Over recent years there has been a growing movement pushing for the inclusion of Philosophy in schools.
As a subject, Philosophy is broad. It can be separated into many sub-disciplines such as Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mind, Ethics, and Philosophy of Science, to name a few. These sub-disciplines reduce back to three broad pillars of Philosophy: Teaching Philosophy in Schools Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Axiology.Regardless of where one’s philosophical interest sits, the essential skill set remains the same. This is the ability to reason. Philosophers produce rationally convincing arguments and critically assess the arguments of others.
In this fictional dialogue Socrates meets with Allison Fells, the Principal of Western Heights School, to discuss the inclusion of Philosophy in the school curriculum. Socrates has been running a successful Philosophy club at school and believes that students would benefit through the extension of the club into the regular school curriculum. Socrates argues that Philosophy equips students with the skill set needed to live the good life.
Fells: Good morning Socrates. Please come in and take a seat.
Socrates: Thank you Ms. Fells. It is good of you to see me at such short notice.
Fells: I like to make time to talk to people when possible. I’ve been told that you would like to talk about the school curriculum.
Socrates: Yes, that’s correct. Specifically, I would like to talk to you about the place of Philosophy in the curriculum. There are no Philosophy classes at Western Heights, and I would like to discuss the possibility of introducing the subject.
Fells: You’re running a Philosophy club after school. From what I’ve been told, it is quite well attended. Why do you think we also need classes?
Socrates: The club only meets for one hour per week. The issues we discuss are deserving of more time. At most, an hour per week provides an introduction to Philosophy, but does not allow for any depth of discussion.
Fells: I understand what you’re saying Socrates. But I’m sorry to say that we don’t currently have the capacity to add a Philosophy class to our timetable.
Socrates: I admit that I do not understand the intricacies of timetable design, but it seems to me that it would be a relatively simple matter to add a subject. There are two empty classrooms. I could take one of them.
Fells: But where would you get the students from? They all have full timetables. The school curriculum is comprehensive and we need to cover a lot of material. We can’t simply pull students out of other subjects to switch to Philosophy.
Socrates: Perhaps it could be optional.
Fells: My concern is that students might join your Philosophy class at the expense of something important that they really need, like English or Mathematics.
Socrates: English and Mathematics are indeed worthy subjects. Are you assuming that Philosophy is less important than English and Mathematics?
Fells: I wouldn’t put it that way. What I mean is that English and Mathematics are needed, while Philosophy is interesting, but not essential.
Socrates: As a novice in the field of education I am eager to learn. What makes something essential?
Fells: Well, to put it bluntly, the essential subjects are the ones that prepare students to function well in society and get a job.
Socrates: Are you suggesting that the purpose of education is to prepare students to function well in society and get a job?
Socrates: That seems rather a narrow purpose. Why does your school offer subjects such as music, art, and physical education? Are these taught so that students can function well in society and get a job?