By Anthony J Giannamore, Opinion Writer
Even before I began attending college, I always felt the need to justify saying, “I am getting a Bachelor’s in Philosophy” by following up with the disclaimer “I’m going to Law School”.
While there is no doubt a lack of immediate applicability of an intimate knowledge of Philosophy in the job market, I believe there is immense value in the way studying Philosophy molds and hones the mind. Because of this, I believe we should revisit our decision to largely discard philosophy in school curriculums.
In the United States, we have strived to excel in our education system as more countries enter the modern global stage. Studies by the Pew Research Center illuminate that students in the US from elementary to high school ages perform below-average in mathematics, while performing only slightly above average in reading and science; leaving our students still well behind the top students in the world.
With this growing issue, many schools have elected to adopt increasingly STEM-based curriculums with the goal of not only boosting students’ skill in those areas, but also to increase their analytical reasoning capacity.
With time being finite, many schools have elected to cut corners in teaching of the humanities in favor of classes that have a more immediately apparent practical application.
The flaw in this reasoning is in the belief that the only way to improve students’ cognition is through science and mathematics. Everyone can recall some wry student in a high school algebra class asking what the real-world application of algebra was if that student was not to work in mathematics. The teacher would inevitably respond that learning algebra improves their ability to reason critically and form discipline in study.
The goal is not to argue against teaching algebra, as a deep study of mathematics certainly has its own list of inherent benefits; but to demonstrate the argument in defense of it. We teach advanced math not because of any inherent applicability of the subject matter, but because math teaches reasoning skills. With this in mind, it would appear that the argument for teaching mathematics is immediately transferrable to philosophy, with added benefits.
If we were to recommence teaching philosophy in schools, not only would students benefit from reasoning with arguments around certain views, but they would be exercising their ability to use language effectively as well. One of the most important foundational tenants of philosophy is to always be extremely precise with your language, and be able to identify when others are or are not doing the same. Teaching such classes would give students the capability to argue and communicate more effectively than English classes alone, and would bolster many of the benefits already offered by mathematics.
With the argument for the utility of philosophy in place, I can now stress the ideological aspect. That is to say, not only will these students gain a mastery of language and reasoning as we would hope, but they may benefit from the actual content of the philosophy as people. In general, I think a philosophy class’s goal would be to give K-12 students a respectable knowledge in the major fields of philosophy. Each field gives its own unique contribution to the student’s mind: Logic would teach students about argumentative structure and skills such as identifying invalid or fallacious reasoning, Metaphysics and Epistemology would empower students to question what they take for granted about the world, and Ethics would make students think about what kinds of expectations students should have for their generation.
All things considered, the reality is that philosophy is at the core of understanding the human experience. I know I have found my education in philosophy to be incredibly beneficial in the so-called “real world” as have many of my peers. I believe we should revisit our treatment of philosophy as a non-essential in the education system because philosophy is both the origin and highest point of every field; the fundamental ideas that formed empirical knowledge were at one point philosophy, and the loftiest notions in science and mathematics are philosophy. To neglect such an important field in schools is to do a disservice to students.
For things as they are now, all we can say for certain is that teaching math helps students perform better on math tests. If that is the goal of public education rather than expanding minds and giving students the tools they need to reason in the world, I think we are in a lot more trouble than low test scores.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, September 26th print edition.
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