Guest Article: Gary Doyle
It is no secret that Irish education, for all its merits, has been lacking in one very important area. Critical thinking and reasoning skills are quite simply essential in today’s society which places more value than ever in the ability to innovate and adapt. It is therefore essential to the future of our young people that these qualities are nurtured and developed from an early age and I believe Irish education is vastly under utilising our greatest tool in doing this. That tool is philosophy.
Philosophy, broadly speaking, can be defined as “thinking about ideas”. Philosophers think about how to clearly assess and evaluate ideas, how to see an idea from as many perspectives as possible, how to resolve the differences between opposing ideas and how to build on the previous ideas of others. Philosophy in other words is the only discipline purely devoted to reasoning. If we want to develop the ability to think and to reason in our young people then surely we should utilise the discipline that is entirely dedicated to these qualities.
Something wonderful happens when a classroom is turned into forum for philosophical discussion. Children are presented with unusual ideas and problems about our engagement with the world and are asked to think about and give their opinions on them. Is it better to be a happy pig or an unhappy person? What is happiness? Is it possible to think about nothing? Children engage with each other, listen to each other and try to see the problem from varying points of view. They relate their ideas to one and other and together use their reasoning to move towards a more complete idea. The process is an active one on the part of the child. In this sense children are not taught philosophy but instead they do philosophy. The role of the teacher is as a facilitator who helps the children develop their ideas and encourages the critical interaction between the group.
Just as maths gives children room to practise their arithmetic, philosophy gives room to practise reasoning. The benefits of philosophical enquiry in the classroom however go even further. Studies have shown that giving children regular access to philosophy can increase learning over the wider curriculum. This is completely logical. What is a student’s most important tool when coming to terms with literacy and numeracy if not the ability to think? Philosophy teaches us to recognise and unpack concepts and to work with them in particular situations much like a learner must recognise and unpack concepts in literacy and numeracy in solving these types of problems. To misquote one of the great philosophers, “I think therefore I learn.”
Often lower achieving students can shine in philosophy. The idea that a student’s ability in philosophy is based on reasoning, expressing oneself and contributing to a discussion can instill confidence in a student’s academic ability that might otherwise be damaged by struggles in other areas. Philosophy also develops expression and communication skills. It can be quite difficult to clearly communicate what are sometimes rather complicated ideas. Having an idea is a powerful feeling however and the urge to contribute the idea to the discussion is strong motivation for working hard on clarity of expression.
Philosophy is utilised as a tool for primary education in many countries around the world. It is time that we in Ireland caught up with the trend. Philosophy bridges the gap between schools being asked to “do more with less” and the recognition that our education system needs to produce critical thinkers and innovators. Philosophy requires no expensive equipment or text books and can take place in any classroom in the country. As the only discipline devoted entirely to critical thinking and reasoning it is the perfect tool for nurturing and developing the creative minds of our young people. I believe philosophy can play a crucial role in inspiring and encouraging the young minds of this country and can play a crucial role in the future of our education. I believe now is the time to create this change.
Bio – Gary Doyle is a philosophy graduate from University College Dublin. He is currently training with the Philosophy Foundation in the method of Philosophical Enquiry (PhiE) with the aim of becoming a specialist. Gary has launched the campaign Let’s Do Philosophy with the aim of introducing Irish primary schools to the benefits of doing philosophy www.LetsDoPhilosophy.com