Guilt By Omission

Let no one when young delay to study philosophy, nor when he is old, grow weary of his study. For no one can come too early or too late to secure the health of his soul. And the man who says that the age for philosophy has either not yet come or has gone by is like the man who says that the age for happiness is not yet come to him…

– Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus

 As I mentioned in the last post, I’m reading a really cool book called Little Big Minds, which talks about doing philosophy with children. The chapter I just finished was especially good because it was on happiness – a subject I’ve written about before. One of the philosophers the author cites is Epicurus, an Athenian thinker. The above quote by him sums up one of my strong feelings about K-12 education right now – where’s the philosophy?

  I would (and did, in fact, in my Master’s thesis) argue that philosophy is one of the most important subjects students can study, yet is glaringly absent from schools. While we demand that students be great thinkers and intelligent citizens, we omit the field of study that would most profoundly affect those changes. In a sense, we in the education system, are largely culpable for students’ lack of thinking and empathy skills because we are omitting the subject that teaches them.

  Moreover, Epicurus argues that philosophizing – “doing” philosophy – is the key to a happy life. Many others, including Plato and Cicero, would concur (I have quotes to back that up if you like). Of course, that’s just my own trivial opinion.

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One response to “Guilt By Omission

  • Alex L.

    Hi Kevin,

    I stumbled upon your blog while doing a Google search to find out more about the phrase “guilt by omission” for an article I was writing.

    I read this post and it definitely struck home. I took a philosophy course in high school (6-7 years ago now) offered by an enterprising social studies teacher who managed to lobby our school to offer that class. Technically, it was a community college course offered on our high school campus, but it was just us secondary ed folk in the room.

    To cut a long story short, it was the most influential class I ever took either in high school or university. I took philosophy courses in college, but the type of discussion wasn’t the same. In high school, people seem to be more focused on forming their identities and pursuing the truth for truth’s sake. In college, learning becomes more about getting a career.

    So, I agree with you that we should offer philosophy in high school. A major caveat, though, is that the teacher really matters here. A great teacher can truly instill in students a love for good thinking. A bad pedagogue can turn them away from philosophy, which to me seems an even worse option that having not offered the course at all.

    -Alex

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