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.