Philosophy for Teens as well as a second volume, More Philosophy for Teens, can provide a great introduction to philosophy when used in the appropriate settings. The books were written for use in public high school classrooms. So while they deal with major philosophical concepts—values, ethics, and reality—including questions such as the existence of absolute truth and belief in God, they tackle the questions in an open-ended fashion to stay within legal requirements. Parents who want to explore the “big ideas” with their children without being too directive should find these books a good fit, but those with definite philosophical ideas, especially in regard to God and the ultimate purpose of life might be uncomfortable having their children explore ideas in this way. Lessons present good arguments for two or more perspectives on each question, frequently drawing upon the ideas of major philosophers. Religious ideas such as those from Thomas Aquinas are given respect equal to those of other philosophers, and religious ideas are raised frequently throughout both books. It is probably important for some parents to note that in a discussion about the universe, More Philosophy for Teens works from the concept that a Big Bang happened billions of years ago (p. 98). Acceptance of evolution is implied in another lesson.
The first book, Philosophy for Teens, raises questions about the big ideas of life under the four categories of beauty, truth, justice, and God. More Philosophy for Teens moves on to questions about reality and knowledge under the categories of the self, knowledge, the universe, and God. It also introduces common logical fallacies.
The books are ideal for group classes where students can discuss, role play, and be stimulated by the questions and ideas of others. However, if that isn’t possible, a student working independently would still gain much by reading through the lessons, writing responses to the appropriate assignments, and discussing other questions with a parent or teacher.
The authors describe their use of the courses with once-a-week, two-hour block classes. They generally require students to have read the chapter in advance of the class. In a class period, they introduce the central question of the chapter and have students do a dramatic reading of the opening dialogue that has two people on opposite sides of the philosophical question. Then they have students write answers to the set of questions that follows the dialogue, discuss highlights from the chapter, and write brief dialogues in small groups (sort of like continuing the discussion via dialogue). They conclude by a session by sharing and commenting upon the newly written dialogues with the class. With a shorter time period, they omit the construction of new dialogues.
If a student were to use this primarily for independent study, he or she would read the opening dialogue and probably write out answers to the first set of questions. Next, they would read the explanatory lesson material then answer the reading comprehension questions. Discussion is really essential for the next set of “Discussion Questions.” These generally include questions that require students to compare characters and their thoughts or actions in light of the ideas of two contrasting philosophers—which philosopher do each of them most closely reflect? Examples of other discussion questions are: “Do you think genetic engineering is ‘playing God’? What about conventional treatments, such as kidney transplants—is that playing god, too? Why or why not?” (Philosophy, p. 36). “List some ways you think it is OK to escape reality and some ways you think it is not OK” (ibid, p. 75). “Describe something bad that happened to a good person you know. Do you think it happened for a reason? If so, what is the reason? If not, does this show that life is unfair? Explain” (ibid, p. 120).
After the discussion questions, the student could then tackle the essay question. The essay question in each lesson is quite complex and can result in a substantial paper if thoroughly developed. Following this are generally two exercise questions: one about writing the new dialogue and the other about constructing a thought experiment. The thought experiments are designed to “test the more controversial claims” of a philosophical position. (It’s not clear to me how these are used by the authors in their group classes, but they make great fodder for discussion.) A student could choose to complete either a dialogue or a thought experiment--maybe completing both by using the thought experiment as the springboard for the dialogue. Whether students do one or both, they would benefit greatly from discussion with someone else to help clarify their ideas.
These are followed by activity suggestions such as making a drawing, a composition suggestion, a field trip idea, and a recommended movie to watch. A leading question follows the movie recommendation to help focus student attention to a key idea. A set of possible Community Action Steps follows—generally “big” ideas that stretch outside the classroom such as “Invite a controversial artist to your school” or “Visit various different religious centers in your area to learn about their contrasting beliefs” (Philosophy, pp. 29 and 49).
You can see that the activities and questions could easily take much more time than a single block class per week. There are 14 and 15 lessons in each of the two books, respectively. In a homeschool setting, I would probably tackle one book per year, taking two weeks per lesson. I would have the students complete all but the essay question the first week, then dedicate the second week to the essay. Of course, you can adopt whatever schedule you like, using or omitting whichever exercises you please as the authors themselves must do to complete one lesson per class session.
There are no answer keys except for two supplemental logic exercises in More Philosophy—exercises and answers keys for those are at the end of the book. While the authors state that there are no right or wrong answers in philosophy, some questions do require answers that demonstrate reading comprehension and are predictable. Nevertheless, most student responses are open-ended and need to be evaluated individually. The authors stress that students should not be graded on their ideas so much as on their manner of expressing them. The goal is to teach students how to think. Still, parents need to read through the material both to be able to discuss it with students and to evaluate responses to some extent.
These books address major life questions, but in doing so they cover some of the subject area content standards for English, history, and science—particularly those standards dealing with critical thinking. While the courses might contribute toward credits for those subjects, they primarily supply an elective credit in the humanities that might be identified as logic or critical thinking.
Each book is self-contained. There are no separate teacher guides. Books are not reproducible, and it is best if participants each have their own book from which to read.