by: Alex Stubenbort
“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.”-John Adams
Mention philosophy to the typical American and they’ll likely have visions of bearded men in white robes and sandals. Mention philosophy to the typical college student and they’ll likely point you towards a group of tie-dye-cladded hipsters fond of recreational drug use and deep thoughts. However, mention philosophy to the typical American grade school teacher and you’ll likely receive perplexed looks and an inability to describe what philosophy is, let alone why it is important for the students they serve.
Admittedly, as a former undergraduate philosophy major, I am bias towards philosophy’s inherent importance. However, as a young man who has transformed his love for the subject into a successful career in education, I believe that I have a unique perspective and ability to speak to why philosophy is not only important but paramount in today’s educational landscape. To do so, I believe it’s first crucial that I define what philosophy is. Instead of supplying an unnecassarily complex definition of philosophy as a practice, allow me to offer a layman’s working definition capable of acting as a touchstone throughout the article. Philosophy is the study of the fundamental problems concerning what many of us take for granted (i.e. existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, language, etc)
Using the aforementioned description, allow me to shed light on an admittedly incomplete list of reasons why philosophy is so incredibly important today:
The foundation of any philosophy worth noting is a firm grasp of logic and how it works. Logic (the study of the principles of correct reasoning) is often discussed but rarely understood within academic circles today. Given the uniquely complex challenges our students have been handed from generations before them, they should be armed with reasoning skills fit for the job. Instead of “critical thinking” being an operative buzz word, our educational systems should be stressing its importance by investing in its experts, philosophy-trained logicians, as instructors.
Rarely do philosophy majors become professional philosophy academics. Instead, having become well-versed in the underpinnings of wisdom, values, and thinking, philosophy majors find success in nearly any and all professional undertakings including law, medicine, business, education, religion, social service, and the list goes on. Likewise, students lucky enough to receive philosophy instruction in grade school will benefit far beyond the philosophy class itself. The skill sets taught, modeled, and practiced in philosophy classes will become instantly advantageous in a students other core subject areas.
At an ever-increasing rate, educators are expected to not only teach the students they serve academic instruction but also life lessons for personal development. The beautiful thing about philosophy as a subject area is that the two are not presented as mutually exclusive. Teachers often speak about their calling as being one that develops the children of today into the well-rounded, functional adults of tomorrow. No subject makes good on this promise better than philosophy.
All too often, teachers struggle to find an affective hook to draw students into their subject matter. In a culture where it’s not hyperbolic to admit that students have practically seen it all, it has become increasingly difficult to spark a student’s curiosity through technology, images, and ideas. However, philosophy has a unique trick; it’s very existence is predicated on curiosity. What can we know? and How should we live our lives? can give rise to even more complex questions like Are people free? Are there absolute rights and/or wrongs? Do animals have rights? and Is capital punishment morally acceptable?
5) Philosophy is important.
Yes. I understand that I’ve committed a Cardinal sin by including “Philosophy is important” as one of my “5 Reasons Why Philosophy is Important”, but give me a chance to explain. In today’s educational landscape where employers of the students we served that are now entering the workforce’s number one complaint is that the young adults can’t think for themselves, it is our duty to assuage this problem. Philosophy does this by not concentrating on the right product (Answer A, B, C, or D) but by concentrating on the process of the thinking itself. This is the essential skill that is missing today. Across all disciplines, fingers have been pointed towards who’s to blame. However the answer does not lie in what we’re doing in education but in what we’ve not been doing for far too long. It is time that philosophy takes its rightful seat as the granddaddy of all subject areas that have been created in its wake. It is time that Grandpa gets a seat at the proverbial table.
Alex Stubenbort is a former college undergraduate philosophy major that studied at Westminster College and Oxford University under Dr. David Goldberg. Stubenbort now serves Citrus County Schools in Florida as an English Language Arts teacher, was CCSB’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, and FL Governor’s Shine Award recipient for excellence in education.