I second Professor Smith's reply. I haven't participated in philosophy chat rooms either, but I've commented on blogs by non-philosophers who post on philosophical topics. I've found the quality of thinking in those totally unregulated forums to be so bad it's scary. There are people in the blogosphere who are allowed to drive and vote who couldn't reason their way out of a wet paper bag. Philosophy is a discipline, one that takes hard work to acquire. Would you want to discuss medieval history, or quantum mechanics, or set theory in a dialogue format with just anyone out there? I wouldn't. Philosophy is like those other disciplines except that its problems are harder and more fundamental to our intellectual lives. Why do so many people think that being competent at it takes no training at all?
There is a saying among philosophers: "ought" implies "can." The application of this maxim to your question is as follows: It seems that anything that deserves to be called a "universal right" would be something that ought to be provided to everyone--no exceptions. But this could not possibly be true about education (or anything else, under the maxim) if the way the world is, as a matter of fact, makes it impossible, as a practical matter, actually to provide what such a "right" requires. So we might think about the question of whether or not there are people whom we simply can't provide with the resources necessary for the kind of education we might reasonably wish we could provide to everyone.
Now, I think the question of whether or not we actually can educate everyone will depend on facts about sociology, psychology, and economics that I do not pretend to know. But I am inclined to think that the idea of educating absolutely everyone to the extent we might wish to educate them is something we simply can't do. If so, I think it cannot be sensible to hold education as a "universal human right." Some things are very valuable desiderata; but not all of these are "universal human rights."
Just an addition to Nicholas Smith's suggestion that in order to avoid adhering to a specific philosophical viewpoint, one adopt a standpoint of 'epistemic humility', which I don't think is that easily achieved. (I, for what it's worth, don't think that one can up and decide to epistemically humble.) Historical, contextual, study of the history of philosophy can help to lead one to take such a position. As one sees the extent to which philosophical questions and answers are deeply bound up with contingent historical circumstances, circumstances which vary greatly from our own, we can come to see not only that philosophical positions developed by 'the mighty dead' were deeply contingent, but also that our own cherished positions themselves are deeply contingent, and may well be bound up with contingent historical circumstances. Reflection on the extent to which philosophy is contextual in this way may well lead one to begin to question the assumptions that we take for granted and that underwrite the philosophical common sense of our day (assuming that it even makes sense to speak of such a thing), and can thereby lead to new ways of conceiving of philosophical problems. And that, to my mind, constitutes at least one form of philosophical progress!!
Study logic. Then study more logic. And then...study a lot more logic.
And then hope that the world (and job market) somehow gives you the opportunity to study and do logic for a living (because if you are distracted with other things, you will never be as good a logician as you could be with logic as your vocation and avocation, which is how muct academics feel about their subjects.
Many people do find philosophy quite difficult, but most people find that doing philosophy at least at some level is profoundly natural and fundamentally human. Aristotle said "philosophy begins in wonder." I think that's right. So my advice to you would be to allow your "wonder" not to be stunted by the artificial limitations of worries about grades. If you do start doing badly, have a chat with the teacher to see what you can do to improve. But here is something you probably already know: You do better at things when you find a way to enjoy them. This can be hard, yes; but it can also be great fun and very interesting...actually wonderful. So try to enjoy it, rather than fretting about grades!
"Real" philosophers argue for nearly every position articulable! But I think the kind of issue that is most likely to come up among philosophers and other academics about such programs is more likely to be about resources. Resources for higher education right now are extremely limited, so judgments about the money required for academic positions and operating budgets to sustain such programs must always be made in the context of competing needs and demands from other academic units. Administrators must always confront the very real problem of where the scarce resources will bring the best value to the institution.
Moreover, different institutions have very different identities and missions. For an institution mostly dedicated to providing the kinds of education that will advantage their students vocationally, for example, such programs arguably do not fit well into that institution's mission. Where liberal studies is the institutional mission, then such programs would seem to be more viable within that institutional context--but again, they also compete for resources with more traditional disciplines, which the institution obviously also has a stong interest in supporting. Different academics will disagree about how to "rank" different disciplines in terms of their importance to the institution, and in these debates some of the more thoughtful criticisms made by opponents to such programs deserve to be heard. But then, many academics will make very different criticisms of the two disciplines nearest to my heart: Philosophy and Classics. Do colleges and universities really need these disciplines? I think so...but everywhere I have taught, I have had colleagues who thought the resources required to sustain these disciplines would be better spent elsewhere. It is because of decisions like these that we pay the big bucks to administrators!
Well, perhaps it will reassure you to know that there are several jokes about philosophers as social beings. One of my favorites is a cartoon labeled "philosophers at a party." All are staring off in space, obviously pondering some abstract question; none are interacting with anyone else in the room. Maybe you have also seen Monty Python's soccer match involving philosophers--again, all are so lost in thought they cannot manage to engage in the contest at all (until somehow Socrates figures out what he is supposed to do).
So, OK, maybe we are not generally all that much fun to party with, and philosophers notoriously question others in areas they would prefer not to be questioned, which can cause a degree of social friction. But I guess I would caution you about allowing this stereotype (which I grant may have some basis in truth) to allow you to think of what you call your "quandary."
To be more specific, if you have deficits in interpersonal skills, these will also create problems for you as a graduate student in philosophy, or as a professional philosopher--actually, even more so for the latter. Unless you are independently wealthy and won't need to get a job after you graduate, then the sort of work you will do (if you are good enough and lucky enough to get a job), will include teaching. Teaching requires you to have at least functional social skills, and really successful teaching requires much more development in this area than the merely functional level. But maybe you wouldn't want to work in the field, and would be satisfied just going through to the Ph.D., without the usual plan of graduate students to go off an become a professor somewhere.
Even so, poor social skills would be a considerable handicap. Much of what we do, as philosophers, involves sometimes very intense, very sustained discussions. These can sometimes be difficult enough even for the very well-adjusted: It can be very hard to hear one of one's views criticized or refuted, and those who criticize or refute can often do it in ways that alienate the ones criticized or refuted. When this happens, the one alienated will be much less likely to engage in philosophical discussion again with the person who was too harsh, and the result of several episodes of this can be that no one is willing to do philosophy with you anymore. Of course, if you are really smart, you can still read and write good philosophy. But for most people, philosophizing requires at least some degree of being liked by others. If you have not yet developed the relevant social skills, accordingly, I think you would find that you are not merely distracted from doing philosophy as you would like to do it--you would also not gain the kind of support for doing good philosophy from other that you would soon find you needed.
I guess my advice is that you provide too sharp a contrast between developing social skills and pursuing philosophy. To do the latter, you will have to have at least some success in the former!
Didn't I just respond to another of your questions on a related subject? I think so...
I think the best answer to this question is "all of the above, and a great deal more." As I said, a great deal is asked of public education--constructively, it is suppose to advance knowledge and also to provide society with a better work force, as you suggest; negatively, it is supposed to fend off certain social ills we know to be associated with ignorance and lack of education. These various goals are often incommensurable and we seem to have no very secure ways of figuring out to everyone's satisfaction why we shouldn't be allocating our money and efforts in very different ways than we are now.
I do not live or teach in the UK, but it strikes me as very harsh indeed for you to say that the system of education there is not helping to advance knowledge and to expand the boundaries of human understanding. In travels there, and in interactions with my British colleagues, I find no reason to think that the UK is only educating drones to serve the economy! Gimme a break!
I won't dare try to answer this question, because the issues involved are more complicated than I can handle. I will say, however, that your question presupposes that the only (or main, or most valuable) reason for public education is to enable and encourage contributions to society. I don't think that is correct. One very important project of education is negative--it helps us to prevent certain social ills and other things that are far less costly to educate away than to deal with later.
Any very complete answer to your question would require the following:
(1) A complete enumeration of all of the goals public education is to serve.
(2) A prioritization of the list accomplied in (1).
(3) An reliable assessment of the financial costs involved in achieving (and in failing to achieve) each item on the list of priorities.
(4) A reliable assessment of the social costs in achieving (and in failing to achieve) each item on the list of priorities.
(5) Because we may well find that we can affordably achieve a lower goal, and not be able to afford a higher goal, we would need to formulate a set of principles by which we can reasonably not pursue an expensive higher priority, in favor of pursuing a less expensive lower priority.
(6) A just and equitable way for government to decide how much money to raise (via taxation, for example) and how much to spend on these priorities, balanced against others.
And probably a lot more, none of which you or I can provide at the moment.
There are other questions, as well--and not just philosophical ones. For example, in the case of gifted children, is it really true that greater resources spent will lead to equivalent gains in their later contributions--or do gifted kids generally find their ways without lots of extra help? Unless we can know what the real costs and benefits are, in other words, it is prudent to try to broaden our conception of our social goals for education before we come to fast (and likely dirty) decisions about how much better we could be doing than we are now.