Philosophy curriculum in Manitoba

Ontario has had a high school philosophy curriculum for some time – so why doesn’t Manitoba? Curriculum development must receive the blessing of the academy on high, and currently the steering committee is bogged down by differences of approach – the UofWinnipeg does more historical work, whereas the UofManitoba is more analytical. Do we want another IB program “theories of knowledge” emphasis, or straight up Platonic dialogues?

But who cares whether the curriculum favours one or the other method? Philosophy has been shown to greatly increase all around academic scores, especially literacy.

James W. Gray over at Ethical Realism counters some objections as to why philosophy should be a high school course:


1. High school students can’t learn philosophy.

The objection: Philosophy is too hard for high school students to learn. We can’t expect them to read what the world’s greatest minds think at this stage in their life.

My reply: First, we often underestimate how much students can learn. It’s insulting to just assume that they are stupid. Second, children of all ages have been learning philosophy for decades, and the classes and reading materials are directed for the appropriate age groups. Children can learn a lot about good reasoning by discussing philosophical issues at a young age without having to know who Socrates is or various abstract theories.

2. No amount of education will make people be reasonable or moral.

The objection: People will be unreasonable and immoral, even if they learn about philosophy, logic, and ethics.

My reply: The purpose of education isn’t just perfection, it’s progress. I agree that philosophy can’t make people be reasonable or moral, but it can help. In fact, there are proven benefits to philosophy. I have already discussed some of them. Philosophy even has proven benefits for young children including improved test scores, mathematical ability, and other cognitive abilities. “The Educational Testing Service evaluated the Lipman philosophy program in 1981… Tests on a cross section of 4,500 fifth and sixth graders in Newark public schools showed that those exposed to the program gained as much as a half year in reading, mathematics and and reasoning skills over those who did not take the philosophy program.”1 Go here for more information….

Jason Nicholson (“In Socrates’ Wake” blog)  also has a pro/con list with many comments.

Francis Beslin makes the case (1982) for philosophy in the American High School system based on harnessing natural skepticism:

Adolescents are a skeptical lot. Anything and everything is fair game to them. Woe betide
what is found wanting. The vials of invective are pitilessly poured forth. Criticism comes
easily to such professional skeptics. Irreverence is natural when one is taking the world’s
measure, cutting one’s teeth, finding oneself.
American high schools waste this irreverence. They fail to turn it to educational use. By
not providing programs which could tap this source, they forego their most useful asset
– the intellectual restlessness of youth itself. By barring this critical spirit from the classroom, high schools teach that questioning has no part in one’s education. If one wants it, one must get it on one’s own. Such is the message often conveyed.This is regrettable, since what could be an opportunity to exploit and sharpen this critical
temper becomes one of life’s what-might-
have-beens. Not that schools should be turned
into coliseums where intellectual gladiators slay their opponents, but into training
grounds which prepare students more ably to think for themselves….

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