As you might know, I subscribe to a great magazine on philosophy for people who aren’t necessarily philosophers but who like to ponder on some of life’s more interesting questions!! This quarter’s edition of The Philosopers’ Magazine has a number of interesting articles including one on the intelligence of dolphins and contemplating that we should perhaps consider them as ‘nonhuman persons’.
However, that is not what I am writing about today. The central theme of this volume is should philosophy be taught to children in primary and secondary school? Research which has been done in the UK over the last 20 years on teaching philosophy to primary school children has found that children ‘who have been through sustained Philosophy with Children improve in almost every other academic area. Philosophers are traditionally asked awkward questions and to come up with alternative answers, and it really breeds independent thinking. If we want a generation of people who will begin to tackle and solve the problems we have, we need people who think for themselves and who think differently.’ So says the author, Brooke Lewis, a journalist who is now working in Cambodia.
I’ve been concerned for several years about the dumbing down in school of original thinking by students. Because of the constraints of the National Curriculum in the UK, many of my teaching friends find themselves handcuffed not only in the content of what they teach but even how they are to teach it. I am, perhaps naively, encouraged by the new coalition government’s view of giving schools back to teachers and reducing the bureaucratic restrictions of the National Curriculum and maybe philosophy can help our youngsters to think for themselves once more instead of the seemingly primary goal of regurgitating set facts and figures at exam time!
The Philosophy for Children programme sounds heavy, but it isn’t. Imaginatively taught, children are encouraged to think about morals, ethics, choices, through the medium of books, TV, films, songs, and practical life situations. There’s an example of this in the article – discussing clones prompted by a new movie.
It is this kind of in-depth, curious, thinking that I find myself searching for in myself and in others. Quite often when I go out socially, I am dismayed at the level of surface conversation – inane chatter that skims across the surface of everything. I know I am one of those people who gets too deep too quickly, and that this is uncomfortable for many people to handle, so I more often than not keep very quiet unless I’m with people I know or people who are happy to get meaty in a discussion. But when you do find like-minded people and a wide-ranging, give-and-take discussion involving lots of different ways of thinking and sounding each other out, the joy is just wonderful!
I’m not a person who does confrontation, but I am a person who loves to think about other people’s opinions. These sorts of discussions lead to more open minds and personal mental growth. My son and I still have great discussions about all sorts of things and it’s interesting to see how differently his mind works from mine.
There’s also a young lad of 12 who visits his granny across the road from me. We were looking up at a passing plane and the stars and got into a discussion about space the other night at a barbecue, and he was both very knowledgeable and very curious, sucking up all the information I could drag from the depths of my mind. We had a brilliant chat about infinity and his granny said that that’s what he would do all the time if he could, but no-one has the time to talk with him in that way. If our children learn to access deeper levels of thinking in this way, we could find ourselves in a more considerate, thoughtful era, and I’m all for the parents and schools that will help in this task!!