Teaching Philosophy in Schools

Matthew Harris, Queen Elizabeth's Hospital, Bristol

1 Jul 2014


‘I think, therefore I am’, wrote Descartes, famously. For many school pupils immersed in today’s world of social networking, ‘I link, therefore I am’ may refl ect their reality more accurately. Matthew Edward Harris, a philosophy teacher at QEH Bristol, analyses the challenges of teaching teenagers brought up without an idea of life before the internet, and puts forward a vision of the role of philosophy that sees it as enabling pupils to enter into a conversati on with great thinkers from the past in order to show them alternati ves to the present.


Good evening. Firstly, I would like to thank Dr Cameron for the invitation to speak here tonight. I need to begin with summary of my background which I feel will frame what I intend to cover during the course of the evening. At present I am coming to the end of five years as a classroom teacher of Religious Studies (latterly called Religion and Philosophy) at QEH, Bristol. In September I am taking up the position of Head of Religious Studies at Warminster School, Wiltshire. Concurrently, I have been studying for a part-time doctorate in Philosophy at Staffordshire University, researching the philosophy of the contemporary Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo. With his continental philosophical influences in the works of Heidegger, Nietzsche, and the left-leaning critical thinkers of the middle of the twentieth century, Vattimo’s approach to philosophy differs greatly from my own initial training in what has become known as Anglo-American philosophy, with its largely analytical and empiricist bases, at Oxford University for my BA. These various aspects of my intellectual and professional development help to explain the way in which I am approaching this lecture. Firstly, I will focus briefly on my main experience of teaching philosophy, which is mainly at GCSE and A Level. I will then move on to talk more broadly about ways of teaching philosophy to children below GCSE level, which is for the most part through an outline and evaluation of Matthew Lipman’s ‘Philosophy for Children’ programme. My interest in continental philosophy will then take me into a far more (perhaps too…) ambitious discussion of what philosophy at school level could, and maybe should, be beyond enquiry, classic texts and problem solving. This theoretically-driven discussion will centre on a Heideggerian interpretation of the notion of ‘thinking’ and the challenges to thinking posed by contemporary technology; the role of philosophy teaching will be to broaden the horizons of young people beyond a technologically-conditioned world, transcending towards different ontologies. GCSE and A Level: Philosophy of Religion and Ethics The kind of philosophy taught in schools is nearly always what is known as the ‘philosophy of religion’ and ethics. The latter is a relatively self-explanatory term. In practice, ethics at a secondary school level is a mixture of Christian ethics and a brief overview of other competing systems, such as Kantian ethics and Utilitarianism. These are then applied to contemporary practical ethical issues, such as genetic engineering and euthanasia. Below A Level, ethics is entirely tied to religious views, which I think is a shame. As for the phrase ‘philosophy of religion’, by this is means arguments for and against God’s existence. This is the case above or below the post-16 threshold. The topic of religion and science is particularly popular with both exam boards and pupils alike, which is also a great shame as the way in which the debates are framed disguise a great deal of assumptions and presuppositions, such as what counts as evidence. These introductory remarks derive from my experience teaching the OCR exam board. Should one choose other major exam boards, such as Edexcel or AQA, one will encounter similar content. In each case, the skills required are roughly equivalent, too. Without diverging too far into the ins and outs of the exam rubric, the three main areas of focus are learning about philosophy (gaining knowledge), developing powers of critical analysis (evaluation) and relating what one has learned to one’s own life in order to develop one’s spiritual, ethical, cultural, and moral development. Teaching Philosophy to children in schools below GCSE There is no developed, uniform way of presenting philosophy to children below GCSE level. From the 1970s there has been occasional interest in arguably the most sustained effort to encourage philosophical thinking in people of school age, Professor Matthew Lipman’s ‘Philosophy for Children’, or P4C scheme. This was set up by Lipman in America in the 1970s, although he began to develop what became P4C in the late 1960s. Lipman was teaching at Columbia University in New York. At that time of great social unrest, particularly among young people, he caught wind of the prevailing mood of the time, notably the perceived need that with such controversy on issues such as rights and authority it was important for people to having the ‘thinking skills’ to negotiate the plurality of opinions to think for themselves. P4C and its attendant Institutive for the Advancement of Philosophy in Children (IAPC, based out of Montclair State University, New Jersey) aimed to develop these skills, and rather than create a curriculum from scratch it was thought that philosophy was already a fantastic tool by which to help children become mature thinkers. Lipman must be commended for trying to make philosophy accessible to children as young as primary school age. His method was to turn philosophical ideas into age-appropriate novels which would become the jumping-off point for philosophising. One for primary school children, for instance, is about Nous, an intelligent giraffe confronted by a moral dilemma who wishes to know what a virtuous person who do in the situation. These novels are read from or acted out at the start of a lesson, before questions and issues are identified by the pupils who then form smaller enquiry groups that explore their interests further. Teachers model good philosophical practice such as defining terms, providing examples, counter-arguments and so on. Pupils are also directed towards metacognitive processes by reflecting on the democratic nature of their inquiry, inspired by John Dewey’s educational philosophy that placed the notion of a community of enquiry at its centre. There are some organisations in Britain such as SAPERE that have adopted and developed some of Lipman’s ideas in schemes such as the Philosophy Exchange in Leeds and Bristol. However, it is difficult to ascertain the extent to which P4C has been influential in Britain. As I have mentioned with GCSE and A Level, Philosophy has largely been subsumed under the ‘Religious Studies’ banner, and the latter has been regarded in the main as a tool for community cohesion through teaching about religious pluralism. Most primary schools will be teaching some or all of the phenomenology of the six world religions, such as what a mosque is and different religious festivals, not doing P4C. Furthermore there has been criticism of the aims and methods of P4C. Michael Hand (2008) has branded P4C ‘philosophy-lite’ for not engaging sufficiently with technical terminology and in depth conceptual analysis. Judith Suissa (2008) has argued that P4C falls short because it is not a ‘truth-making’ process, which I believe begs the question somewhat as Lipman came from an educational background influenced by Dewey, and so a community of enquiry does not aim to find the truth but establish a historically contingent truth democratically, a sentiment with which I can agree coming from the hermeneutical background with Rorty, Vattimo and Zabala as my principal influences (this is a theme to which I shall return later). There is also a nagging sense that there is a difference between enquiry and doing philosophy properly. This is the concern of Peter Worley, founder of the charity called The Philosophy Foundation and arguably the most active and influential person today in bringing philosophy to younger children in Britain. In an article entitled ‘Philosophy in Philosophy in Schools’ for the Stephen Law-edited journal, Think, he distinguishes between the kind of processes encouraged by P4C and what he regards as philosopher proper. ‘Some writers…’, Worley says, ‘have suggested that certain kinds of questions make children philosophers’. On this issue, Worley says that he thinks ‘it is not the question but the treatment of the question that makes the child-philosopher’ (Worley 2009: 64).Worley takes the example of the question (A) ‘How do I know everything isn’t just a dream?’ By itself, this question, however interesting, is not philosophical. A philosophical disposition can be shown, using a phrase of John White’s, if somebody tries to answer it along the lines of (B) ‘If I pinch myself then I would wake up, so I know I am not dreaming’. Even though this is not a good reason, Worley still thinks this is philosophical as many philosophical reasons fail. If somebody then went on to say (C) ‘you could be dreaming that you pinched yourself’, this ‘demonstrates a much deeper philosophical awareness of the discussion’ (Worley 2009: 65). Worley classes A and B as ‘pre-philosophy’, whereas ‘At C I think we are seeing something more like genuine philosophy being done’ due to its ‘sophistication’ (Worley 2009: 65), with a ‘philosophical intention’ beginning to emerge. Although he does not wish to rule it out, Worley doubts philosophy at the level of C would happen in a ‘community of inquiry’ setting in P4C, in large part because the facilitators in P4C are not often specialists, with only a few days training (Worley 2009: 69). If the teachers, who would not be able to elucidate and expound distinctions such as the difference between a ‘logical’ idea and an ‘empirical’ one, were regarded merely as co-enquirers, then Worley would argue that P4C is not ‘real philosophy’ (Worley 2009: 70). Whether or not Lipman’s venture constitutes ‘real philosophy’, one could argue that the skills is encourages are of benefit, although whether they are possible in any meaningful sense for school age children is another matter. Bloom’s Taxonomy, an influential educational hierarchy of skills and processes, places ‘evaluation’ at the top. Against Lipman’s intuitions, there are question marks about whether children below sixth form can reason abstractly sufficiently to make evaluation at a philosophical level possible, at least until age 11 or 12 according to Jean Piaget when children reach the ‘formal operational’ stage in cognitive development. However, developing evaluation at the concrete level is possible, even at a trivial enough level that one can give reason to justify one’s opinion that, say, Manchester United are better off without David Moyes. What is more worrying is that developing these kind of skills can pass for philosophy. Rather than enquiry, learning the classic texts, or engaging with a set of problems to help develop ‘reasoning’ skills, perhaps philosophy could have another, more transformational goal that can be understood when one looks at philosophy in a less analytical, Anglo-American way. Defining philosophy Defining Philosophy is difficult. By definition it is philo sophia (the love of wisdom). In practise, how one defines philosophy largely depends on what one does, which in turn is based on which philosophical tradition one follows. In contemporary philosophy, this very much rests on whether one follows the Anglo-American or Continental schools of philosophy. I have been fortunate enough to be schooled in both. The ethos at Oxford was to induct one in the Anglo-American tradition of analysing terms and dealing with highly abstract debates concerning whether the brain is co-extensive, identical, or apart from the mind. Although I regarded this as rigorous, useful training, I only found some of the issues and techniques covered sufficiently invigorating. Moreover it was a big change from the philosophy of religion with which I had been familiar at school. Therefore, in my more recent doctoral work and various articles I have published I have followed the continental school of thought. No less abstract in many ways and far more diverse than the Anglo-American tradition, the Continental school of thought takes its leave from figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger. Its questions involve looking at the history of Western thought to place it into epochs to explain the archsystems that govern ways of perceiving the world. It often argues there are ‘no facts, only interpretations’. As such, the continental school can be nihilistic and hermeneutical, iconoclastic and challenging, such as Nietzsche’s criticisms of Christianity, as well as being concerned with unmasking oppressive institutions and practices, such as in the works of Vattimo and Foucault. For a more precise, albeit gnomic definition of philosophy, one could do worse than follow Heidegger’s analysis of philosophy as ‘thinking’ in his favourite work, Identity and Difference (1969). All thinkers go past beings, the concrete (such as people, animals, inanimate objects and suchlike), in order to think Being; they step back (or leap out) of the present mode of representational thinking to think of Being itself. Insofar as thinkers think, that is, so long as they listen and pay heed to the ‘clearing’ in which historically, Being moves from concealment into unconcealment (whilst also remaining concealed), then they are doing philosophy. If thinkers think (rather than merely learn), they are all thinking the Same (of Being) that gives itself in difference. In what follows, I would like to relate this view of philosophy of ‘thinking’, rather than ‘learning’ and thinking as engaging with epochality, to another continental philosopher—Herbert Marcuse’s – Marxist concerns with the dangers of an increasingly scientific-technological society. In so doing, I am going to advocate a philosophy for schools that does more than teach gobbets of knowledge, skills, or some quantified nebulous spiritual, cultural, moral and social development, but instead opens up different possibilities through engaging with thinker who have thought. Summarising, philosophy engages not with learning, but thinking and thinking thinks not of beings but Being, that has the transformational essence of opening new horizons that enable one to challenge the status quo. Challenges to thinking: the internet Before relating Heidegger to Marcuse, it would be worthwhile to look at the challenges to encouraging thinking in young people today. One challenge relates to, and is potentially more harmful than, all the others, and that is the internet. Descartes famously said ‘I think, therefore I am’. For today’s teenagers, ‘I link, therefore I am’ is for more apposite. Statistics from research by the British Chiropractic Association looking into increase in back and neck problems among young British people show 11-16 year olds in Britain today spend on average of four hours a day on a laptop, tablet, or computer, let alone on their phones (Oxford Mail 2014). Nevertheless, reading physical books itself is no guarantee of thinking, and too many of today’s books are aimed at a young market, dragging ideas down to the language to the level of the age group in question and not challenging the young person to broaden their horizons through engaging with new words and notions. Why is the internet a problem? Social networking is a major issues for preventing thinking. In my view it is an obsession with quantity over quality. How many pictures, friends, likes links? The aesthetic of the internet is more is better. Refinements and, crucially, time for contemplation become lost in the latest item on the newsfeed and the compulsion to update. The core value of social networking in particular, the ‘new’, is curiously modern. The value of the new, albeit as Arnold Gehlen has articulated with his notion of post-histoire, has been devalued in the expectation of the new: progress becomes routine through constant updating. Life becomes placed in a timeline, in a framework which requires you to stay up-to-date, sharing trivia, talking, sharing as if everything has the same value. New cat? Like or dislike. UKIP? Like or dislike. Photo of a sunset? Like or dislike. War in Syria? Like or dislike. Richard Dawkins’ arguments against Christianity? Like or dislike. Everything has to be shared, judged emotionally with no reasoning within a binary opposition quantified in terms of the number of likes and dislikes it has. Being is flattened to exchange-value. A philosopher such as Gianni Vattimo would say this phenomenon is liberating, as, gradually, strong positions that cause arguments and silence questioning (whether they be political, religious, or other) will lose their force when down-voted or placed next to a picture of a cat or a post about someone’s night out. This may all well be the case, but how can people think outside of the overall framework of social networking if they have been brought up with the expectation that these platforms are normative ways to express oneself, with the expectation that one will use Facebook and Twitter? My sixth form have gone to seminars where ICT experts have told them “When you use social media”, not “If”. In the future one will have to provide your social media account details to employers as one now gives one’s email address. Securing a job will depend upon your ‘web presence’. Thought is reduced to 140 characters or fewer; it is life lived through a sound bite. The older among you may think I am scaremongering and that one can always pick up a book if one wishes to avoid social media entirely. Moreover, what about all the fabulous resources—books, articles, journals, newspapers—the internet provides us with which we can engage with, what Richard Rorty would call an ‘edifying conversation’ with past thinkers? Could not one have a foot in both camps: the influence of social media and the edification of thinking though the resources on offer through the internet more broadly? This may be possible for us in this room, but what about younger people? I am 29 and I was brought up until age 15 without the internet. As such, I, like countless millions of my peers, learned to read and write through books and other print resources. ICT, relatively in its infancy, was kept to a minimum. As a result, we had a good grasp of how to access and—crucially—comprehend what we were reading. We did not Google answers to questions our teachers posed to us; we had to use a set of skills to find information and had to use our mind to analyse and evaluate it. Today’s young people are brought up on a diet of ICT and their automatic tendency is to rush straight to the computer and Google what they need. Without computers and even many bright pupils struggle with print resources, even textbooks. Year on year, vocabularies are shrinking and comprehension abilities weakening. Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote that ‘Being, that can be understood, is language’ (Vattimo 2010: 57) and this essentially means that how the world shows itself to us is dependent upon the horizons of our linguistic heritage. The more one’s language and recognition of linguistic constructions is limited through thumbs up/down buttons, 140 characteristics fewer, text slang, and Google searches, the more the theatre box of history’s resources stored online becomes a baffling, inaccessible swamp. Marcuse and the danger of technology So far, I have touched upon the challenge of technology to thinking in a piecemeal way, but now I would like to bring in a more completely theoretical view, that of the Frankfurt School thinker, Herbert Marcuse. Although written in 1964, decades before the advent of the internet, Herbert Marcuse’s book One Dimensional Man contains an analysis of the way in which the internet presents challenges to the teaching of philosophy that is remarkably prescient and penetrating. Marcuse’s concern was about what he referred to as ‘one dimensional thought’, which produces the ‘one dimensional man’. The former is the by-product of the scientific technological world that makes totalitarianism omnipotent and omnipresent, taking the place of God. Marcuse follows themes present in both Nietzsche and Heidegger, even though he rarely refers to either. With Nietzsche, he sees the danger of extending the success in practical science beyond the bounds of science to other forms of knowledge. This tendency was most marked in the Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle and A. J. Ayer in the first half of the twentieth century, although through popular thinkers such as Richard Dawkins it has made a resounding comeback. From my experience, pupils at school regard the scientific method as universally normative; if something cannot be measured and repeated it is untrue and/or meaningless. The scientific method, then, is the ‘one dimension’ to thought that reduces everything else to the level of fashion or, worse, consigns it to oblivion. Religious or philosophical beliefs become part of the ‘about me’ section on one’s Facebook profile, a bumper sticker on one’s car, or show up as a Buddhism tattoo on one’s arm. Dissenting views are tolerated by the system through being included in blog posts and links which can then be up-voted or down-voted according to the feelings of those with whom they are shared. Resistance to this system, one in which there are grave material injustices, is futile and even unthought in the consciousness of many people. Here is where Heidegger’s influence is visible. Technology, driven by science, is able to provide for material needs sufficiently to keep people from thinking about challenging the status-quo. Media and communications technology is also able to manufacture needs, such as the latest gadgets, cars, and looks. The media puts these within the reach of the common person, such as selecting ‘normal’ people for stardom through a reality show, keeping them apart and yet close to the common person through being able to ‘follow’ them on Twitter. Different views are tolerated and marginalised or made into fashionable items or part of one’s identity rather than allow what Marcuse calls ‘transcendence’, that is, being able to conceive of how reality should be different. What is promoted is diversity of identity, but unity of thought: X, Y, Z are right, A B and C are wrong, but subjects such as God, reality, or the best political system are meaningless and/or beyond questioning, as is the case with politics as far as someone like Richard Rorty would see it. For Rorty, the normativity of liberal democracy is beyond question, which ties in with the recent experience in the West that consumer-capitalism is too big to fail. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, disaster movies are so popular because people can more easily conceive and wish to contemplate the utter destruction of the physical world than the end of liberal capitalism. If Marcuse thinks people were conscious of their servitude then they would look to make changes in the name of social justice. So long as thought is one dimensional, however, alternatives remain unthought. With a decline in reading and increasing addiction to the internet and social networking, there will be a reduced consciousness of one’s condition and alternatives to the status quo. ‘Where there’s danger, there also grows what saves’: Marcuse’s analysis of contemporary society is very much along the same lines as Heidegger’s, particularly in his negative view of technology. Heidegger, too, thought technology was ‘enframing’ the world, turning both humans and non-humans alike into endlessly manipulable reserves. Think of the term ‘human resources’, for instance. As for the ‘natural’ world, it is now impossible to think of the Lake District, for example, without thinking of tourism, or the Rhine and not of hydro-electricity. For Heidegger, the essence of technology is nothing technological, but metaphysical, i.e., the impulse for calculating and manipulating that runs as far back as the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Much more could be said about Heidegger’s complex views on technology, but it would take us even further away from the topic of this talk. Nevertheless, so that we are not to be overly pessimistic, I would like to pay attention to a saying of Hölderlin’s that Heidegger uses when discussing technology: ‘Where there is danger, there grows also what saves’ (Heidegger 1993: 232-233). What Heidegger suggests through this phrase of Hölderlin’s is that the power of liberation can be found with the challenging-forth that constitutes the effects of technology on man. While Heidegger calls the enframing the danger to man, what transpires in the enframing is the first flashing up of Ereignis, the ‘event of appropriation’ which is actually a transpropriation: ‘The event of appropriation is that realm, vibrating within itself, through which man and Being reach each other in their nature, achieve their active nature by losing those qualities with which metaphysics has endowed them’ (Heidegger 1969: 37). The Ereignis enables things to lose their metaphysical qualities of subject and object through the constant challenging of one thing on another. Heidegger thought in mechanical terms due to the time in which he was writing, and one may think of the Lake District, again; the machination of tourism makes humans subjects who are tourists, or are tourists the objects of manufactured needs? Vattimo, however, who is one of Heidegger’s most important interpreters and is still writing well into his seventies, interprets the Ereignis along information technological lines. One can think of Facebook—Who is the subject: the person putting information into the computer, or the categories that restrict your subjectivity? Beyond the subject-object dichotomy, the internet also subverts other facets of the ‘violence’ of metaphysics, such as having a ‘ground’ (logos) to which everything links. The internet is groundless, centreless and irreducibly plural. Granted, this plurality may be reduced to a succession of identities, images and fashion statements, but this in turn must have an ‘unmasking’ effect on the faith one has in the truth value and normativity of the scientific-technological worldview. Recognition of hermeneutical plurality will only have a ‘weakening’ effect on metaphysics if it is tied-in to a history of philosophy, that is, on to the history of metaphysics as the history of Being. Contemplating other views on abstract ideas such as ‘ontology’ and ‘epistemology’, or even better, understanding the epochality of these notions (i.e., that, with Descartes, there was a shift from ontology to epistemology) will weaken the hold of the modern scientific-technological worldview and its political corollary, liberal consumer-capitalism. Technology, plurality, and pedagogy The existence of plurality on the internet is a necessary but insufficient condition for a bringing to consciousness of one’s servitude, of one’s ‘one dimensional thought’. Plurality is necessary, for without it one could interpret the contemporary scientific-technological society as a triumph, as a high point of progress, vanquishing alternatives in some Darwinian or Hegelian style process. However, by itself the existence of plurality without philosophical thinking is speechless, reduced to secondary qualities, an ornament. A philosophical mind-set that returns the plurality back on science and technology makes the plurality ontologically charged. How could one teach this philosophical competence to engage with thinking in such a way that the technologically-enabled plurality becomes ontologically charged? From my own experience I believe it is possible through creating an edifying conversation between pupils and the philosophical greats. Why am I choosing to use ‘conversation’ rather than ‘dialogue’? Following Gianni Vattimo and his disciple Santiago Zabala, I believe that ‘dialogue’ is too Socratic and metaphysically loaded (Vattimo and Zabala 2011: 19), that it reduces interaction much in the way Socrates did, back to first principles with a prior ‘correct’ answer in mind, silencing questioning and construing difference as deficiency. What, then, do I mean by conversation and how can it take place? Following Vattimo, I believe that there is a ‘weakened, crash diet’ subject that is historically situated, always alongside ‘the world’, concernfully. We are never subjects apart from the world. When engaging with a thinker or a tradition we already have a tradition or traditions, a set of concerns and a historically-based situatedness that conditions the horizons through which we encounter and respond to the thought of a thinker. The recognition of this state of affairs goes hand in hand with a recognition of ontological plurality. The thinkers whom one encounters could be accidental, although in the West we inherit a canon of thinkers, already categorised (ancient, medieval, modern etcetera). Vattimo, for instance, recognises that conversation is possible in the present and past because we share a set of ‘classics’, from the Bible to Dante, from Shakespeare, to Kant. These thinkers and classics can ‘speak’ with us today, broadening our horizons by enabling us to think not only about ‘beings’, but also about Being itself. This does not involve a faithful, word for word absorption of each position of every figure in this canon, but of a genuine exchange of ideas between the situated ‘weakened subject’ and the canonical thinker. By thinking ‘Being’ we can get beyond an obsession with things, or, for example, the application of the empirical scientific approach to all aspects of human existence. Instead, one would be thinking of thinking, of a range of ways of being, of different possibilities of how things are and, therefore, could be. Pedagogically, how can this conversation be brought about? Although there may be many and various ways in which this can be achieved, I will recount two different ways in which this conversation can transpire. One way is rather didactic, but with a twist. With Year 9 this academic year I have been going through ancient and modern philosophy, using textbooks, worksheets, videos and discussion among other things to teach ideas such as Plato’s forms and Aristotle’s Prime Mover. The sheer alien nature of these ideas for these pupils quickly becomes apparent. Making links between their experiences of unreality in the media and, say, Plato’s ideas is the order of the day, but even more importantly is showing then the difference between the conversation and Plato’s original intention. For example, with the allegory of the cave, the prisoners in the cave may be like humans absorbed in the media, forgetting their own concerns and associations. Nevertheless, for Plato even the latter would not be ultimate, as the ontos on (really real) for Plato is immaterial and otherworldly. Pupils find this alien and want to know more behind Plato’s thinking. Here the trap to avoid pedagogically is merely to make philosophy relevant by absorbing it into the pupils’ experiences. Gradually, they realise that people used to believe that what was sensible and physical was less real than what was not, the opposite of today’s scientific method. The standard, tedious objection that there is no evidence for the forms is dealt with (what evidence could there be? It defeats the point. The forms do philosophical work that something empirically verifiable could not do) and the more philosophically minded soon become aware of a coherent ontological position other than the one which is diffused through vocabulary and attitudes in their own time. The weaknesses of this approach are that this method is not for every pupil (such is the perhaps unreasonable demand on teachers today) and I wonder whether pupils extend the insight beyond the lessons; subject-based teaching is discrete, and the exam-oriented nature of British teaching for a long time has left pupils instrumental reasoners: ‘lessons help us pass exams and then let us do what we want to do’. Another approach is more holistic, inclusive and pupil centred. It is based on research undertaken by Dr. Ruth Deakin-Crick, my Masters in Education supervisor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol. This is narrative-based learning which begins ‘with [one’s] own experience and interest’ (Deakin Crick 2009: 79). Like good conversations, one begins as an interested participant; what one thinks about as a result is more likely to be retained and integrated into one’s own life. Learning on this view is a journey of enquiry from this initial personal stimulus, through scaffolding help from a mentor, in ever increasing circles of significance. The personal interest drives the inquiry, helping to generate questions, the answers to which widen the initial scope. Knowledge co-construction occurs through the interaction between the pupil, mentor, and range of stimuli encountered through the inquiry. This learning journey is not subject-based and can veer off into other areas besides philosophy. If somebody chose, say, ‘Cheddar Gorge’ as their staring point, they will look at aspects of history, geography, religion, science and so on however, if somebody chose, say, the Large Hadron Collider as their initial locus of interest, then they would quickly get into questions that would encourage conversation with thinkers, such as Kant, Hume, Karl Popper among others. One might, with the example of the Large Hadron Collider, begin with the assumption that there is a ‘God particle’, that science is gradually going to make all the ‘unthought’ thought, and that science will have all the answers. Soon the enquirer will be steered into asking questions such as ‘What is knowledge?’ and directed towards the ‘canon’ ‘into looking for alternative answers. Conclusion Philosophy in schools is often connected with religion and Ethics for ease of teaching and for the purpose of community cohesion. While these connections are predominantly made during GCSE and A Level, sometimes philosophy is introduced further down the school. On the one hand, there is no consensus about how, and for what purpose philosophy is to be taught to pupils below GCSE, but on the other there are some well-developed, purposeful programmes that could be drawn upon by teachers if they had both the freedom and inclination. With these programmes, however, such as P4C, there is the nagging suspicion that creating a community of enquiry in order to foster critical thinking is not really philosophy. What I have attempted to sketch, briefly, is a way in which philosophy can stand in its own right in the curriculum for a clear purpose. While I agree it is important to develop thinking, I would not reduce the latter to a ‘skill’. I think thinking is far more important than that. In the face of the technological engulfment of humanity philosophy has a potentially significant role in bringing to consciousness different alternatives for living, what Marcuse calls ‘transcendence’. By introducing pupils to classic philosophical ideas in a way that makes them accessible but not necessarily readily intelligible on the terms of the pupils, the latter will have the opportunity of entering into a conversation with classic thinkers that broadens their horizons. Ontological alternatives will become possible through encountering different values and beliefs that challenge their own. Only through thinking in this sense can personal and intellectual growth be fostered.


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