citizen. Damon Horowitz's TED talk illustrates that this is true whatever professional sphere we are in. I wonder whether the main reason why Philosophy is not taught in American schools is directly due to the sensitivity that exists around the teaching of Religion in schools; after all, both Philosophy and Religion address the same questions of meaning, value, purpose and justice: it is very hard to address questions of philosophy without religious ideas and perspectives entering into discussion and debate. I have seen superb programs of study in both Philosophy and Religion in operation in American private schools and it is a great shame that such models can not be adopted in public schools. To anyone interested in the teaching of Philosophy and Religion in American schools I thoroughly recommend Diane Moore's excellent book, 'Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: A Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Religion in Secondary Education'.
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      Jul 22 2011: You make an interesting point, Rob, and I love hearing your perspective on how it works a little differently in the UK. I think here it is much more fundamental than a concern for the separation of church and state. Here there is a general lack of critical thinking taught across the board—civics and history classes don't have it, literature classes don't have it, even science classes don't have it. Philosophy is kind of the paradigm case.

      Another way to frame my question might be: How can we honestly believe we have a sustainable society if we don't give students the critical thinking skills to understand and adapt to meaningful changes that impact the larger context of meaning?
  • Apr 25 2011: I agree with Justen Robertson's reply. In fact I have read through all the replies and had started to formulate my own, until I read his reply which is the last post. I realised he had taken his reply right out of my brain; that thought plagiarist.

    The public education system is strictly utilitarian. It is designed to teach vocational qualifications and skills (I don't mean vocation as in working class skills but all manner of occupations) rather than a liberal education.

    It is a class problem, private schools do have a liberal education system, and the children who attend them are usually from the upper class and upper middle class. They are being educated to become future leaders and in reality they do hold most of the top jobs in the country. So education is the new guard to hold the new middle class in check. They know intelligence does not equal enlightenment. So a brilliant doctor or architect could go through life having little idea of what is truly going on.

    As your question pose about educating a whole generation of "critical reflective thinkers who have the ability to discuss and evaluate complex arguments on deep issues like justice and ethics", how do you think such a generation would impact the very structure of government and society. When we have a corrupt political/government system that lie through their teeth to get themselves elected. How would a George Bush be successful in using propaganda against such an enlightened populace?

    The power of democracy is the power of the masses, the mob. So regulating their education is in the interest of the keeping the status quo. Having a few rebels among the upper class or accidental philosophers of the lower classes is of no consequence as long as they are in control of the general populace. This brings us to the truth of the matter; public education is a system of control.
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      Apr 25 2011: how do you think such a generation would impact the very structure of government and society. When we have a corrupt political/government system that lie through their teeth to get themselves elected. How would a George Bush be successful in using propaganda against such an enlightened populace?

      They wouldn't!!

      Critical thinking is the word that will make a politician involved with education shut you out instantly, you are right sir.

      How do you see significant change taking place? (This goes for all to build on this simplified analysis)

      Great post David
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    Apr 22 2011: I feel the real reason that philosophy isn't a course at the public level is simply because, from a strict societal standpoint, having too many "philosophers" is not beneficial. In fact, it would be extremely detrimental. Can you imagine a good amount of people questioning society, and its purpose, along with their own respective role/point, etc. ect....It would make for a more enlightened but NOT more productive society; and to me, that's all there really is to it.

    Would the people who build the box for you ever teach you to think outside of it?
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      Apr 22 2011: But if we produced less material junk, wouldn't that be a step forward in and of itself?
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        Apr 22 2011: Oh yeah! I absolutely think so! I think it would be a great step forward in a lot of respects! But I also think that, that is NOT the way our world works. I believe its fairly obvious that our world (especially Western...even more so America) runs on people staying within their little box of.."I do this because my social, socioeconomic, general environmental context tells me to do it" you couple that with innate self-gain motive and people are perfectly content running in their hamster wheel, constantly chasing an ever changing plateau of nonsense ("I got to get to the best University"---so I cram random stuff in my head to get there. "I got to get the best job"----so I cram random college stuff in my head to get it. "I' got to get the best house/car"----so I crunch random job numbers to get that promotion.) I simply think that this is how the "system" works and its not about to willingly teach generations to think themselves out of it.
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          Sky F

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          Apr 23 2011: This is so incredibly depressing.
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          Apr 23 2011: exceptional.
        • Apr 28 2011: Its also a bit wrong. What we know doesn't dictate how we act in a vacuum. What we do and how our lives are run is largely a result of what everyone else around us knows in comparison. Modern people are pretty intelligent via a lot of recent innovations that just didn't exist a few hundred years ago. By modern standards we're all already a huge collective of philosophers by simply wondering how the world works much at all. Most of us are not farmers anymore and yet the world still turns.
        • Jul 24 2011: @Jashuoa Beers

          You couldn't have described our current educational system and moreover "the meaning of life for the 21st century" more eloquently. We are caught in epicycles of just wanting more and more of this and that. Much of our Western Society has taken on this subconscious Philosophy from our collective intelligence of sorts. If our western civilization was a big Brain and we had a subconscious mind, we could compare this phenomenon with Sigmund Frued's primitive animal ego (the ego that deals with our innate need of self satisfaction by doing what's best according to what others say). I am not demeaning our lifestyle but just describing it scientifically if that.
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      Apr 22 2011: I'm not sure the "too many" argument is valid for not teaching something, since it can be applied to anything.

      If we have too many doctors, there will be fewer people producing food, entertainment, and so on. Even though it would mean we'll have more people to take care of sick people, having people starve and not having a good time means more physical and mental disorders for the otherwise increased amount of doctors to deal with.

      If we have too many entertainers, there will be fewer people producing food, or providing us with medical/legal/financial/communication services, in turn making our life more miserable rather than more happy.

      If we have too many physicists, we'll have fewer doctors, including researches on diseases, as well as fewer food producers and technicians. Us trying to acquire knowledge of the universe would lead to our oblivion.

      If we have too many food producers, no one will die from starvation (assuming we export cheaply to the rest of the world), but we'll increase the already high obesity rates and not improve our life in any way one bit, but instead increase the burden on the fewer doctors due to the associated diseases.

      I can go on and on... Having too much of anything is never good. That's not an argument for not introducing it in schools... at least the basics of it.

      But yeah, I also agree that having to go over the most education hoops doesn't guarantee a job is good/better/best, and this kind of thinking needs to be dealt with somehow, perhaps if something like Khan Academy's system was to become more mainstream.
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        Apr 23 2011: Vasil, I certainly get what you are saying: too many of any given role in society undermines the whole. However the question pertains to why PUBLIC schools are not teaching philosophy and this is where my point is made. Public schools don't teach kids to be doctors, entertainers, physicists, etc (they may give the all important building blocks but not the actual defined course to becoming one of those respective positions.) I am not arguing that public schools would/should purposely try to make every child's CAREER a Philosopher, I am saying that they don't even want to lay the framework because they know that fostering those kind of free thinking ideas are dangerous to society as a conglomerate in that if radical (but enlightened) ideas are held by the mass public, the mass society would become a lot less malleable and harder to control/ manipulate.

        Oh and Sky, If I may respond to you here...

        "The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."
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          Apr 23 2011: Ah, as my favorite professor would ask in response.

          "Who is "they"?"

          I understand everything you mean by limiting thought processes for controlling purposes, but who is doing it exactly?

          And, great quote.
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        Apr 23 2011: Ahh great question! The ever, mysterious "they"... I would be lying if I told you I was sure. But my best guess (or at least most intriguing contention) would be that the "they" is actually just the societal will manifested, the "Sovereign" (if you have an affinity for Rousseau). It's almost like the Social Contract's active intent, presently in a society. Upon reflection, I think it would be a mistake on my part to say "they", I think It's probably more like an "It". And I would think there are several levels to "It." The one I just mentioned: what the "Collective" wants. But then of course, at some level, that has to play off what the members want.: and I think that would be a general, innate desire to live, and live long and with the best level of happiness possible; but also equally (if not more) important is that innate drive to see humanity, specifically their respective society survive (if for no other reason, than to vicariously "achieve" immortality through it). This latter part I think is especially important in this: as then the manifestation of these desire (as a conglomerate) creates societal pressures and constructs to do what is best for the WHOLE, and employ measures and social constructs that are in line with that purpose.

        My point here would be that, almost every single one of us is on the hamster wheel to some degree...and it's not like there is some "slave master" who is off of it, forcing us to keep running. In fact if there even was a "slave master" he/she would probably be on a wheel of their own..because the wheel is really NOT created by one, or a group of specific people: on the contrary, it's made by all of us: it's part of the social contract. Perhaps we couldn't handle a world without the wheel. (I definitely feel that if more people studied "real" philosophy suicide rates would go up!)

        Wow that was a long diatribe! Hope some of it made sense. Definitely a healthy serving of conjecture but perhaps not completely devoid of truth!
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          Apr 23 2011: All you would had to say was the idea of the "Illuminati" (The people behind the people behind the people making the calls). I just wanted to see how you would respond and very good, strong beliefs plus factual conclusions is the best of philosophy in my opinion.

          It is impossible to determine "they" but it is of value to think in those terms to consider what the reality of some situations are, in this case government.

          I however learned how to trace to these people when involving our government, follow the money and you find those who are in the most control because due to the how advance our economics have became it is easy to agree. Money = power.

          This is why I fight for the ideas of the Venus Project because "Illuminati" ideals would be impossible or just very ineffective to the masses!

          I disagree for the first time with you though, if philosophy was more of value, there would be more people wanting to kill those who are performing control over people out of greed and selfishness to a degree that is destructive to life itself.

          I personal recommendation of reading for you is that of the artists during the "beat generation" the beatniks; the original angry poem writers who were anti-republic society who inspired all of the great musicians (and the people they inspired and so on.) in which inspires people everyday. Art is a powerful tool my friend. These people had the right ideas but were forced "underground" by those who believed the government is nothing but saints and humanitarians. Nothing could be further from the truth, there are exceptions but in the majority I feel over 80 percent of politicians in America are out for themselves not the general well being.
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        Apr 23 2011: Thank you very much for the reading recommendations, when the opportunity presents itself I will certainly take your advice my friend.

        I have certainly heard my fair share of Illuminati contentions (my brother is an ardent believer). I think regardless of who particularly is in control (your absolutely right it's not going to be poor people that's for sure!) its safe to make the case it's generally like this: the queen bee likes being the queen bee and wants to make sure that all the worker bees continue to execute their honey-gathering in a consistent manner and there is no way the queen bee will ever train the worker bees to think about what the world is like beyond the "hive." But what I was trying to delve into in my last post (successfulness or unsuccessfully I'm not sure) is trying to figure out why this is. Why is society seemingly always formed in this manner? And that's the lens I think my last post should be viewed in.

        I agree with you to an extent in that people, given enough understanding of what's really going on around them, would lash out (I think that's what you were saying, my bad if I didn't interpret that correctly). However I feel like if they were to continue their philosophy they would move from not just understanding that they are running on a hamster wheel; but that they are also DESIGNED to run on that hamster wheel; that some people are "made to be worker bees" to an extent. And I think that's what I was trying to articulate when I was speculating on high suicide rates. The idea that people would first get angry that they were on the hamster wheel, but after some time they would come to realize that their respective hamster wheels gave them a purpose (it kept them busy and gave them a reason to wake up) Albeit not a very good one, but a reason non the less. And with out those hamster wheels (which I believe, through society they made) a lot would find the nearest bridge to jump off of.
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          Apr 24 2011: Heed your own words of wisdom sir..

          "The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable."

          Although being miserable is the resulting effect of such awareness, you will finally be aware! You will know left and right is crap, and life works in a three dimensions. That it is not black and white or just grey, it is black and white creating grey! Yes, sadness but ultimately freedom.

          Suicide rates are at an all time high today because there are holes in which religion can't fill that society does nothing to help fill due to the inability to do such! The education only tells you facts but never ideas! Ideas are what will keep you entertained in worlds of thought.

          In your example that people find content feelings in the hamster wheels upon awareness they will seek a new hamster wheel one that is bigger or small or wider or a different color. But they will find something new! Death is easy and if those who feel it is an option should take it, I know it sounds cold, but there are plenty of people ready to fight through the pain and use it as a motivator and not a means more depression.

          The idea is hard to entertain for me to consider if people became free after not being free that they would rather end life instead of seeking ways to live it to the fullest, because if you are going to kill yourself, why not live life to the fullest anyways? Go on an adventure, go kill a few dirty politicians, help someone else, stop everything else and focus on a goal, be an impact for the better and do not bring tears to those who will miss you dead. Suicide is selfish, screw the person he is dead good, but the families are the ones who must continue to live in pain and sorrow. Killing yourself is easy, living is the challenge.

          "Why is society seemingly always formed in this manner?"

          Natural competitive drives involved with ideas of power. The will of survival missed in with ideals of money. Our instincts focused on pre-established ideals of society instead of self
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          Apr 25 2011: Oh to add to this the Illuminati are not a group but an idea of who the group is in reference to "they", lol I don't think that group would give out the name of their secret organization... if they exist. lol
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        Apr 24 2011: Perhaps I should heed my own quotes haha..Although I think that the truth will ultimately set you "free" I do have a lot of questions on that front. Namely is it really better to be free? I agree with what you are saying that idealistic, relativistic goals can be an exceptional motivator to people. I guess it's my own cynical bias but I can't see how that would work for a good amount of the populace. I think, the heart of the problem is this: Without common, "hard" purpose that is provided in society through various avenues (namely religion, morals,), the individual would be "freed" to roam in an arena of "soft" purpose (which, from what I understand, is basically just existentialism at its core). And while this "soft" purpose certainly has its fair share of attractive qualities, its main one would be the idea that you can shape your own purpose, "create your destiny", and follow actions that appeal to the very core of your desires. It seems to be a paradox though, because its very defined attribute is also its Achilles heel; every single individual although allowed to fully form their subjective purpose, would have to consequently acknowledge at some level that they are completely devoid of objective purpose. And I think this is where the heart of the problem rests. Sure you can have fun, create adventures for yourself, "kill a few dirty politicians" if you will; BUT at the end of the day: For What? Why? Because YOU wanted to do it. Because it seemed like it was for the best? The best for who? Humanity? Who cares? Why should anyone care about their given species? The biggest question out of all of these, that I feel would be most unnerving is the "Why?" Because there is no "hard" purpose to rest upon, this difficult question must be charged against the less concrete "soft" purpose. "Living to the fullest" becomes an empty phrase, because NO ONE can objectively measure what constitutes full! And while "Why Not?" may keep some afloat, it will overlook many.
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          Apr 25 2011: "Namely is it really better to be free?"

          Ha, what is free anyways? An 'open' perspective or a 'free-lanced' actuality? Unlimited choices; with or without the knowledge/full understanding of such choices?

          Indeed cavemen are more free environmentally than we are now in societies having to follow and be born into laws, preordained social codes, and traditionalized faith systems. However what we have over the caveman is educations that are the result of those three. So, we are in a conundrum. Which is more free?

          Another Aristotle classic "actuality prior to potentiality".

          You need to be fully aware of the potential/possibility of something in order to fully exploit what it is you want from said something. So what do we want? True freedom? Well that would involve totality in actions and thoughts. Free thoughts make free actions.

          However let's stick with thoughts as this is most likely going to happen before actions in respects to total freedom. Now, this is where I must talk where I talk purely based on opinion. To be truly able to understand actions prior to the action, there must be a well rounded education in full spectrum involving that action(s). Let's say the action is eating fast food. Now, what is a fast food burger but chemically processed meat with added flavors and perspectives. So (for sack of argument), clearly the fast food burger in comparison to a restaurant burger is inferior, yet, commonly that is unknown and are eaten by the billions.

          Why? What is making people poison themselves? Lack of awareness. There are no dietary classes in public schools. There are no classes on how to work-out, stay in shape, and nutrition basics. These people are tricked into thinking it is a good choice (possibly due to cost) due to lack of awareness. Had they been aware of the poison of the fast food burger, I am sure these businesses would fail rapidly. Lack of education = lack of free thought.

          A well rounded education is the key to free thought
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        Apr 24 2011: Oh and yes I basically agree...

        "Why is society seemingly always formed in this manner?"

        Natural competitive drives involved with ideas of power. The will of survival missed in with ideals of money. Our instincts focused on pre-established ideals of society instead of self.

        ...however this seems to be a matter for my personal question, yet to recieve a response... you really think we can educate against human nature (on a large scale especially)?
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          Apr 25 2011: HAHA YES! (Want me to repost the following into your thread? I will, just say so.)

          But it would not be AGAINST nature at all, but with it. The same competitive drives can be harnessed/focused/influenced on to a personal interest. Art, martial arts, sports, hobbies, etc.

          A large scale, only if everyone's needs were met through technology, after that absolutely.

          The competitive drive is our instinct by encouraging people to be competitive they would perform their interest to the fullest effect!

          The reason the world is what it is today in my theory would be that those people focused their competitive drives in the pursuit of money, which ultimately created greed, selfishness, and in my opinion further evil. Expand?
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        Apr 25 2011: The fundamental point is that it's not up to pedagogues to choose what students may learn, only to offer what they are willing to teach. Personal interests, the demands of the market (or society, if you like), and circumstance will dictate what people do as a profession. We don't need education administrators playing at central planner and deciding how many computer scientists, civil engineers, doctors, or burger flippers, the future is going to need, then apportioning curricula accordingly; that system is failing and will continue to fail for at least as long as school administrators lack super-human intelligence and prophetic powers.
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        Apr 26 2011: Ok Nicholas if you could, please just repost that in my conversation when you get the chance (only because it really is a separate, tangential issue and I feel like we have already exhausted this particular conversation lol)..I'll reply to it there!
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    Apr 22 2011: I work in a private school and I'm going to say it's for the same reason that most students in a private school believe they will succeed in life 'Attitude'. Private school education simply believes that Philosophy is just part of a full education where as State schools don't see they value in it or if they do they don't have the time or the funding. but in the end it's 'Attitude'
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    Apr 22 2011: Unfortunately Public Education is slow to change, as a result of bureaucracy or of instilled values. Example: we're taught long division with remainders before we're taught about decimal points (but most kids in division understand .25 of a dollar).
    Critical thinking skills are imperative for success in the real world, yet it is something students out of High School lack. I was a High School Graduate once, I thought I knew everything because I could repeat a few answer, and argue a good case.
  • Jul 24 2011: As a person who loves Philosophy and having gone through various low-income household schools in our American educational system, I can say that critical thinking, in the way that Philosophy conducts it is not being taught by our system.

    When we usually ask our teachers something Philosophical, it is usually dismissed as pseudoscience (if the teacher is a stringent realist...or a narrow-minded scientist) or as of having no pragmatic value. I am not accusing all teachers of this but most teachers do this.


    Well, many have not been exposed to Philosophy. Philosophy is seen by many as "answering the big questions in life" but it is far from that. It is a tool to come to ANSWERS to the big questions in life. If you've studied Philosophy, you'll soon come to realize that there are minimal absolute truths; much of what we deem as right and wrong ( even scientifically) is just a "more correct" version of something. As Einstein said , "Science is just a more refined way of normal thinking". This quote can be taken to the extent of Philosophy too, in that Philosophy is just a more refined way of thinking about EVERYTHING.

    I believe we should implement this essential study into our curriculums because it allows us to think outside of our preprogrammed thought box and allows people to actually approach questions differently than taught in Science and Religion.

    I remember 3 years ago when I founded my High School's Philosophy Club. I was ecstatic. There weren't many members but those that did come were greeted with the opportunity to ponder questions that they usually ponder about in their head. Many teachers also began coming and it turned into a forum for the intellectual advancement of High Schoolers. I hope more high school students and teachers attempt to open avenues such as Philosophy Clubs or Philosophy courses to their students because we really need to spread intellectualism to the masses. Intellectualism is essential for the modern educated human.
  • Apr 27 2011: Why are we here? What is the purpose of our life?

    I think John Dewey touched on this in his thinking on education and journalism.

    Maybe it is just a question of rediscovering ourselves each generation.
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    Apr 23 2011: Erik,

    Upon understanding modern academic curriculums I have developed the argument that the philosophy they are teaching isn't actually philosophy.

    Post-modern philosophy would be the "science of thought". (Eliminating the unlikely to make the likely more likely due process of thought experiments)
    Philosophy of academia is "the history of thought" (assuming we all know how to think in full paradigms and varieties )

    So, your question is hard for me to answer but I would like to make this a point to add to this thread. I am making a debate in your thread.

    "Does academia really teach philosophy?"

    (Indeed however that critical thought values are what philosophy should be enhancing but I do not see that even in college level philosophy courses. Those who benefit from these courses already have great critical thought practices, those who do not are handicapped in the topics that involve philosophy.)
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      Sky F

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      Apr 23 2011: Isn't the point of this thread that they don't? Which academia are you talking about?

      (Also, I suggest you read Joshua Beers post and comment. I've read you make similar points in other threads but they all seem to be operating under the assumption that we all want an enlightened society. I was making that assumption, too, to begin with. But read his thing, gave a new, depressing angle.)
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        Apr 23 2011: "under the assumption that we all want an enlightened society. "

        We do, but we do not have the foundational and open-ended education system that allows us to start to think "outside of the box".

        I didn't read anyone comment on this before I posted, that was my fault/flaw, but I agree with Joshua Beers whole heatedly, which is why I always think of educations that would break that in the box thinking.

        Freedom comes from a true education where everything is open for consideration that does not involve logical processes (math). Logical processes NEED fact to continue or else they are not logical.

        Academia = academic based education. Which is the most widely accepted form of education due to the ability to compare statical information that is generated by students. Academics is good and bad, but evolving on academia is why our education is so crappy today.
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      Apr 23 2011: In my experience at the college level some programs do teach philosophy and some don't. In many cases both use a common foundation - the writings of historical philosophers - but the weaker programs never move beyond that. There are sound reasons for taking the approach they do, but not for stopping before they have finished their job.

      In this case, I was thinking about both high school and college-level programs. At the high school level this is only sometimes reflected in separate courses, but is, more often, evidenced in the types of texts and depth of writing students are expected to master. Including the Republic in an upper level high school class on government would be a good example.
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        Sky F

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        Apr 23 2011: Exactly. "Does academia really teach philosophy?"

        I don't think it's too hard to answer:

        Public Schools: Not Really
        Private Schools: Probably more often than public schools.
        College: Depends.

        It's not reasonable to give any more specific answers than that because the question is far too general and everything we say would, therefore, have to be general as well.
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        Apr 23 2011: Good points Sky.


        I just don't feel reflecting on ideas and being tested on them critically is the same as philosophy.

        Thoughts built on other thoughts create better thoughts.

        The Republic is a good example. Taking from Aristotle's idea of social order in class.

        1. Philosopher kings (head) 2. military warriors (arms) 3. working class (foundation)

        After this (and perhaps with other ideologies by other philosophers) is learned and thought about the following questions should happen.

        What is a good political system? What would make for a successful country? What would have the best output with minimal input as far as economics and society? That is philosophy to me.

        This book is his idea, it is a theory, it is a ideology built on many ideas. THAT is philosophy. So to continue philosophy based on this lesson you must thus understand other philosophies. Time consuming.

        Rather... teach all the foundations of what society, economics, and values consist of when involving people, then ask a student to build up a theorized society or utopia. THEN use the Republic as an example of a original theorized society. That is philosophy to me, it is free in thought and still gives foundations in which to reflect on further into already constructed considerations and ideas.

        Academic based educations can teach philosophy this way, but consensuses would still have to be made to establish in how to grade a student. "This student had very specific examples" "This student emphasized this too much as being important/unimportant" Subjective ideals would be a problem. It would be like an English class but instead of just literature analyzing it would be analyzing the result of learned literature gave to the students. Who analyzed, absorbed, and developed the best is how the grading would work, but even that is problematic, would take a lot of work to create this potentiality.
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          Apr 23 2011: Completely, utterly agree with you Nicholas! I must admit, I'm pretty biased myself (The Republic is my favorite philosophical book, if not book period), but I feel like THAT (and of course other classics like it) is what true philosophy is. And, admittedly, I am very young so I don't have much experience to compare my education to, but it seems like that's the kind of philosophy that is/has been leaving the educational system (at least in America). I know philosophy courses that don't even mention the ancient Greek philosophers (they just start with Descartes and go from there) and while upsetting, I will again reiterate that it should not be surprising. As many (including yourself, I'm sure) who have studied the likes of The Republic will testify, it has challenging ideas, as you mentioned, ideas that force new, tangential ideas to be other words: Real Critical Thinking! The kind that analyzes societal structures and works hard to find their foundations, purposes, possible faults, and possible amendments. The kind of critical thinking that questions environmental constructions and their varying uses! And I think that, that kind of thinking is dangerous for for societal status quo; it always has and it always will be. (Socrates was ordered death on charges of corrupting the youth!)

          In my personal opinion, all this adds up to the sobering conclusion that education's purpose is not to educate in the truest, purest sense of the word, but rather to impart respective skills so that ants can continue to build/contribute to the ant hill without ever stopping to wonder why it's there in the first place!

          I like your idea of teaching exercises requiring students to build the society, in a perfect world I feel this would be a great way to have students learn, and grasp ideas in an "organic" manner.
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        Apr 23 2011: @ Joshua, thank you

        I have thought long and hard about the problems of philosophy of education ever since my "Intro to philosophy" class...which then in tale made me hate all of the academic education systems.

        He noted the argument "Pascal's Wager" as a serious philosophical idea of the existence of god and I was morbidly upset with the class from then on, but then realized that is the system in which philosophy is under and not the professors fault, entirely. (I have made better ideas to prove God without trying)

        What i feel is the biggest misconception of education systems today is not the material itself but the way the material is presented. They assume we all know how to think accordingly and in respects to reality. Actuality is the combination of cognition and reality. Your reflection of reality is your actuality. To develop actualities you must be able to process information wisely or else there are millions of ways in which thinking can go backwards.

        Teach children to think, then teach them a open foundation of subject based topics. F***ing A. That is a good education system.
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          Apr 24 2011: Let's bring this interesting side topic back on track by considering why that isn't done in public schools. Your point about it being hard to grade doesn't explain it, because teachers are trained to evaluate the kind of critical thinking you describe as problematic, they just aren't required/allowed to move the students on to that level of understanding and reflection.
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        Apr 25 2011: I don't know Erik,

        Let me ponder that. I do not think curricula really enforce critical thought beyond encouraging it and as far as giving credible feedback would be another few lessons in a teacher program in my opinion. Unless you could get a certificate to teach with a philosophy major (which you can't do in a lot of places). Although all teacher's should be philosophers by default... ah the perfect world.
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        Apr 25 2011: My thought is that people should be taught pure logic first, and then confront historical philosophers in a critical fashion - taking into context not only their thoughts in a vacuum, but their lives and times. We can be forgiving of them because they did not have a mature logic to begin with, or a scientific understanding of the natural world; but to study philosophy by building upon the false premises on which they relied seems backward to me.

        Once you have "grokked" basic logic you can examine proposed axioms and build a new, personal, philosophy from scratch, comparing notes with historical figures and your peers. Not only does this teach philosophy the verb, not philosophy the noun, it greatly improves the student's ability to give and receive criticism as well as to introspect and reason.

        In contrast an approach to philosophical education that starts with, "here's a bunch of authoritative figures and their conclusions, pick from amongst them" is teaching history and dogma, not the use and application of philosophy itself (or, philosophy the noun, not philosophy the verb). Everyone can and should BE a philosopher rather than simply CHOOSE a philosophy.
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          Apr 25 2011: Ah, it left my mind that academia was using philosophy as a verb, I heard that else where.

          Great response Justen.
      • Apr 25 2011: I think we are all concentrating too much on philosophy alone, although it was mentioned specifically by the original question. What is important is a liberal arts education system which includes history and literature. I would personaly include psycology as well. It is the discussion in this subjects that helps create a discerning citizenry. Philosophy is just one dimension. To get a good idea of the whole human condition one must factor in all the other arts.

        Another point is we are not trying to make philosophy graduates, but to use philosophy as a tool to sharpen the students minds. Enable them to understand the meaning of society and their role in it. Understand Politics and how it affects them. Discuss Morality and Ethics. Contemplate Meanings and Values. This are examples of things I think are important.

        The problem is not what to teach and how. Different comprehensive curriculums already exist in the Private and public school system. The problem is the willingness to teach it.
  • Apr 22 2011: Public schools, once the great equalizers, have steadily lost funding and public support. The "unessentials" like philosophy. debate, the arts, are the first to go from a district's budget. The way in which teachers themselves have been taught is often reflected in the classroom- teach from a text or texts, teach to the tests, quashing discussion, or too much interest from students, in order to move on to the next required district or state subject matter in order to cram the agenda into students by year's end.

    Private schools, by necessity, must cater to who pays the bills, and must be able to prove that what they are offering educationally is better than the surrounding public schools. Having taught at both, I believe the primary difference between public and private schools is what parents expect for their money at a private schooland how vested they are in their children's education.

    Of course, public school teachers have been saying that for years- the more interest a parent has in the child's education, the more involvement between home and school, the better educated that child will be. That parent expects more from the educational setting. And most likely, if the district these families are in can afford it, the schools will have the extras like philosophy, logic,, forensics, and the arts.....
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      Apr 22 2011: Yes, I think your point about what is being pushed down to schools by the government is an important point, but that just allows us to locate the likely source for answer to our question, not to answer the question, for now we can ask: why are THOSE the standards pushed down by the government? Surely not because they think that's what a valuable education looks like, otherwise they'd send their own children to schools with the same kind of curriculum and standards . . .
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    Apr 22 2011: Philosophy is lumped in with arts and sports as those subjects deemed less important, especially with the public school push towards improving standardized test scores. More and more, students are developing less and and less of their whole self in this type of educational setting. Private schools have the freedom to follow values rather than pre-set educational standards.
  • Apr 22 2011: Supply and Demand. Supply: Lack of experience in the teacher pool in public schools; Demand: such curriculum isn't sought after by the schools, the community and parents. ...therefore qualified teachers aren't hired.
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    Apr 22 2011: It's an interesting idea, but it would need additional elements to prevent the rise of segregated academic towns (think gated communities) with super-high property values and humongous taxes to fund public schools. In such a scenario, they could still let the school systems in the rest of the communities rot.