Teaching philosophy in primary schools is viewed by some as one thing too many or an unnecessary luxury, yet it seems to me that the disciplines such as rational and critical thought, learned through the practice of philosophy, can provide an important foundation on which a child can build throughout his or her school career. These are skills that will enable a child to more easily access the rest of the curriculum – to take full advantage of the learning opportunities provided in other subjects.
I don’t suggest that every 5-year-old be fully versed in Anaxagoras and Empedocles, rather that we develop curiosity and critical thought in children, and the ability to approach a problem creatively, without the fear of being wrong. Philosophical thought presents the perfect platform for this. Addressing questions such as, ‘Can we step in the same river twice?’ or ‘Am I dreaming?’ gives children the opportunity to exercise these skills. (Philosophy 4 Children and The Philosophy Shop are two good examples of teaching philosophy in primary schools.)
I believe that practising philosophy develops, most significantly:
The confidence to be wrong
A respect for other opinions or arguments, coupled with the ability to make informed judgements about their validity or usefulness.
The ability to look at things from many different perspectives – to ‘think outside the box’, to use a popular cliché.
These things are not just intrinsically valuable, but also provide students with the tools to access and make the most of learning opportunities throughout school, and indeed throughout life.
The same seems to be true of the RSA’s Opening Minds programme. Competencies such as managing information are not only valuable life skills, but will actually enable students to reap the full benefit of their future school career. This is often an area overlooked – those who object to skills or competency based curricula, in favour of valuing subjects and learning for learning’s sake, tend to assume that all students are equally able to pick up a book of Shakespeare, say, and immediately appreciate its value. They assume that teaching skills is only for skills sake – can teaching skills not aid the teaching and learning of knowledge too?
Teaching philosophy, or indeed competencies, can provide students with a ‘hook’ or route into the enjoyment of learning, and the tools that allow them to get the most out of learning – they help to make learning not simply a means to an end, but an end in itself.