A sketch of a public philosophy for an alternative educational model

Yesterday, I reflected on a sense of bewilderment I felt upon leaving Kaos Pilots in Denmark. I have often wondered what draws young persons to certain versions of relativism, postmodernism, and pragmatism. The answer I gave went like this:

There is considerable appeal in this public philosophy: rejection of the old [evident in relativism], relief of metaphysical burdens [exemplified in postmodernism], and usefulness in connection with one’s plan for life [the payoff of pragmatism]. The appeal seems to be that I can get on in this all too human world and find a place within the existing social fabric.

I said I also wanted to examine why this public philosophy is out of step with the unsettled world we now inhabit and this I want to sketch briefly below.

The chief reason that the public philosophy that has been inculcated in young persons is not bound to serve them well is that it will not allow them to endorse basic commitments, stand firm in the face of great challenges, and undertake philosophical inquiries. I think that a different foundation will be necessary. I imagine the pillars of a good alternative educational institution to be prescience, character development, and rigor.

1. Prescience

Introduce students, early on and cohesively, to

(a) the general character of the age in which we live;

(b) the massive problems we are bound to confront in our time and major leitmotivs of a better world (e.g., water scarcity, the limits of economic growth, population growth, ecological degradation, sustainability, resilience, etc.).

2. Character Development

Educate students to be courageous, big-thinking, and conceptually agile. That is, to teach students to think seriously about our age and about the problems facing us.

3. Rigor

Provide students with the philosophical scaffolding and argumentative rigor without which they will not be able to understand our age and to face up to the problems of our time. What philosophical orientation will make them, say, more resilient and more open to possible futures?


2 thoughts on “A sketch of a public philosophy for an alternative educational model

  1. But, Andrew, to whom does this task fall: determining and articulating what the general character of our age is, what its massive problems consist in, what it means to be courageous, big-thinking, conceptually agile (to say nothing of what it means to be honest, wise, and kind)? Whose philosophical scaffolding will we be mounting and maintaining? What criteria will justify us in entrusting our children to it (surely, they, like all of us, will sometimes fall)? When you invoke argument (“argumentative rigor”) I wonder about its necessity: With whom will we argue and how and what over? To be sure, we will be arguing over the world. But we already are. So . . . ?
    Hugs, C.

    1. All good questions, C. The context and scope of the claims are key.

      In the ‘alternative educational paradigms’ community (ugly phrase that but it’s the sort of name I hear), there’s a great deal of good intentions and big hearts but not always a lot of rigor. These places tend to want to be prescient but lack some greater understanding, say, of theories of modernity or the value of good reasoning. On the other hand, they–rightly, in my view–believe that our current educational institutions aren’t confronting the challenges facing us: environmental degradation and economic collapse, most notably. So, they’re struggling with being prescience and rigorous (but see just below on my use of these terms without providing stipulative definitions).

      Most of the questions I present above are meant to be worked out in and through conversations with people at these schools. ‘Rigor’, ‘prescience,’ and so forth are points of departure or a kind of orientation for the kinds of curricular development I have in mind. They’ve yet to be ‘filled in’ in particular ways. There’s a certain ‘We’ll see where this takes us…’

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