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?