President Higgins has referred to a “deep anti-intellecualism” in the media and to a lack of critical thinking in schools and society.
He said “the challenges of the next decade cannot be met with the old orthodoxies. We need mind work. Social cohesion is fracturing, fading, as inequalities in wealth, power and income are deepening, and they will not be met – with the greatest of respect to President Macron and others – by rhetorical flourishes on the model that is fading or the paradigm that is insufficient.”
The President was speaking at the launch of the Irish Young Philosopher Awards, to promote and showcase original thinking for primary and secondary students.
An Irish Times editorial referred to the President’s philosophical thinking method. It avoids the confrontation that characterises much interaction on social media about public issues, the “polemical abuse, aggression and anger” referred to by the President. Instead, at its heart is what the leader writer calls “dialectical reasoning”. It aims for “the balancing of opposing views in one’s mind at once.” The leader writer adds that it is widely taught in continental Europe to children from a young age.
(Source: ‘Young philosopher awards to showcase original thinking’, Joe Humphreys, Irish Times 17/11/2017; ‘In defence of mind work’, Irish Times editorial of 18/11/2017).
The official outline of the new philosophy course which will be offered as an option in Junior Cycle is not intended to provide students with definite answers. Instead, the document suggests it may lead to “a higher state of confusion.” The course “requires teachers and students becoming more fallible as ‘not knowing’ and changing one’s mind is appreciated as part of the learning and nature of philosophical inquiry.”
The outline adds: “The quality of the answer is located in the process of searching for solutions rather than in the answer itself.” The aim is to enable students to reflect on “life’s big questions” and to develop “critical, creative, collaborative, caring thinkers.” (Source: ‘Students to be offered new philosophy course’, Joe Humphreys Irish Times 12/01/2016).
The President’s Ethics Initiative began in 2013. It was an invitation to Irish people to explore ethical values and the role they have in shaping society, with a view to making society better for all. It involved higher education institutes and civil society organisations. Over 60 events were held, including lectures, seminars, conferences, activities and ‘citizens conversations’. On1 February 2016 the President launched the report. It is called The Importance of Ethics, The President of Ireland Ethics Initiative. It is available on the President’s website.
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is planning to introduce new classes in ethics and religion in Primary schools. The subject will be called “religion, beliefs and ethics”. It will be separate from existing faith-based classes in denominational schools. The overall aim is to enable students to learn about the lives, values and traditions of the wider community. It will not be focussed on any one religion and will include secular beliefs. Its aim is to help children develop empathy with people of different religions and beliefs.
The ethics component will focus on enabling children to make choices and decisions with consideration for their effects on others. It will be based on the values of human dignity and freedom, and on human rights and responsibilities.
(Source: ‘Primary students to learn ethics’, Carl O’Brien, Education Editor, The Irish Times 4/11/2015).
The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is currently devising a short course in philosophy for the Junior Cycle. In many other European countries philosophy is well established as part of second level education. Commenting on the type of course needed, Dr. Charlotte Blease, a research fellow in UCD, said: ” I do think there is a real chance to do something quite different in Irish schools that goes beyond the teacher dictating the ideas of dead thinkers. Philosophy is training in how to learn, how to monitor one’s own thinking, and how best, respectfully, to challenge the reasoning of others.”
On linking the teaching of philosophy with religion, she said: “The idea of introducing philosophy by way of God and religion is a non-starter in my opinion. It gets everyone’s backs up, you end up alienating the audience. In my experience it is better to start with philosophy of art, politics and ethics – ideas about which kids have already formed opinions and which can be sophisticated and refined through reflection.”
Professor Keith Topping, one of the authors of a Scottish study into the benefits of teaching philosophy in schools, agreed with keeping the teaching of philosophy separate from religion. “It might be good for kids to think a bit more about religion but that’s not how I would set up philosophy for children at all. I would set it up as completely separate but which has effects on every other subject, including PE and woodwork.”
To get the benefits of philosophy for children he says you can’t treat it like any other subject. It is “countercultural. It’s actually quite revolutionary in the context of education as we know it in the UK or in Ireland.”
Source: ‘Philosophy: the subject that improves children’s literacy, numeracy and conduct’, Joe Humphries, The Irish Times, 15/08/2015.
In his address to the national seminar on his ethics initiative on 28/03/2015 , President Michael D. Higgins made a number of points, including the following:
[As President of a society] “which has been affected acutely by the recent global financial meltdown, I consider it crucial that we collectively reflect on the structural, and indeed moral and philosophical, questions raised by this most recent crisis in order to ensure that we learn from the experience.”
“The current crisis has moral and intellectual ramifications that run very deep. It calls for an interrogation of what it means to be human and a conception of human relations that animates us as a society.”
“… Irish citizens have collectively shown a deep desire to examine the root causes of what has happened and to reconnect what has been sundered in our society and in our public discourse. This radical demand … also carries with it a constructive willingness to think and act in different ways even if the pathway for thought and action is not yet defined and must be fashioned through enduring intellectual work and social action.” (Source: full address available on President’s website. See also ‘Inequality challenges State, says Higgins’, Patsy McGarry, The Irish Times 30/03/2015)
The government plans to introduce philosophy as a subject in schools for the first time. A short course in philosophy will be developed for first to third year students in secondary schools. The Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’ Sullivan, said she ‘wanted to give students the opportunity to explore the concepts and ideas of philosophy in the 21st century.’
A statement from the Minister’s Department said she believed the study of philosophy will make ‘a significant contribution to giving student the tools to critically engage in an informed manner with the world around them.’
(Source: ‘Philosophy set to be added to school curriculum in junior cycle reform, Irish Times 30/12/2014)
‘If we are to recover, and flourish, we must understand the structural, philosophical reasons for the failures we have witnessed and we must reconnect the economic, the social and the political to the moral’ (Michael D Higgins in ‘Time for citizens to forge a better future for our country’, The Irish Times 2/04/2014).
President Michael D. Higgins announced an initiative for nationwide debate in 2014 to stimulate greater awareness of Ethics. The initiative will involve over 50 events. These will include academic workshops and public lectures. The intention is to start with events in third level colleges , and then to spread out the debate into the wider society. He hopes the initiative will help ‘enable us to build a sustainable social economy and a society which is profoundly ethical and inclusive’ (See ‘Nationwide debate on ethics begins’, Patsy McGarry Irish Times 15 February 2014. See also President’s website for details of events )