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.
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.


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

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.