In my 50 years of teaching philosophy to high school students and college-level freshmen (who had never before been introduced to philosophy) I found that they tend to be emotionally immobilized and intellectually restricted, suffocated, and hampered by strict, formalized methodologies.
The exceptions are the few who do well in whatever they study primarily because they already have the drive, the initiative, the attitudes, the inquisitiveness, and the joy in acquiring knowledge--all characteristics which make for easy absorption of new ideas.
Until these (or many of these) characteristics are inculcated (i.e., attitudes are changed in relation to the pursuit of wisdom, knowledge, and truth), students will barely come to understand the relevance of that pursuit to life, to man, to labor, and to self-growth.
The primary goal should be to re-awaken in the student the natural curiosity that once permeated his being.
This can be accomplished, in general, by letting his mind soar free in at least one subject, Critical Analysis, colloquially called "Critical Thinking."
In referring to "students," however, we must refer not merely to "gifted," "good," "college-bound" students, but also and especially to those who have been conditioned to be "average" by present systems of "education," by socially conceptual taboos, by parental mismanagement, and by instilled unexamined pre-conceptions inherited from bygone ages--too often medieval in character.
"Average" students, too, can be released from their hard-core and "retarding" misconceptions.
One of the social misconceptions in the minds of too many teachers and parents is that philosophy is to be shunned, either as an instrument of sin, as too difficult for the average person, or as the study which "goes 'round in circles.'"
It is for these reasons that introducing philosophy into a pre-college curriculum is not analogous to introducing such matters as psychology, sociology, etc.
The community at large has some radical re-education to undergo.
There is, however, a "synonym" for "philosophy" which is not only not shunned but is considered honorific by everyone, even though concepts of it differ radically one from another.
That term is 'CRITICAL ANALYSIS.'
Perhaps philosophy would then cease to be the one academic subject (the most important one for development of analytical thinking) for which most students go to college without prior preparation. Or, equally important, students not going to college will gain at least some insight into what constitutes clear, critical, and analytical thinking and how they differ one from another.
As to priority of ideas, there are certain basic concepts a student must study; i.e., must be "compelled" to investigate if he is to learn to think analytically.
Given a background of rote learning, the growth of the student's ability to think analytically in any discipline depends primarily upon and is proportional to his awareness of the nature and role of language.
This awareness is prerequisite to a study of the nature of truth; both of these are prerequisite to a study of the complexity of the source and nature of knowledge.
Experience has shown that the techniques for teaching children to think are not necessarily in "method," pedagogy, or innate ideas (of the structure of language), but in depth analysis of the three "basic" concepts: language, truth, and knowledge and particularly how language is most often abused. .
Dewey is right in thinking of ideas as instruments and in believing that the chief role of the good teacher is that of stimulating the student into becoming excited about the pursuit of knowledge.
It matters not what "method" is used so long as the "method" allows for dialogue and free exchange of ideas.
Free dialogue, however, does not mean uncontrolled, unchanneled, and unreasoned dialogue.
Rather, it is a disciplining process analogous to training that frees a pianist to create beautiful music.
While the student should not be hampered by pedagogical methodologies which restrict a free pursuit of thought, this is not to say that organization is unnecessary.
Dialogue, for instance, if it appears to have a grasshopper characteristic, must be shown to be related to the "solution" being pursued.
But more than that, we need to give serious thought to what we mean by "philosophy" when we speak of teaching it on the pre-college level.
If we mean "to teach the thoughts of philosophers," that is one thing.
If we mean "to teach how to philosophize" (to think clearly, rationally, critically, i.e., analytically), that is something else.
If we persist (in those early years) in introducing philosophy into pre-college institutions as it is taught in college, we are doomed either to failure (as we have experienced it in many programs in the past) or to such a long, tortuous, and drawn-out effort that those who initiated the concept, after passing from the scene, will have left but a legacy of futile effort.
That is to say, it is unlikely to receive wide acceptance for decades to come.
For instance a semester of symbolic logic is of very little value if the student is still unable to recognize when language is being abused, or the difference between falsifiable and unfalsifiable language.
Or even more disastrous, Philosophy will become so diluted that it, in turn, will take its place as another watered down rote subject of mediocrity contributing nothing to the present crucial need for improvement in pre-college education.
There are lessons to be learned from refusing to be highly selective in past efforts to introduce philosophy to the pre-college level.
Too often introductory philosophy is taken to mean, "Throw the student into the waters of philosophy and let him try to swim."
He is soon submerged as is and will continue to be the effort to introduce philosophy to pre-college education.
Philosophy on the pre-college level even as an "introduction to philosophy," for most students, parents, and teachers generally, would be not only frightening but too ambitious.
Furthermore, it takes many years of philosophy before clear, critical, and analytical thinking evolves primarily because there are so many diverse currents of philosophic thought, much of which is not in an analytic mode.
There are so many, in fact, that philosophy majors often pursue special directions of philosophic thought to the detriment of developing critical and analytical acuity.
This is accomplished easily because so little study on their part is given to the subjects which form the core of Critical Analysis: Language, Truth, and Knowledge.
Fortunate majors in philosophy happen to study those aspects of philosophy either accidentally of late in their college careers.
Hence, the development of their critical and analytical acuity acquires a kind of scattered "shotgun" result.
A study of the way we abuse language in referring to terms like 'truth,' and 'knowledge,' is logically prior to a pursuit of any other philosophic aspect if clarity of thought and an understanding of the complexities of these terms and other philosophic studies or perspectives are to be achieved.
Too many of our institutions put the cart, wide range of philosophic perspectives, before the horse, the critical analysis through which the perspectives should be examined, and the techniques by which they should be reconstructed.
It requires only one semester of study to open a new world of thought and vision to the philosophically uninitiated by awaking our students to the fact that language, truth, and knowledge are too complex to be accepted at face value.
Nothing is more relevant to the life and experience of the student than an understanding of that fact.
Such relevance can easily be shown by drawing upon the conflicting experiences, beliefs, and thoughts of man throughout history and the world.
SEE FILE 21: PERENNIAL QUESTIONS