I am a starting my second year as an eleventh and twelfth grade global history teacher in the South Bronx this fall. In the spring I suggested that our school offer a philosophy course to some of our strong seniors and was told it would not fit into our curriculum. Much to my delight I was informed yesterday that I will be teaching the course. The only problem is that I am overwhelmed with the task of creating a curriculum. My class is set to meet for about an hour a day for a year. In addition to deep and thoughtful philosophical conversations I would also like them to read several original works of philosophy although not in their entirety. I need to be able to take my students to reading and uncovering meaning from the texts, to read and figure out Sartre for themselves. Finding resources to teach with has been very problematic. So often I find philosophy books explain philosophers well but fail to suggest reading Plato. While my students' literacy levels are not at the same level as most other students their age I need them to read the philosophy for themselves, struggle with it and create meaning. Unfortunately, I have not studied philosophy extensively enough (I majored in French and Political Science) to know the pithiest 15 pages of Locke that get at the core of his social contract theory. Do you possibly know of a book that has done this kind of editing? I am thinking of structuring the course into large units that deal with some universal philosophical problem. Within each I hope to start students off with a general conversation around the topic, do some preliminary writing about what we know/think about it then delve in to two philosophers and possibly two modern critiques of their work finishing with a look at contemporary social, political, or economic issues through our new lens. Any suggestions you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Best of luck to you in this worthy undertaking! I hope my colleagues will provide suggestions of their own; there are many possibilities. But I'd like to offer a general thought or two, as well as a couple of specific suggestions.

Although I have great respect for the scholarly attempt to wrestle with texts by Plato, Locke, Kant and so on, there's a caution to keep in mind. Philosophy is primarilya problem- and question-oriented, and doing it well has more to do with a certain kind of careful thinking than with knowledge of texts by classic authors. A look at a typical philosophy journal bears this out. The articles may refer to the recent literature (though "recent" in philosophy doesn't just mean "last year"), but they often don't mention classic literature at all. I just glanced through the bibliographies of the articles in the Spring 2007 issue of a major philosophy journal. At most 5% of the references were to texts or articles before 1960.

The old texts can be valuable, but they can also be hard. I'd suggest that it may be more fruitful to pick a handful of topics such as free will, the existence of God, the theory of knowledge, and find a good text or pair of texts that get the kids to wrestle with the problems. One suggestion: use James Rachels' Problems from Philosophy paired with his The Truth About the World: Basic Readings in Philosophy. oth are published by McGraw-Hill. The first is a single-authored text (though in the new edition, his son is a co-author). The second is a collection of well-edited excerpts from classic and contemporary texts. Rachels was a master of clear exposition. The first book will help students get a feel for how philosophers go about their business. Put another way: it will help students learn to think more like philosophers. That's the most valuable thing you can do for your students: get them to have some appreciation for the kind of critical thinking that's at the heart of philosophy. The second text will let them see how different philosophers from different times have thought about perennial philosophical problems.

Once again, good luck! I hope you and your students find this to be an enriching experience.

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