Children Should be Taught Philosophy in School | Opinion

What does it mean to study philosophy?

Unfortunately, many people today believe that studying philosophy amounts to nothing. Scientists as prominent as Neil deGrasse Tyson slammed philosophy as being useless. Many philosophers, such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, dismissed the importance of philosophy. They thought that it was a discipline that amounted to literal nonsense, scrutinizing problems that are either unsolvable or not truly problems when examined closely.

The common notions justifying the supposed uselessness of philosophy believe studying it yields no practical utility. In other words, many believe that studying philosophy will not translate into professional and financial success. However, this notion is just as fallacious as the idea of Wittgenstein on the supposed uselessness of philosophy. The only caveat is that Wittgenstein had no conception of Starbucks, which he could use today to cast as the impending fate of all philosophy majors.

Research shows that, of all of the humanities majors available in modern universities, philosophy majors have the highest earning potential at all stages in their career after graduating. The average median salary of a philosophy major with 10 to 20 years of experience in the job market is roughly $82,000. By no means are philosophy majors generally rich, like business majors, but they are living comfortably. And their livelihood is directly attributable to their philosophy studies. It is no wonder that businesses are now eager to hire employees with philosophy degrees—which has resulted in record upticks in philosophy majors. Of all the non-STEM majors, philosophy majors are empirically the most employable across different fields. Ignoring these facts in light of current jobless or under-employed college graduates would be profoundly negligent.

The discipline of philosophy brings a whole host of practical skills that are seldom if ever found elsewhere in our educational system—especially when considering pre-college education. One such skill is the elucidation and clarification of complex and abstract ideas, such as those found in the sciences. This ability is indispensable for educators and writers alike, who often struggle to apply these abilities in their work. For example, a large part of why there is so much vaccine hesitancy currently is precisely because public health officials have failed to express the science of vaccines in a clear and digestible manner. Frankly, most people don't have the reasoning needed to unravel such information by themselves. Our society would be far better off if most people had these vital skills—teaching philosophy is a near-guaranteed manner of attaining them.

On the other hand, our education system has been dealing with a crisis in standardized testing. Specifically, the United States has experienced record reductions in standardized test scores for the past several years. On the left, with figures like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, we see attempts to lower testing standards. On the right, the GOP agrees that we need to re-think standardized testing but are not proposing tangible solutions.

A student in a classroom
A student in a classroom. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

My proposition to improve standardized test scores has good empirical data to support its efficacy, unlike de Blasio's or the GOP's non-existent solutions. Namely, we should be teaching philosophy in elementary schools. When we look at which college majors score the highest on graduate-level standardized tests, such as the GRE, GMAT, MCAT and LSAT, on all of these tests, philosophy majors have the highest scores on average. They have consistently done so for decades now. This is the closest thing to an empirically measurable solution to the problem of the degenerating test scores we have, and we would be remiss to overlook it.

Another reason to teach philosophy as early as possible is that philosophy cultivates the ability to think critically for ourselves, rather than uncritically or to appease teachers or parents. In our current education system, conformity and blind rule-following are rewarded, whereas anything which deviates from that—including free thought—is punished. Psychological data on the matter suggests that this way of conducting education pushes more children in the direction of complacency, dependence and banality, rather than independence and forthrightness—the latter two being far more ideal than what our current situation yields.

Where much of our lives are now constituted by hyperpartisanship, political correctness and dogmatic ideology, having more free-thinkers among our population would be more than a breath of fresh air. It may very well solve our most pressing cultural and practical problems. Logic is the study of how to reason correctly. Given our current political climate—and that political debates now primarily take the form of mostly baseless Twitter assertions—it would be a godsend to teach young people how to reason correctly.

Philosophy is a discipline where one studies a wide variety of views on reality—from Marxist-level socialism to Ayn Rand-level libertarianism, and from St. Thomas Aquinas' Christianity to Friedrich Nietzsche's atheism. Critical race theory is discussed just as much as any other set of political or philosophical ideas. Philosophy is not selective in what it chooses to teach—its curriculum is all-encompassing, leaving a great deal of room for students to make rational decisions and thoughts for themselves, by deeply learning about the way they, and others, think and argue.

All of us—employers, partners, strangers and friends—need critical thinkers in our lives. Without them, the inevitability of chaos grows. Philosophy is one of the only formal disciplines left that teaches how to become a critical thinker. We should teach philosophy to children as early on as deemed appropriate. As the philosopher Immanuel Kant famously stated, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." Unfortunately, our current education is quite crooked, but we would do well to straighten it with philosophy. In the same way, we should teach history unfettered and we should do the same with ideas.

Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in moral psychology, ethics and the philosophy of mind. He is a freelance writer, powerlifter and health science enthusiast.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.