Study philosophy for better welders?


When Marco Rubio declared “We need more welders and less philosophers,” he was greeted with quite the bit of applause. This push for vocational work (shall we call it a populist appeal?) has become a central thread in the public conversation of this election season; this is likely motivated by continuing concerns about economic recovery and the employability of recent graduates. But is Rubio right in what he says?

According to an article in Quartz brought to our attention by Core alumna Rheanne Wirkkala, no, he may not be right. The article (aptly if not succinctly titled “Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English”) mounts a defense of the liberal arts. Rheanne says of the article:

Everyone loves STEM which is also super important as we develop new and better technologies to solve big and difficult problems, but we cannot discount the incredible importance of critical thinking skills.”

Indeed, these skills seem to be very important. According to the article:

Kids who took the [philosophy] course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy…

Note that the philosophy course was not even ‘designed’ to improve the students’ abilities in those areas. The philosophy class in which the children participated seems to have reached beyond the scope of its content.

Further down in the article: “The beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished.” Now, two years, one may argue, is not the longest time. However, considering that these students participated in only the single class, the question remains as to how the students would have done (compared to the ones who did not take the class) had the class continued. The class is also not a mere history class:

SAPERE’s program does not focus on reading the texts of Plato and Kant, but rather stories, poems, or film clips that prompt discussions about philosophical issues. The goal is to help children reason, formulate and ask questions, engage in constructive conversation, and develop arguments.

Are these not qualities desired in vocational workers? It seems, then, that Rubio’s declaration is incomplete; in fact, philosophy would make for better welders.

While fences may make good neighbors, it appears that philosophy makes good workers.

Header graphic source here. See also:

One Comment

Brett Anderson posted on May 25, 2016 at 5:46 pm

It’s interesting that studying philosophy boosted other areas of education. My wife is a retired music teacher and she has told me numerous times that the quality of other areas of education will drop if the “arts” are cut back. Unfortunately that is typically the first thing that a school district cuts during phases of cut backs. Maybe she was on to something….

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