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Teaching children to think will protect them
24th March 2017

Leading academics claimed children must be taught to think for themselves rather than just taught to pass tests.

Speaking at a conference at Cranleigh School in Surrey the group of philosophers explained how a philosophical curriculum is vital to help young people survive in a world dominated by political and social complexity.

The group believes that the introduction of subject-based philosophical enquiry and ‘thinking’ methods would:

  • enable children to develop as confident, independent thinkers, equipped with the strength of character to enable flourishing in a complex, rapidly-changing world;
  • create increased empathy in young people that would improve the world for future generations;
  • teach children to understand how to interrogate sources and better understand what is real or fake news;
  • enable children to better cope with virtual reality and social media;
  • enable children to confront and deal with failure and disappointment;
  • develop better, more understanding, future leaders and public servants.

Led with a keynote address by Professor AC Grayling, speakers from the Philosophy in Education Project (PEP) group included Professor Angie Hobbs, Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield; Michael Lacewing, Reader in Philosophy at Heythrop College, London and Dr John Taylor, Director of Learning, Teaching and Innovation at Cranleigh School. All believe that philosophical inquiry in the classroom can serve to deepen understanding and develop the capacity of young people to think deeply, clearly and independently.

Dr Taylor commented: “Education has turned into a factory for exam results but actually children are questioning more, challenging ideologies and taking to social media to discuss big subjects. They are hungry to discuss ideas about what makes life worth living.”

“In the current political climate and with the issues being faced by the next generations the ability to think rigorously and to live with empathy is vital. The Philosophy GCSE is important but thinking can also start at a much younger age. At Cranleigh we are looking to embed more project-based and inquiry-based learning throughout the entire curriculum, in every subject, from the age of 7, and we want to encourage other schools to do the same.”

As a first step, Cranleigh’s Dr Taylor has developed a programme for teaching Philosophy in conjunction with the Higher Project Qualification (HPQ). The GCSE level programme has been published on the Edexcel website and Cranleigh is one of a number of schools preparing to teach it from next year and providing training to other state and independent schools looking to introduce the course.

Professor Angie Hobbs said: “It is very clear that schools need to be doing all they can to help young people to analyse and reflect on what they hear, and make decisions based on rigorous arguments and examined evidence. Philosophical enquiry in a variety of forms is particularly well-placed to provide these vital skills. It can also help pupils reflect on what constitutes a flourishing human life, both for individuals and communities, and how to set about achieving it.”

With recent reforms to Religious Studies threatening to curtail the wider exploration of philosophy and ethics, PEP is calling upon the Government to approve its proposal for a Philosophy GCSE, thereby encouraging rigorous thinking and deeper subject knowledge of Philosophy.

Professor Anthony Grayling added: “The need for education to offer young people an opportunity to explore questions about the foundations of knowledge and the rational basis of democratic systems of governance could not be clearer. We are calling for the creation of a GCSE in Philosophy so that all students have a chance to discover the rich tradition of philosophical reflection on matters of fundamental importance to us all.”