Baby Cornish is an award-winning writer and scholar based out of the Washington, DC Metropolitan area.
"The first duty of a man is to think for himself." - Jose Marti
In the United States, public education is nothing if not controversial. To many, it seems unnatural to be educated in such a robotic, socialist environment – within cement walls, under fluorescent lights, every opportunity for free discussion slain by the ringing of a bell. For others, it is all they know. In recent years, plummeting comprehension levels in reading and math, outstandingly high drop-out rates of both students and teachers, and a general disinterest in educational engagement have all led unavoidably to the question: What are the public schools missing? Around 400 BC in Athens, Socrates pondered this with regard to the Athenian schools, believing himself to have found the answer: philosophy. "Standing in the public square, he beckoned the youth to break the chains of blind allegiance to unquestioned dogma", to challenge what they believed to be true (Pelletier, Kristina. “Keep Out!” Philosophy Now: a Magazine of Ideas, philosophynow.org/issues/65/Keep_Out!, 2008). Needless to say, his efforts were largely unappreciated by the Athenian people. But what if his ideas had been adopted? More importantly, what if the educational leaders of today considered, or even initiated them?
Before arguing that philosophy should be taught in public schools, it is imperative to understand why it is not. The primary reason, according to Askphilosophers.org, is that it encourages revolution. American schools are not easily malleable institutions; neither are the jobs for which they train. Originally, one of the main purposes of public education was to groom future workers to be capable enough to work, but submissive enough to follow orders. Today, the system encourages students to follow directions without question, believe what they are told, and obey the rules. Philosophy, conversely, in all its forms is purely antithetical to this frame of thought. It begs the thinker to question everything, to disobey; to wonder. (What is true? What is moral? Do I exist? If I do, how should I live? What is my purpose?) The second reason why philosophy is not taught is because it could be, to some, offensive or problematic. When students are invited to question everything, no topic is off-limits. And in today’s climate of ‘cancel culture’ and ‘wokeness’, where inclusion and good feelings have taken priority over opinion and truth, many topics have been deemed by society as unfit for discussion (i.e., What makes someone male or female? Is pedophilia ever morally permissible? Are certain races stronger/smarter than others?). These questions, however morally provocative, can spark fruitful discussion and encourage respectful debate among pupils and teachers alike. For better or worse, the American educational curriculum is rather cyclical: most school teachers (as well as parents) had little to no exposure to philosophy in their own educations, so it matters little to them if their students learn it. Unfortunately, students often are not given the opportunity to have these discussions at all. If they were, the benefits would be unimaginable: critical thinking skills improved in every subject, more persuasive arguments, better communication, greater imaginations. In fact, a study based out of the U.S. state of Texas on the benefits of philosophy for children found that “a meaningful impact on students’ cognitive abilities can be achieved in about 24 weeks of [philosophy] lessons.” The study also found that the participating students received higher overall scores on tests in all subjects and were significantly more engaged in their classes.
'The benefits [of discussion] would be unimaginable.'
Why is this? Because philosophy teaches how to think, rather than what to think. It promotes logical methods of reasoning and fosters respect for all perspectives. Schools have nothing to lose by incorporating philosophy into their curriculums; it could only do them good. According to Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) statistics, students who study philosophy consistently score higher on tests than students who do not, and are also accepted into graduate and law schools at higher rates.
'Philosophy teaches how to think, rather than what to think.'
Perhaps, if schools were to switch their priorities from athletics to quality academics, America as a whole might begin to meet the standards it so desperately wants to believe it lives up to.