In today’s post, Darius Klibavicius writes about research he undertook as a postgraduate student in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff Univeristy. I had the pleasure of supervising Darius’ Masters thesis and hope you enjoy this short summary as much as I do.
“In schools … we probably steer away from it [philosophy] because maybe we are concerned that it’s too in-depth or intellectually demanding for the pupils in front of us”(Teacher, male, 31).
In 2018, I completed my Master’s degree in Education at Cardiff University (academic supervisor Dr Kevin Smith). My thesis was a study on the teaching of philosophy at school. I was curious about teachers’ perceptions of philosophy and its role in the school curriculum, and since the Welsh government was working with schools and other stakeholders in developing a new, national curricular framework, it seemed like an appropriate time to talk to teachers about what we should teach children in school and why.
The data for this research were derived using quantitative (online survey, n=163) and qualitative (semi-structured interviews, n=12) methods and were analysed using simple, descriptive analysis (quantitative data) and thematic analysis (qualitative data). As someone who is interested in philosophy both personally and professionally as a teacher in Lithuania and now Cardiff, I felt confident in my ability to work with my participants in developing a better understanding of their perceptions of the teaching of philosophy at school.
Philosophy as an academic subject or a method for learning?
Teachers were asked about the role of philosophy at school as both an academic subject and as a method for learning. The data show (81%) agreed they were interested in philosophy as a method for learning (meaning taking a systematic approach to questioning and scrutinising curricular content and ideas), while (59.5%) were interested in it existing as a curricular subject area.
Additionally, the survey findings revealed three statistically significant differences:
(a) Gender: 81.8% of male teachers agreed with the statement ‘I understand what philosophy is’ compared to 69.2% of female teachers.
(b) Formal education: 44% of the teachers who previously studied philosophy as an academic subject disagreed with the statement ‘It is more important for young people to learn academic subjects like Maths, English or Science rather than Philosophy.’ While 35.4% of those who did not study philosophy previously agreed.
(c) ‘Philosophy for Children’ (P4C) training: 80.6% of teachers who had heard about the P4C disagreed with the statement ‘Philosophy is good as an idea but I don’t see any practical benefits from it’. This is compared to 9.6% who had not heard of P4C and agreed with the statement.
Qualitative data did not shed further light into the gendered differences among the respondents, so this is an aspect of the research that needs further consideration.
As evidenced above, previous exposure to philosophy seems to be related to positive attitudes about the importance of philosophy, or that it at least has a place in the curriculum either alongside traditional subjects or as a cross-cutting ethos or ‘method’ for learning.
Philosophy in the Areas of Learning and Experience
Teachers were also asked about the role of philosophy in the New Curriculum for Wales. The following are the three most popular Areas of Learning and Experience (AoLE) where teachers’ said philosophy had a role:
- Humanities (24%)
- Health and well-being (20.9%)
- Languages, literacy and communication (19.5%).
The ‘Humanities’ AoLE was the most popular area of the curriculum for philosophy, but not all teachers placed philosophy in its traditional setting. This demonstrates the different ways teachers understand the role or purpose of philosophy:
- as a method of creativity and expression (Expressive arts)
- for taking care of themselves (Health and well-being)
- traditional philosophy (Humanities)
- for clear communication (Languages, literacy and communication)
- for logical thinking (Mathematics and numeracy)
- for exploring natural and virtual worlds (Science and technology).
The majority of teachers see philosophy traditionally as a means to tackle problems related to human existence. However, they also have new understandings of philosophy orientated around one’s personal well-being and ability to communicate. The current national curriculum does not have a ‘Health and well-being’ subject area, but PSE (personal and social education) is often associated with aspects of ‘Health and well-being’. My data show teachers often regard the PSE framework as an umbrella that accommodates ‘marginal’ or non-traditional subjects, including philosophy.
Teachers’ responses also signal a tendency to move from the systematic, academic understanding of philosophy to a more edifying and therapeutic philosophy (Rorty 1979), which is seen as a way of life or spiritual exercise (Hadot 1995). So, instead of relying on traditional philosophical imperative ‘Know thyself’ (gnōthi sauton), teachers give priority to another one ‘Take care of yourself’ (epimelēsthai sautou)
(Foucault 1988, pp. 19–31). The third major category ‘Languages, literacy and communication’ also makes sense as P4C aims to produce ‘scrupulous readers’ and ‘reasonable discussants’ (Lipman 1981). In terms of communication, philosophical discussion “sharpens the child’s reasoning and inquiry skills as nothing else can” (Lipman 1988, p. 24).
- To what extent Philosophy needs to be taught at school? Why?
- How Philosophy can contribute to: (a) a New Curriculum for Wales? and (b) the National Literacy and Numeracy Framework (LNF)?
- Which Areas of Learning and Experience might benefit from the inclusion of Philosophy?
- What is the relationship between Philosophy and Religious Education in the secular schools and faith-based schools?
Foucault, M. 1988. Technologies of the Self. In: Martin, L.H., Gutman, H. and Hutton, P.H. eds. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, pp. 16–49.
Hadot, P. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Edited with an introduction by A.I. Davidson. Translated from the French, by M. Chase. Oxford and Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers. (Originally published in 1981).
Lipman, M. 1981. Philosophy for Children. In: Costa, A. L. ed. Developing Minds: Programs for Teaching Thinking 2. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, pp. 35–38.
Lipman, M. 1988. Philosophy goes to School. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Rorty, R. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Key words: philosophy, philosophy teaching, philosophy in school, Philosophy for Children, teachers’ perceptions, Wales, curriculum