We Need to Start Teaching Philosophy in Schools

The capacity for deep reflection may be a very important skill to teach for the 21st century. Maybe even the most important one.

Teaching philosophy is a necessity in our schools.
We should start teaching philosophy in schools. Image by chenspec from Pixabay.com

I am sure that I am not the only educator concerned about the state of our world. There is no shortage of crises that humanity is facing and will face. This demands radical new approaches to our methods. But that is not enough. Teaching philosophy in our schools is another necessity. Let me elaborate.

There is a climate crisis that is threatening to rip our planet apart. We may be on the brink of a full-scale global war. We are still dragging on through a pandemic that has caused immense casualties. The house of cards that is late-stage capitalism is about to collapse. Advances in AI are threatening to make billions of workers redundant. In short, these are scary times to grow up in.

The above list is by far not exhaustive. I think that these issues are compounding. This signals that we are at a major turning point in human history.

Those of us at the forefront of our education system bear an immense responsibility. We can no longer pretend that these issues do not exist. It is the privilege of the teacher to teach. Whether we deny it or not, we play a significant part in forming our students’ lives. Privilege comes with a duty. To me, it comes down to these questions.

What should our students learn and why?

How do we do it?

I see teaching philosophy as one of many possible answers to the first question. We must re-learn to ask deep foundational questions. When the future is as uncertain as it ever was, the only thing that can guide us is a set of fundamental values. But how do we find out what those values should be?

We Are in This Mess, Because We Fail to Reflect Upon Our Actions

Our current mess is also caused by our lacking ability to reflect in the first place.

We exploit our natural resources for profit without ever considering what our purpose for seeking profit is.

With every new technology we invent, we are only concerned about what amazing things we can do. But we never ask why we should do it in the first place.

This failure to reflect permeates every layer of our society. Like when we push for one education reform after another because we fall behind in PISA rankings. Have we ever asked what the purpose of such ranking was in the first place?

Part of the solution to this dilemma is to rectify our failure to reflect. One way to start is by teaching philosophy to our coming generations.

Philosophy Is The Art of Gaining Knowledge Through Reflection

The word philosophy has its origin in ancient greek and consists of two parts. ‘Philo’, which means love, and ‘Sophia’, meaning ‘knowledge’, or ‘wisdom’.
So philosophy is the art of pursuing and embracing wisdom.

Philosophers have the same goal as scientists do. To find some universal truths about life and the universe. The method of choice for the scientist is observation and experimentation. For the philosopher, it is observation and reflection.

One thing that strikes me when I study philosophy and also many religious texts is that there seem to be some core ideas that seem to appear again and again.

To illustrate this, I would like to present you with four quotes.

Love these people among whom your lot has fallen, but love them in all sincerity. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.39

If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? – John 4:20

Men think that it is impossible for a human being to love his enemies, for enemies are hardly able to endure the sight of one another. Well, then, shut your eyes–and your enemy looks just like your neighbor. – Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. – Buddha

Four different quotes direct us to show love and compassion towards others. Each of these was formulated hundreds of years apart from each other and in different corners of the world. Yet they all fundamentally conclude the same.

The only logical conclusion to this observation is that showing love and compassion is a fundamental, universal value. What a beautiful insight.

How Should We Be Teaching Philosophy?

The way I see it, there are several ways to go about it.

One is to redesign the curriculums of already existing subjects like religion and instead transform it into an actual philosophy subject, that encompasses all major religions and other philosophical schools. This is by far the most difficult, but also the most radical way to go about it and likely involves changes and paradigm shifts on a political level in most countries. But I think it could be worth fighting for.

Another one is to include debates, reflections, and study of philosophical texts in existing subjects, like literature. This is something that we can already implement today. If you are a literature teacher, for example, try to include some writings of ancient or contemporary philosophers for your students to read. Give space in your classroom for debating and reflecting upon them. Maybe even take a step back and let your students lead the process.

Maybe it should be a combination of both. What do you think?



I am from Germany but have spent more than half of my life in Denmark, and other places abroad. I have a background in teaching, both youngsters and adults. I am interested in a wide field of things, which I love to teach and write about. Sustainability, technology, politics, social change, and mental health are just some examples.

2 thoughts on “We Need to Start Teaching Philosophy in Schools

  1. Hello Alexander
    Her proposal seems excellent to me and I am going to incorporate it into my insistence on environmental education. Very didactic are the explanations. Thank you very much

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