Intelligent Design Philosophy Science science education

A good idea: Teach philosophy of science in high school

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At The Scientist:

We need to improve K–12 STEM education. But improving STEM education is not simply a matter of adding lesson plans on microbiology and immunology, nor emphasizing hands-on laboratory work. What we need to do is to teach students about the fundamental nature of scientific practice—its strengths and limitations—and how science can both affect and be affected by society. In other words, we need to introduce students to the philosophy of science.

The concept of teaching philosophy in high school might seem strange. Philosophy often gets a bad reputation, conjuring up images of dense, impenetrable writing and of academics who care more about winning verbal disputes than discussing tangible issues. Admittedly, academic philosophy can often be esoteric and inaccessible, and the field has historically been guilty of vastly underrepresenting female and minority perspectives. But over the past several years, a wave of enthusiasm has emerged to expand whose voice is heard and to engage the broader public in philosophical discourse.

Little attention has been given, however, to expanding access to philosophy of science education. Philosophy of science examines how the scientific process works, when and why we should accept new scientific findings, and how scientific knowledge progresses over time. The discipline also explores the role of different stakeholders in science, how biases and values can influence the process, and how ethical considerations figure into research. These issues—not how to balance chemical equations or how to calculate the trajectory of a projectile—are what Americans are asked to grapple with every day as we are confronted with news on the pandemic. And recent studies suggest that knowledge about the nature of science may improve trust and acceptance of its findings.

Nicholas Friedman and Stephen Esser, “Opinion: Teach Philosophy of Science in High School” at The Scientist (January 17, 2022)

It’s too bad if the concept seems “strange” to some. Philosophy of science is to science what civics is to politics. It helps people make sense of what we are doing and why: What is science as a way of knowing? What can it tell us and not tell us? The alternative is that science becomes a Magic Answer Machine with no clear understanding of what the answers really mean.

13 Replies to “A good idea: Teach philosophy of science in high school

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Fine if it’s taught as part of DOING experiments. The “philosophy” comes naturally when you’re trying to solve a problem in an organized way. You have to figure out what’s constant and what’s variable, and you have to grasp how measurement really works. In other words, you automatically learn metrology, not “philosophy”

    “Philosophy” is useless if “taught” in the classroom. Memorizing Popper and Plato for a test won’t last and won’t affect your life.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    For that matter, civics is equally useless. “Laws” and “constitutions” are the EXACT OPPOSITE of real politics. Machiavelli and Parkinson give us the real basis of politics. Machiavelli’s book is written in scientific form, carefully separating out the variables of a ruler’s personality and intentions, and completely ignoring the unnecessary and bizarre entities of “laws” and “constitutions”

  3. 3
    BobRyan says:

    I could see it as beneficial to explain the value of thought experiments, which are perfectly valid in science.

    Another class that should be taught in high-schools is socialism and should be taught by those who suffered under it. People should know the real costs of what they have been trying to indoctrinate for decades.

  4. 4
    asauber says:

    I think a person has to have a basic awareness of philosophy in order to understand their own patterns of thinking, otherwise a person could lurch into contradictions and inconsistencies and not be aware of it. It’s sort of becomes a thinking error checker.

    Andrew

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Are there qualified teachers to do that and do it responsibly? KF

  6. 6
    Seversky says:

    It sounds like a good idea in principle, although as kf says are there qualified teachers who could present it?

  7. 7
    Fasteddious says:

    Everyone should get some basic “philosophy” from as early an age as possible:
    – logic and reasoning skills to make sense of the world and arguments
    – ethics and basic morality to know how to behave and relate to others (virtues)
    – epistemic resources to better learn how to learn and understand
    – ontology: about what exists and is real vs. virtual/video/games/fantasy/pretend
    Alas, many parents do not impart basic thinking and behavioural skills, leaving that to schools. And many schools don’t dare teach children right from wrong, or good from bad, much less discipline them effectively. By the time kids start taking “science” in high school, it may be too late to instil proper virtues and the values needed to be a good citizen, worker or parent, much less a scientist.
    I should try to be more optimistic, I suppose.

  8. 8
    EDTA says:

    No, there are no qualified teachers. People who get through teachers’ colleges will just give tests on who Popper was, etc. Unfortunately.

    >”and the field has historically been guilty of vastly underrepresenting female and minority perspectives.”

    Well, there goes any hope of them teaching anything objective or useful…it will be sunk before it leaves drydock.

    But yes, we are in desperate need of people who can think analytically.

  9. 9
    zweston says:

    Teach Logic, Rhetoric, and argumentation…. then maybe we could actually learn how to discuss issues and identify plain trolling and deal with content.

  10. 10
    Querius says:

    And nowadays. such philosophy instruction will, of course, cover BOTH Marx and Engels. And of course we can’t forget Mao, Lenin, Castro, and Guevera!

    -Q

  11. 11
    Querius says:

    And the new rhetoric covers the following innovations:

    1. “It would have been worse if” . . . if we didn’t take the action and then didn’t double down on it

    2. “There’s no evidence that” . . . whoever employs this assertion first, wins

    3. “Just a bump in the road to” . . . to an aspirational goal as justification for all disastrous consequences

    4. “Good intentions for” or “no one could have known” . . . as justification of any complete disaster

    5. “But that wasn’t TRUE socialism (or any other policy or theory) . . . as justification for trying the same thing over and over

    -Q

  12. 12
    zweston says:

    If only they could at least teach people ad-hominem and claims vs. supported argumentation.

  13. 13
    Querius says:

    Yes, indeed! And that unsupported assertions made by oneself for a good cause do not constitute irrefutable proofs.

    -Q

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