Thursday, May 26, 2016

How Important Is a Philosophy Class in a School's Curriculum?

Dear Mr. Brown,

I am writing an article for the LION Newspaper because Philosophy has been cancelled for the 2016-2017 school year. I was wondering if you could answer some questions about it since you taught that class for so many years.

1.    How long did you teach the class for?
2.    As a former teacher of the class, what do you think students will lose as this class is taken away?
3.    Why should students be taking this class?
4.    Why should the class be kept?
5.    With the number of students who signed up for the class being close to the requirement, do you think there should have been more of a push to keep the class? Why?

Thank you in advance for your help with my article.

Sheridan Spiess

Dear Sheridan,

I taught the philosophy class at Lyons Township High School for several years before I retired in 2009. I re-designed the course completely to reflect the history of western philosophy from the pre-Socratics to modern philosophers. My goal for the course was to introduce students to the study of interesting and relevant ideas and to offer a range of responses to such important questions as “Is there a difference between what we claim to believe and what we claim to know?” “What is the nature of the external world?” and “What is knowledge?”

Some of the many philosophers discussed in my philosophy class were Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Camus and Wittgenstein. The course covered such topics as determinism, Existentialism, the problem of evil, the nature and existence of reality, and arguments in the philosophy of religion and ethics.

If the course is dropped from LT's curriculum, students will miss an opportunity to acquire significant skills that are taught distinctively in a philosophy class. Why a philosophy class should be taught is evident in the very objectives of the course itself: for instance, students of philosophy demonstrate the ability to recognize the assumptions and implications of specific, complex philosophical positions not found in other classes; students show the ability to analyze and synthesize readings and discussions of diverse and multifaceted, speculative ideas.

Philosophy students reveal an understanding of formal and informal aspects of logic in both writing and discussions. Philosophy students also comprehend the difference in scope and intention of theoretical reasoning versus practical reasoning. These are just a few explanations, among so many others, why a philosophy course is valuable and should be taught at LT. 

I assume that whoever decided the class would not be offered ignored the relevance of critical thinking skills and the various principles, concepts, and theories that are studied in a philosophy class. This is most unfortunate.

I would not abdicate so easily; however, it will take a concerted effort on the part of teachers, students and their parents to prove the course’s worth in the curriculum.

Perhaps the wider issue to address here is the loss of autonomy for teachers and students who face an ever-increasing stream of mandates, and thus a philosophy class can be eliminated because it isn’t a class that can be easily assessed by corporate testing companies, like Pearson, with their emphasis upon and frequency of district-wide standardized testing as a means of measuring student, teacher, and school performances. 

We might ascertain that perhaps it is because of this “same skills” or “one-size-fits-all” approach to curricula, with a focus on only those skills that can be “tested with pre-packaged tests,” that would eliminate a philosophy class because it obviously does not fit in with the punitive high-stakes testing methodology of today.

Best regards,
Glen Brown


  1. Critical thinking skills including creative analysis are quickly losing the race to the multi billion dollar testing industry. I shudder when I think about the loss this will claim on our renown American ingenuity skills. I mourn for the impact this change of culture will continue to have on our Democracy.

  2. Link to article Sheridan wrote:

  3. "Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, 'Is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?' ...Then a voice comes to me out of the dark and says, 'We hate to tell you this but life is a thousand word essay.'”
    ― Charles M. Schulz
    The same can be said regarding state mandated high stakes tests.

  4. from Richard Palzer:

    But critical thinking is touted, deservedly, because of the acknowledged need for students (all of us, actually) as they are confronted by events and circumstances they're yet to face. Educators are charged with the responsibility to prepare students by giving them the tools to think through what they encounter. Is this considered too esoteric? And the ideas and methods of great minds addressing the eternal questions and concerns of our existence, are just what, Impractical subject matterr? Ah, but philosophy isn't a job creator! Maybe that's " the bottom line," with emphasis on its profit-motive meaning. I'm hoping the demise of the course isn't the result of a lack of student interest because its high-level content presented too much of a challenge--that would be the most disappointing. Nah, not to LT (or Hinsdale) students!