February 25, 2022

OPINION | Every high school student should have to take a philosophy course | CBC News

This column is an opinion by Toronto high school student Nasima Fancy. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

In an increasingly polarizing society, the notion of progress can sometimes feel impossible. Misinformation and the uncompromising way we hold on to our radically different beliefs has divided us. We follow behind parties, rather than policy, and allow labels to tear us apart. But how did we get here?

Simply put, we stopped thinking.

As a Grade 12 student, when I reflect on my experience in the education system, I realize that somewhere along the way, something shifted within me and my classmates and we began favouring memorizing all the information in sight, rather than making something meaningful of it. We went from being curious children to stressed out teens looking to build our post-secondary applications.

Students and educators cannot be blamed for this as it’s the larger systems at play that encourage it. Namely, a competitive capitalist society that heavily favours studying science, technology, and mathematics, because they’re associated with large salaries in an increasingly competitive job market. In turn, the humanities and social sciences, which encourage vital critical thinking, are pushed aside. 

I’m looking for an education that will teach me how to think for myself. This is where philosophy comes in. 

Biases and fallacies

​​As a discipline, philosophy pushes you to reflect on your biases and how they influence your thought processes, letting students see that they, like those whom they are polarized from, are all influenced by their biases and the fallacies that they’re exposed to. For example, in my philosophy class, we had to fill out a bias questionnaire and then answer reflection questions on how we felt about the overall results, forcing us to come face-to-face with the biases and contradictions in our beliefs.

In addition to our biases, the reason that we face an epidemic of misinformation is because we cannot differentiate between reliable and unreliable information and sources. In teaching students to question the information that they’re given and the manner in which it’s presented, they can get closer to understanding its reliability. In my philosophy course, for example, we did an assignment where we had to pick out fallacies in news articles and reflect on their purpose and effectiveness.

Fallacies are not inherently false or even bad. Even this column has some fallacies sprinkled in. The problem rests in us not being able to recognize them and their influence on our thoughts. By asking ourselves about their purpose and accuracy, as philosophy encourages, we can learn to recognize their validity or lack thereof.

To better understand how an argument is posed, beyond its fallacies and inevitable shortcomings, students can look at how early philosophers justified their beliefs. Although these philosophers got a number of things wrong, from their sexist beliefs to suggestions that our world was an imitation of a better place, what cannot be denied is that they knew how to justify their beliefs. 

By looking at how they argued their stances, reading Socrates’ trial or learning about Confucius’ approach to his students, students can see how a well-thought out stance is presented and then compare that to the information they’re given and conclude where they ought to stand.

Deductive thinking

Additionally, by teaching students about the construction of valid arguments by looking at Aristotle’s conditional and categorical syllogisms, students can further logically take apart the information with which they’re presented. Although students won’t often be presented with information in syllogisms, simply teaching them how to undergo a deductive thought process will benefit them.

Finally, by its very nature, philosophy cannot be memorized. Sure, you can memorize what different philosophers believed about government, education, and happiness, but you cannot memorize how to justify an argument or pick out fallacies; these things require you to think.

Although philosophy is widely offered in high schools, it isn’t often well received. Its merit is very poorly understood and as a discipline it’s often pushed into the shadows. It sometimes feels like philosophy is only allowed to address a question until science provides us with an answer. And as science is able to address more and more, philosophy is pushed further and further out of the limelight. 

Evidently, however, this isn’t helping our society progress and tackle the issues of polarization and misinformation. Education is the way out, and having students take a philosophy course in high school is a vital first step.

After all, if we cannot think for ourselves, we are opening ourselves up to allowing others to think for us, which will never serve us well.

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