Adolescents have a definite need for the mental tools, the ideas and skills, by which to tackle many of the problems (both personal and societal) that most adults seem to take for granted. Many adults even deem such problems irresolvable.
In virtually all junior and senior high schools, for example, little help is offered in regard to achieving genuine self-esteem, happiness, fulfilling relationships, coherent philosophical knowledge, and the ability to sort through a mass of conflicting ideas, beliefs, theories, etc., which are rampant in our culture. Consequently, many depart school feeling that something vitally important is missing from their education.
In order for a philosophical and psychological course to be beneficial, it needs to have a sound purpose and method. Most of the questions about the course are answered in the Course Overview and Plan below.
This course is basically the one that I would have loved to participate in when I was an adolescent, and now in mid-life I’m still stoked about it! I believe every young person at one time or another searches for answers to big life questions—for example: Who am I, really? What is reality and by what means can I determine it? How can I (and others) make clear and understandable sense of things? What is “the good life” and what ways can we cultivate it? How does a person become confident and happy? How can we make sense of each other and, further, make life more wonderful (to borrow from psychologist Marshall Rosenberg), rather than engage in repetitive and damaging conflicts? Especially on the level of society and the adult world, why are there so many seemingly intractable problems? And, what are the possible solutions? …and so on.
When I encountered the writings of Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden after my first college degree, vital answers to these profound questions became more visible. During the couple decades since then, I have studied the various principles of Objectivism (the name of Rand’s philosophy) and refined some of their applications. My books, The Psychology of Liberty, Complete Liberty, Complete Liberty Inside Out, CL podcast, and happiness counseling site resources, are major outcomes of these efforts.
I acquired my first and second academic degrees from Idaho State University, a BBA in management and minor in philosophy, as well as a Bachelor of Science in psychology (with highest honors). I received a Master of Arts in counseling psychology (also with highest honors) from United States International University in San Diego (subsequently renamed Alliant International University). The periods surrounding my academic time were dedicated to working in the construction, mining, and demolition trades. This I viewed as a valuable counterbalance to my intellectual activities (not unlike the ranch work I did in my younger years). The ability to deal with reality in practical ways can assist one in putting intellectual ideas into proper perspective, as well as distilling valuable principles.
This course is designed to offer both a content and method of instruction that are virtually nonexistent in present day high schools (and, for that matter, anywhere else). This means providing a novel forum with a highly motivated peer group and an informed and helpful guides on the side (instead of sages on the stage).
Persons will learn to use their minds excellently in the realms of philosophy and psychology—surpassing most university students (and status-quo oriented professors) in these fields. In doing so, they will gain more understanding about the infinite value of themselves and of life. Such a program will also provide a sound foundation for each person to pursue any specific career of interest as an adult.
Typically, teenagers are seldom offered classes and workshops that deal with the core, practical issues of philosophy and psychology. While some schools may offer an intellectual overview of them (for example, the history of philosophy, like college philosophy 101), anyone who has taken such a class probably discovered that it skipped a lot of important questions and ideas—and it provided scant opportunity for personal and interpersonal growth. Likewise, something akin to college introductory psychology might be presently offered in a few American high schools. But again, the information covered usually concerns the history of the field and the various theories that well-known professionals have constructed. Unfortunately, in both high school and college, seeking clarity in these matters is not a priority.
On the other hand, a few schools do offer classes concerning self-improvement or self-enhancement. Many of these mostly focus on students’ personal issues and problematic relationships. As long as such courses enable students to gain understanding of how to improve their lives and become happier, they are definitely useful. However, any class covering self-improvement and relationship-improvement also needs to deal with broader abstractions, that is, with philosophical ideas. Only when we grasp the full context of ideas and actions can we truly grasp their meanings and implications. A comprehensible philosophical framework gives one the tools to accurately assess the benefits and drawbacks of various theories, ideas, beliefs, behaviors, plans, objectives, and so on.
Just as vitally, because of our self-awareness and conceptual capability, psychology needs to prioritize a core aspect for humans: Self-esteem. Each of us needs to consider oneself effective in life, capable of dealing with life’s challenges, and worthy of various enriching experiences. Values and virtues need to be assessed for difficulties or inconsistencies.
Oneself and reality both need to be reflected on, so that one does not lose touch with (and gratitude for) the meaningful essentials of existence—or lose sight that happiness is our highest moral purpose. In turn, personal feelings and emotions need to be accepted, understood, and integrated in many different contexts, which means connected to universal needs. This program provides the unique opportunity to accomplish these things, as well as enjoy the whole process.
Originally, the course’s timetable was modeled closest to a university’s quarter system. It was a six-week course, meeting once each week for 2.5 hours. Of course, duration, the number of meetings each week, and the number of total weeks can be increased when available.
Optimal class size can range from 6 to 10. Ten or fewer in a circle facilitates important group dynamics—time to reflect on what others have said, time to temporarily rest from participating and, conversely, time to actively participate. Such a group size also generates a range of viewpoints and provides multiple frames of reference. In addition, it maintains a high level of group cohesiveness, in which persons feel comfortable expressing thoughts and feelings. The point is to listen, express, empathize, and understand and to feel heard and understood, which can enable valuable and meaningful connections.
Ages will probably range between 14 and 18, with the upper age limit being equivalent to a high school senior. Many aspects of this course may challenge a person in ways that typical college courses don’t, because of the nontypical subject matter. Nonetheless, it can be a preparatory program for university study. More importantly, it’s perfect for venturing into the world as an adult.
Because of its interactive nature, discussion and curious debate serve as primary methods of learning. While active participation by each student is important, the amount is always left to his or her discretion.
The point of having a class is not to teach to the class, but rather to facilitate education of the individuals within the class. Student input—personal stories, questions, comments, concerns, criticisms, etc.—is indispensable and vital to a beneficial learning process. Further, regardless of how popular grades and tests are in traditional schools, they are not just irrelevant in this regard; they are actually damaging to the learning process, as explained in my academic essay as well as in The Psychology of Liberty‘s education section and Complete Liberty Inside Out‘s chapter on education. Thus there will be neither grading nor testing in the formal sense; the only formal tests will be those requested by students for assessing their knowledge and understanding. Certificates signify completion of the course.
Learners need to feel empowered and develop resourcefulness, which involves organizing and conveying thoughts and feelings in both speech and writing. Successful guidance, like a successful tutoring, helps each person reach his or her own assessments, which typically leads to further questions, while keeping the overall class context in mind. Intrinsic motivation remains key; participation is contingent on being very interested in these subjects. This course encourages not only optimal knowledge acquisition, but also self-knowledge acquisition in a context that facilitates growth and enriching social interaction.
Also, please check out the brief notes on all sorts of ideas in the philosophy and psychology pages:
If you have any additional questions or comments about any aspect of the course, the please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy meeting people excited about the learning process—and about life in general.