What is real? What is truth? Who and what are we? How did we get here? Why does logic and mathematics work? How should we think? How should we live? Is knowledge limited to the hard sciences? These questions are what current high schools are lacking in mandatory study. Throughout the grand system of human knowledge, current high schools in America offer a fair amount of this knowledge through its classes. Within all the classes offered, the big four, which are math, history, science, and english, are the required for all graduates, and rightly so, because they are important. But the deficiency lies in a vital area, an area of study that is the basis for life and the foundation for all areas of knowledge. This is what the greatly needed subject, philosophy, is all about. Philosophy is essential in education because of it has great importance to life and is a second-order study of all other areas of knowledge.
Philosophy is foundational for life because it is thinking hard about life’s most important questions, fundamentally how we know the good, the true, and the beautiful. Socrates believed that the unexamined life was not worth living and that is one of the core concepts of philosophy. Developing an examined life consists of forming a worldview, which is the ordered set of propositions that a person believes to be true about reality. This is central to life because people live by what they actually believe. A philosophy course is so immensely vital because it would habitually encourage students to develop their worldview through thought, discussion, and practice.
For example, if a student believes morals are relative to a person and the only reason he or she should not plagiarize is because there is a school rule, then he or she will probably plagiarize when no authority is looking. Given moral relativism, the student is logically justified in the act because it exemplifies what is “right” for him personally regardless of what is “right” to the principal. If one thinks this is unrealistic, I have learned from my experiences with fellow peers that this type of thinking is quite common for the majority of students. This is very disturbing for the future of our culture. If only students reflected on relativism and discovered its logical problems through discussion, they would have a better chance of forming a worldview where those actions are wrong regardless of when and where someone is.
The study of philosophy should also be mandatory because it is foundational for the study of any other type of knowledge. When we study any given subject, we are involved in doing a first-order discipline. This is where we learn the methods and the facts of a particular subject. In contrast, philosophy is a second-order discipline that studies first-order disciplines, which is why there is a philosophy of almost every subject. In a philosophy course, students would inquire about what we ought and ought not to believe in a subject and why, and examine and criticize the assumptions underlying a subject. This is important because students who do not think philosophically about subjects accept the assumptions made by our culture about these subjects without critical examination.
An example of this is the popular view, scientism, which is the belief that only things learned through science are true. Without philosophical study, this seems to make sense, but through investigation it is clear that this view has some serious problems. Before the study of science can begin, there are many foundational philosophical presuppositions that the scientist must assume such as the reliability of our cognitive faculties, the morality of being honest in research, the existence of truth, and the abstract existence of thought and mathematics. Consequently, the view is self-refuting because the claim of scientism and its assumptions do not live up to its own qualifications of being found through science. Therefore, knowledge is not limited to the hard sciences, but because of the lack of philosophy in education, this view persists uncritically.
In addition to the content of philosophy, the method of teaching must be drastically different than the majority of high school education methods, if the impact of philosophy were to occur. I am referring to a pedagogy that the focus is on getting the students to think analytically through reading, discussion, and writing. A pedagogy that does only the traditional lecture and scantron will simply fill the student with mere information that is later regurgitated. Such pedagogy would not impact a student’s life and worldview no matter what the course content is. Throughout this brief essay, I have discussed for the need for philosophy is high school education and the great importance of philosophy for anyone in any stage of life. For it is ideas that our individual lives are run by and that are the foundation for our culture’s future.
My essay is strongly influenced by the following scholars and their books, articles, and lectures
Dr. William Lane Craig
Dr. J.P. Moreland
Dr. John Mark Reynolds