Philosophy for younger people, a polemic

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. (John Dewey).

Linked on our blogs with International Society For Philosophers ISFP, with PHILO – ACTION, POUR PENSER ET CHANGER L’ECOLE and with PhiloSophos.com. – Published on ISFP, by Constantine Sandis, 2004.

Recent years have seen a high increase in the teaching of Philosophy in schools. Programs such as Pathways Schools in Australia (International Society for Philosophers, since 2003), ‘Philosophy in Schools’ in the UK (Royal Institute of Philosophy, since 1999), and ‘Philosophy for Children’ in the USA, Australia, and the UK (International Council for Philosophical Inquiry since 1985 & Society for Advancing Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education since 1993) are spreading around the world. Within a decade of its introduction Philosophy (AS/A2) has become one of the most popular standard subjects taught across UK secondary schools … // 

… My own experience (teaching for the R.I.P., as well as for the GCE and GCSE OCR and AQA examination) has mainly been with 14-18 year olds interested equally in literature, religious studies, social sciences, and natural sciences. From the very first lesson they are quick to point out differences and similarities between methods of philosophical enquiry and methods used in other disciplines, and draw important conclusions from their methodological observations.

At a time when are overwhelmed with information coming from potentially unreliable sources — be they poor journalism, badly researched books, so-called ‘experts’ speaking on television programmes, or random internet sites (this list is not intended to be exhaustive) — it is vital that we be able to distinguish reasons from rationalizations, good arguments from a bad ones, and genuine insight from conceptual confusion. No doubt, some people will have a natural talent for this, but, as most life-long learning university departments divisions have come to see, this is no reason to not teach these essential skills to all. Philosophy for younger people helps to foster such abilities from an early age, before the seeds of intellectual gullibility begin to grow within.

Needless to say, the pupils are not the only ones who benefit from Philosophy in Schools programmes. The multifarious ways in which younger people react to philosophical questions and hypotheses can reveal hidden facets and bring to light unimagined practical implications. In philosophy it’s all-too-easy to fail to see the wood for the trees, and at times the best cure for this is discussion with people of varying backgrounds and ages. To end with another quote by Dewey:

There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication … Try the experiment of communicating, with fullness and accuracy, some experience to another, especially if it be somewhat complicated, and you will find your own attitude toward your experience changing. (full text).
(© Constantine Sandis 2004)

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