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philosophy critical thinking

Why Study Philosophy in Middle and High School? Critical Thinking on Steroids

Philosophy is the foundation of critical thinking – the study of how to think. It teaches reasoning, problem solving, and logical analysis. So why isn’t philosophy, in an age-appropriate form, at the center of every child’s school experience?   

Perhaps we are so accustomed to a learning-as-memorizing, intelligence-as-facts paradigm that we can’t imagine young people doing something as challenging and deep as philosophy. Not only does this set a low bar, it also fails to recognize a basic developmental fact – namely, that teens and preteens crave and embrace any and all opportunities to think deeply and critically. As Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget famously described, kids undergo an intellectual explosion in early adolescence (around the start of middle school), moving into a “Formal Operational” stage in which deep abstract reasoning becomes possible. These emerging thinkers can’t wait to try out their newfound powers, but find their factory-model schools indifferent to, or even threatened by, their passion to think.

Not only is abstract thinking natural and (yes!) fun for middle and high schoolers, it also embraces and shapes their drive for autonomy. They wonder if people in power — and more generally, the culture around them — are always correct, making them well-primed to engage in philosophical reflection. A common bumper sticker phrase, “Don’t Always Believe What You Think,” should be the catchphrase for our secondary teaching model.

At Areté, philosophy is a core subject and philosophical thinking and questioning are at the center of our innovative teaching and learning model. Our seminar-style classrooms hum with energetic philosophical discussions and reflection. Our “voice and choice” model embraces students’ passions while providing the individual guidance they need to effectively analyze concepts, evaluate claims, develop arguments and propose solutions.

Areté’s Great Ideas courses offer thought-provoking topics and provide ample opportunity for students to build a wide range of academic skills – deconstructing arguments, questioning premises, crafting clear positions, and listening to others – all in a brainy-yet-playful context.

Our quarterly Aporia Days give students a chance to step away from “normal” learning and look at a philosophical topic and the world around them in a unique way.

At the end of each semester, students engage in a two-week-long Symposium. They each select a topic based on a unifying, school-wide philosophical question or theme and then research, discuss, and write before sharing their exciting findings and ideas with other Areté students, teachers and community at large.

Areté students live and breathe philosophy. They learn how to ask worthwhile questions and extract what is essential from masses of information. They are encouraged to think critically about the world. In this age of disinformation and instant gratification, critical thinking and reasoning have the power to separate enlightened game-changers from sheep-like followers.

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