Educating Teenagers for Realism

From the Bring Back Reason series.

The most important part of educating older children for realism is teaching an age-appropriate philosophy sequence: classical logic starting around eighth grade followed by a fair amount of natural philosophy (10th and 11th grades) and finally some introductory metaphysics (11th and 12th grades). A history of philosophy class is also helpful.

For those not familiar with classical logic this may sound like a somewhat odd claim. When people think of logic they think of syllogisms or perhaps Venn diagrams. Logic is thought of as similar to mathematics. A bit of logic is even covered in some math textbooks. Wouldn’t it be odd to claim that mathematics is the key to recovering realism? So what does logic have to do with realism?

The first point in answer to this question is that classical logic, while it includes such things as rules for the validity of syllogisms, is about quite a bit more. Classical logic is divided into two branches: formal logic and material logic. Formal logic studies the structure of reasoning, including how to know whether an argument is valid or invalid. Material logic is concerned with the content of the terms used in arguments, including such topics as substance and accidents as presented in Aristotle’s ten categories. Material logic introduces a fair amount of natural philosophy transitions well to natural philosophy course(s).

The second point is that classical logic, natural philosophy and metaphysics directly address the anti-realist thrust in contemporary education. To understand this point it is necessary to critically examine contemporary education from a realist perspective.

Right from the start I would like to offer a clarification about what follows. It is easier to criticize than to propose solutions. I have a dislike in general for those who provide insightful critiques without adequately pointing the way forward. An example of such a work is Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind. A nihilist can be a great cultural critic. I am presenting the following critique of contemporary education from a realist perspective, not only to point out what is wrong, but specifically to provide a direction toward a solution.

Classical logic, natural philosophy and metaphysics are important parts of a good education. This would be true even if there were no particular educational problems in need of correction. But this philosophy sequence is particularly important for education today, not only for its own value, which is considerable, but because it is the missing key to restoring realism, the full scope of human reason, and proper order to the different academic disciplines that should fit together in an integral way.

And now for a look at what is really wrong in education today.

Michael Moynihan

About the author:

Michael Moynihan


A native of Rochester, NY, Michael Moynihan earned B.A. degrees in history and science pre-professional studies with a concentration in the Honors Program from the University of Notre Dame. He graduated Summa Cum Laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. After teaching for one year and earning a master’s degree in theology from The Catholic University of America, he joined the faculty of The Heights School in 1995. He has taught chemistry, Advanced Placement chemistry, eighth grade science, ethics, math and religion, has coached The Heights’ cross-country team and founded The Heights Mountaineers program. Michael was named Head of the Upper School in 2002. He and his wife, Angela, have eleven children, with four sons here at the School.

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