No, I think it's valuable because it opens up young minds to a fuller experience of reality. It helps them begin to think on their own, much more than do "critical thinking" problems from a textbook in any other subject. Though it may not provide a lot of answers, it does teach how to ask good questions. The young mind is by nature more curious about things (well, I just thought of that--it might not be true, but it sounds good), so why not teach it to really think about things as well?
Enter my younger brother who is now a senior at the same high school. Philosophy has become a much larger part of the curriculum than it once was, at least from what he tells me. He approached me earlier this (academic) year about helping him with a research paper, which was to be a comparison of Plato and the Matrix. I don't remember exactly, but I probably shouted at him, "Yes, absolutely!" I was so excited.
I was at home at the time, so we immediately went up to the bookshelf that my parents have granted me temporarily to fill with all my philosophy books until such time as I have a place to put them. From there I pulled my copy of The Republic, and for secondary literature, Jones' The Classical Mind, a text I had from my first Ancient philosophy course. I even had a copy of The Matrix and Philosophy that I had picked up on an impulse buy (subsequently reading only two of the articles, at most). Then I marked the relevant sections for him to read and sent him on his merry way.
Then, when I was home again over Christmas break I got the chance to answer questions and to explain to him as best I could, the Sun, the Divided Line, and the Cave. I'll admit, since I've been studying theology for almost four years now, and since I did more of my graduate work on Aristotle than Plato, I had to reteach myself a lot of the subtler distinctions as we went along. More than a couple times I started explaining things in terms of Aristotelian metaphysics, and had to check myself. Still, he showed genuine interest, and a real capacity to understand. He was "recollecting the forms" quite well.
Watching him think on his own was really cool, and the way some of his questions were able to confound me reminded me very much of what Aristotle says in the Metaphysics (and how far I fell short of it!): "In general, it is a sign of the man who knows and of the man who does not know, that the former can teach..." and "he who is more exact and more capable of teaching the causes is wiser."
When I finally proofread his paper after Christmas break, I was happy to see that it was so much more than a simple compare and contrast of the plots of the Matrix and the Cave, but showed a depth of understanding of the bigger picture in Plato. He was even able to explain Plato's epistemology in more elegant and concise language than I had explained it to him, and he did so a couple of times in the paper. He's eighteen, and I hadn't even started seriously reading Plato until sophomore year of college!
Do I think he's going to major in philosophy? No, and I'm not disappointed in that either. Not everyone who studies biology in high school majors in biology. On the other hand, he is quite capable not only of understanding philosophy, but of his own creative philosophical thought. And, while it seems amazing and out of the ordinary, it's really not. He's just being a human being, naturally desirous of knowledge for it's own sake.
Philosophy is something that human beings do naturally, at least when given the opportunity. Why not offer it to them as early as possible? (though not too soon, mind you) The sooner the introduction to philosophy, the less time spent in the utterly pointless and ultimately boring status quo of the world.
|That's right. I'm a ninja.|