High School Philosophy Classes

There is lots of exciting work in philosophy going on in high school classrooms around the country! Here are two public high school philosophy classes about which I’ve recently learned:

In Memphis, Michael Burroughs, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Memphis, is teaching a philosophy class at Booker T. Washington High School. So far the class has been exploring questions concerning what constitutes the good life and questions about the nature of justice. The class has organized a blog about their work — http://www.blogphilos.blogspot.com/.

And in San Diego, Josh Cottrell, a high school teacher, is teaching the first philosophy class ever offered in the Poway Unified School district. “Critical Thinking: Philosophy in Literature” is a thematic approach to philosophy, augmented with poetry, prose, visual art and film, covering epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and some metaphysics. Josh reports that “the students are totally engaged. In fact, I’m stunned at their engagement. These kids (juniors and seniors) are taking this class as an elective and earning UC “g” credit for the course. This class is not required, and in fact is more work than many of their required academic classes. Yet, I’m finding that they are not only doing the readings, but annotating their readings like graduate students! I’ve rarely seen that kind of work ethic in my honors and AP students.”

One of the challenges of doing philosophy with pre-college students is the isolation that many people engaged in this work experience. Often I hear from, especially, high school teachers who are teaching the lone philosophy class in their districts and have no one with whom to communicate about what’s going on in their classrooms. The Pre-College Philosophy Committee of the American Philosophical Association (APA) is trying to address this issue by developing a new national organization, PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization), that will provide resource-sharing and support to K-12 philosophy teachers around the country.