Sunday, January 29, 2012

Teaching Philosophy In High School: Something That Should Happen But Won't

Brazil is the B of the BRIC nations that some suggest will eventually challenge the United States's hegemony.  Boston Review has an interesting article about Brazil's efforts to teach high school students philosophy in order to promote citizenship.
The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy.
Given that America's political discourse has devolved, one might think that some states might follow Brazil's lead. Additionally, both Brazil and the United States have some strange people seeking political office.
Voting in Brazil is obligatory, but many think it’s useless. In 2010, the largest number of votes for any member of congress went to Tiririca, a popular TV clown, who ran on the slogan, “I don’t know what a congressman does, but vote me in and I’ll tell you.” 
Even a cursory examination of the program, however, indicates that the US will not follow Brazil's lead. First, many in the US would share the practical objections some notable Brazilians have to the philosophy mandate:.
Among the greatest skeptics of the 2008 law is José Arthur Giannotti, one of Brazil’s most respected academic philosophers. He is a close friend of former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who vetoed the law when it was first proposed in 2001, after it had already been approved by the legislature. “Teaching philosophy to students who can hardly read and write,” Giannotti said in 2008, “is sad foolishness.”
Students presented with this objection responded,
 . . .if you can’t establish a just society democratically without the citizens knowing what justice is, and if you can’t know what justice is without philosophy, it would be impossible to achieve justice in an unjust society like Brazil if studying philosophy presupposes justice.
Given how some responded, to the critiques made by the Occupy Wall Street movement, those practical folks might not like students thinking too much about justice.  Further, I can anticipate some practical folk objecting to high schoolers learning Kant's Categorical Imperative, a discussion which might make students begin to wonder if they're being trained to exist solely as means to potential employers' economic ends. The idea that one should always be treated as an end unto oneself is probably as dangerous as the concept of justice.


The article also points out some reasons practical capitalists might object to high school philosophy courses.
Or consider the gap between rich and poor in Brazil, one of the world’s widest. Many here don’t perceive it as unjust. In an elite private school in Salvador, philosophy teacher Luis Rusmando told me, “You’ve come to the most expensive and bourgeois school in town.” An Argentinian Marxist who once wanted to be a guerrilla combatant (two relatives, he told me, were killed by Argentina’s military dictatorship) and joined the fight for agricultural land redistribution when he first got to Brazil, he doesn’t quite know how he ended up at this school. Although about 80 percent of Salvador’s population are Afro-descendants, the only black people I saw in Rusmando’s school are cleaners and kitchen personnel. “Most of my students think that inequality is a law of nature,” he explained. That’s why they find nothing wrong with the social hierarchy that Plato proposes in The Republic. “Only when I tell them that wisdom, not money, rules, according to Plato, they’re confused.” 
Off the top of my head, I see two quick objections that the practical folks will make.  It's clear that discussing the wealth gap leads to Marxists inciting students to engage in class warfare.  Then, of course, there's the dangerous idea that wisdom might be more important than money.


At the Madville Times, Cory offered a counterplan to Daugaard's education proposal.  I like Kritiks better than counterplans, so I'll offer mandating teaching philosophy as my alternative part of my K of Daugaard's tired plan planks of tests and merit pay.

5 comments:

caheidelberger said...

Leo, I'm working up the stock issues response. Shall we go to Pierre to testify? Do you want 1NC or 2NC?

LK said...

It'll be my luck that they'll hold the hearing on the Friday of quals.

I probably should take the 1NC shells. I sometimes get off track left to my own devices.

caheidelberger said...

Wait: you and I together might scare them. Let's send Donus and Ken P!

LK said...

We could bad cop/good cop them with Paul H. and Sally P.

caheidelberger said...

There is a reason they schedule the legislative session during debate season. They know teams like Sally and Paul could eat a committee alive.