4 Reasons Philosophy Should Be Taught in High School

 
photo credit:  Lawrence OP  via  photopin   cc

photo credit: Lawrence OP via photopin cc

 

By Michael P. McKeating, J.D.
Headmaster
Chesterton Academy of Buffalo

At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, we require all students to take four years of philosophy. One of the questions I am often asked is: “Why teach philosophy in high school?”  There are many reasons, but I like to emphasize four.  

1. First and foremost, philosophy teaches one to think.  If this sounds fundamental, that’s because it is.

The ability to think—really think—is a scarce commodity today.  Today, everyone has an opinion about everything.  But few can explain or defend their opinion.  If you ask someone where they got that opinion, they may look at you like you just landed from Mars.  If they are able to answer at all, more often than not they will begin the answer with: “Well I feel that…”  Immediately you are in the realm of emotion, and outside the realm of reason.

The study of philosophy teaches the student to think rationally, starting with observations and propositions and arriving at conclusions following the rules of logic.   It teaches one to analyze arguments and to expose logical fallacies.

2. Second, philosophy asks and proposes answers to the fundamental questions of life.

These were succinctly summarized by St. John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio:

Moreover, a cursory glance at ancient history shows clearly how in different parts of the world, with their different cultures, there arise at the same time the fundamental questions which pervade human life: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?

The study of philosophy asks, analyzes and proposes answers to these questions.  This is essential to any education because, as John Paul II points out, all humans seek answers to these questions in order to give direction to their life. 

3. Third, philosophy seeks truth—or at least it always did until recently.

Since World War II, there has risen a branch of modern philosophy called Postmodernism, which holds that there is no such thing as truth.  Truth, along with goodness and beauty, are regarded by classical philosophers as the ultimate desires of all men.  Aristotle, at the beginning of Metaphysics, said, “All men by nature seek to know.”  To know what: truth.  Even those who claim not to believe in truth will immediately object to a false proposition, “But that is not true!”

4. Fourth, studying philosophy builds virtue.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines virtue as a habitual and firm disposition to do the good (CCC, #1803).  St. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Catechetical Fathers of the Church, said, “The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God” (ibid.).

Plato and Aristotle wrote extensively about virtues and the virtuous life 350 years before the birth of Christ.  This is one of the reasons that many theologians consider them to be precursors of the Gospel.  The ideas and principles that they formulated about virtue are as applicable today as they were in the fourth century B.C.  In philosophy, students can acquaint themselves with and discourse on these timeless writings, applying their understanding of virtue to real life.

As long as rational thinking, understanding the purpose of life, truth-seeking, and virtue-building are important to learn in high school, we also consider it important to teach philosophy in high school.


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At Chesterton Academy, freshmen learn from the “Pre-Socratics,” the Greek philosophers who lived before Socrates.  To sophomores, we teach Plato and Aristotle, the fathers of Western philosophy, who were viewed by the Church Fathers as precursors of the Gospel.  Junior year, we teach St. Thomas Aquinas and early modern philosophy. Senior year, we teach Hobbes, Rousseau, Locke, Adam Smith, Marx, Chesterton and Belloc.

Click here to learn more about our classical curriculum.

4 Practical Reasons to Teach Latin in High School

photo credit:  Admiral Kahoku  via  photopin   cc

photo credit: Admiral Kahoku via photopin cc

By MICHAEL P. McKEATING, J.D.
Headmaster
Chesterton Academy of Buffalo

At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo we require all students to take three years of Latin. 

When I speak to groups of parents about this, I get one of two reactions.  Most say: “Praise the Lord.”  But some say: “Why do you do that?  Latin is of no use today.” I love those comments.  They are the perfect foil.  They launch me on my favorite speech.

 The study of Latin is essential to a classical education, or to any Liberal Arts education for that matter.  There are a number of reasons for this.

1. First, Latin is important because it teaches one to read, write and speak English better.

This is true because studying Latin forces one to focus on grammar, syntax and parts of speech.  We usually don’t do this when we speak English, because we learned to speak English as infants and we do it without any reflection.  Often we are not speaking correctly, but we do not know it.

But Latin has a rigid sentence structure, nouns are declined, verbs are conjugated, and adjectives must agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number and case.  Therefore in every sentence we must think about whether a word is a subject, predicate, direct object, indirect object, part of a prepositional phrase, etc.

In short, we must learn sentence structure and parts of speech, essential in any language but generally no longer given much emphasis in English in our schools.

2. Second, more than 50% of the words in the English language come from Latin, so in the course of learning Latin vocabulary, we necessarily expand and perfect our knowledge of English vocabulary.

As a result of Latin’s effect in strengthening and expanding our English vocabulary, numerous studies have shown that students who have taken Latin in high school score at least 50 to 150 points higher on standardized tests such as the SAT, than do students who have not studied Latin (Townsley, 1985; Morgan, 1989; Barrett, 1996; LaFleur, 1998).

3. Third, a knowledge of Latin is very important in a number of professions, particularly law and medicine. 

In the legal profession, for example, there are hundreds of Latin phrases that are used by lawyers every day. Some examples are:

Mens Rea – Guilty mind
Certiorari – Bring it forth
Obiter dicta – Offhand comment in a legal decision not necessary to the decision
Duces tecum – Bring it with you
Ex post facto – After the fact
Habeus corpus – Produce the body
Ignorantia juris non excusat – Ignorance of the law is no excuse
In limine – At the threshold
In loco parentis – In the place of the parents
Non compos mentis – Not of sound mind

And there are hundreds more.  One literally could not practice law without knowing the meaning of these Latin legal terms.

4. Finally, studying Latin helps us to better understand the Latin Mass, as well as the original text of the many traditional Latin hymns, such as Tantum Ergo, O Salutaris, Pange Lingua, Ave Corpus Verum, and many others.

Also, the original text of all Vatican documents is written in Latin. From there it is often translated into French, and from French into all other languages. So when we read the English translation, it's often a year or two after the original came out, and it has gone through at least two translations. This is why there are so many disputes over translations, and why studying Latin would help us to better understand them.

At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo we promote the quest of knowledge to glorify God and to make the student a well-rounded, well-spoken citizen of the world. While we do not approach the quest for knowledge from a utilitarian perspective, it is clear that learning Latin is extremely beneficial for a multitude of reasons.

What is a Classical Curriculum?

photo credit:  Nick in exsilio  via  photopin   cc

photo credit: Nick in exsilio via photopin cc

By Michael P. McKeating, J.D.
Headmaster
Chesterton Academy of Buffalo

At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, an Independent High School in the Catholic Tradition, we teach a classical curriculum.  I am often asked by parents of prospective students, as well as by benefactors and others, “What is a classical curriculum?”

The classical curriculum has its origin in Plato and Aristotle, and was the method of education used in nearly all of Western Civilization for over 2,000 years.  It is the method which produced such great geniuses as St. Anselm, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Chaucer, Dante, and St. Thomas More, to name but a few.

The purpose of a classical curriculum is to build well-rounded generalists, who can think about, discuss and debate any subject.  Unlike most modern schools, such a curriculum does not teach subjects in narrow unrelated compartments, but stresses the inter-relatedness of all subjects, showing how philosophy, theology, mathematics, history, literature and music are all related.

For example, a lesson in geometry may lead into a discussion of the philosophies and writing of Euclid and Pythagoras, the fathers of geometry, which may help in debate during social and political discussions.

In Medieval times, a classical curriculum was frequently referred to as the Trivium and the Quadrivium.  One could loosely translate these Latin terms as “the three subjects” and the “four subjects.”

The Trivium consisted of 1) grammar, 2) logic and 3) rhetoric.  The Quadrivium consisted of 1) arithmetic, 2) geometry, 3) music and 4) astronomy.  Together, these categories comprised the seven subject areas of a traditional liberal arts education.

These terms did not all have the same meaning that they have today.  For example, grammar was not limited to the rules of a language, but meant the collection and ordering of facts into a coherent whole.  Logic meant bringing understanding to this body of knowledge by eliminating contradictions.  Rhetoric meant the art of communicating this knowledge and understanding its wisdom.

The curriculum at Chesterton Academy of Buffalo is basically a classical curriculum, although the subjects are not called by the same names.  At Chesterton, all students take one year of debate, two years of a second language, three years of Latin, and four years of literature, history, science, mathematics, philosophy, theology, art, music, and drama.

 During freshman year, all subjects of the Chesterton curriculum have a concentration on the Ancient World. For sophomores, the focus is the Early Medieval Period; juniors, the High Middle Ages to the Renaissance; and seniors, the Modern World. Thus, the curriculum produces students who can think and process the world around them as a narrative throughout time integrating all subjects.

For more on our curriculum, see: http://www.buffalochestertonacademy.org/curriculum/

Our students on their first day of literature class at Chesterton Academy of Buffalo.

Our students on their first day of literature class at Chesterton Academy of Buffalo.

Why We Don't Use Common Core

photo credit:  Steve Rhodes  via  photopin   cc

photo credit: Steve Rhodes via photopin cc

By Michael P. McKeating, J.D.
Headmaster
Chesterton Academy of Buffalo

             At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo we do not follow “Common Core.”  We do not use Common Core standards, curricula, tests, or Common Core-aligned textbooks.

            We follow the Classical Model of education.  We teach all subjects through the lens of the Catholic Church, using wherever possible the Socratic method.  We do so because this model is far superior, as proven by the experience of centuries.

            The Common Core is a comprehensive system of standardized, top-down curricula, textbooks and tests for grades K through 12, conceived and funded primarily by Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation and promoted by President Obama and the federal government.  Its stated purpose is to make children “college and career-ready.”  It is entirely pragmatic and utilitarian, based on the educational philosophy of John Dewey, with a strong overlay of Postmodernist philosophy for frosting. 

            It is pragmatic and utilitarian because it emphasizes uniformity and conformity.  It wants all students to meet the same standards, but it wants to accomplish that by lowering the standards.  It also seeks to impose a uniform, politically correct content.  It stresses the information necessary to get into college or to get a job.  These are two laudable, and in most cases, necessary objectives.  But it stresses them at the expense of denigrating the study of great literature, philosophy, history or foreign languages. 

            At Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, we seek to educate the whole person.  As humans, we are composite beings, made up of body and soul, not robots.  The pagan, secular philosophy of John Dewey and his followers—which is really the foundation for Common Core—sees faith and reason as incompatible and mutually exclusive.  We see faith and reason as not only compatible, but complimentary.

            Common Core seeks to teach and test students in the reading of government documents and manuals, because it is useful.  It stresses information.  We teach students to read the great works of Western Literature:  The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, the Confessions of St. Augustine, The Divine Comedy, The Canterbury Tales Hamlet, Macbeth.  We introduce them to the works of Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, John Donne, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, G.K. Chesterton and Flannery O’Connor.

            We require four years of philosophy.  Why do we do this? Because it teaches students to think, a skill in short supply today.  In today’s culture, everyone has an opinion on everything, but few can explain or defend their opinion.  We teach the principles of logic—how to reason, from first principles, through propositions to conclusions.  In short, we teach students how to explain and defend their beliefs.  We also teach Music, Art, Drama and Debate.  We seek to form the whole person with a comprehensive world-view, not narrow specialists.

            Common Core teaches skills in separate, unconnected compartments.  We teach that all knowledge is interconnected.  In each year we show how philosophy, theology, history and literature, music and art are interconnected and interwoven in a cohesive whole.  And we teach that all knowledge is interconnected through the central mystery of human existence:  the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—God become Man.

            In summary we don’t use Common Core because we use something far better.  The superiority of the classical education has been tested and proven by the experience of the centuries.  In the words of Dale Ahlquist, the founder of the Chesterton Network of Schools, “We are doing something new by doing something very old.”