I n “ T h e F o u r t h E d u c a t i o n R e v o l u t i o n : W i l l A r t i fi c i a l Intelligence liberate or infantilise humanity?” Sir Anthony Seldon says, “We have schools 180 degrees wrong. We are educating our young to become more like machines, like robots; but digital technology and AI machines will always outperform us. Instead, we need to educating our young to become more fully human.”
I cannot think of a better time for such a clarion call to ring out. With the rise of populism, far right extremism, anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, parochialism and Brexit, these are troubling times in which it seems we are a long way from living lives that are fully human. It has long been asked by philosophers, exactly how we could and should lead a good life. What does this mean? How can we find f u l fi l m e n t a n d purpose? What does it even mean to be human?
My argument is that Philosophy is put b a c k i n t o t h e c u r r i c u l u m . Philosophy is the means by which we can begin to educate our students to be more fully human. Certainly it is not the only means, but I believe the study o f p h i l o s o p h y c a n p l a y a n important role in achieving the goal of building a better, more equal, just society.
T h e r e i s a S t o i c maxim that says “The Fates lead those who come willingly, and drag those who do not.” It seems to me that the pendulum of education thought is swinging away from the Govian obsession w i t h d a t a a n d numbers and testing and league tables and traditionalism. It is now swinging towards progressive educational philosophies, radical curriculum design, autonomy for schools and a desire to build a better tomorrow.
As Les Hall argues in an interview for The Conversation, schools can actually change the world. They can do this by creating curricula that allow their students to see that they can achieve success, change their aspirations and take their place in a global society. Philosophy can help schools to do this. Not only would students be exposed to centuries of thought on questions like ‘how to lead a good life and become more fully human’, but they would also learn the tools of philosophy; tools like reasoning, logic, critical thinking, rhetoric (or its contemporary version, oracy) analysis and evaluation.
Would the world not be a better place if people were better versed in the ways of Skepticism? Certainly one would hope that incidents of gullibility and the wholesale swallowing of nuggets of nonsense delivered all too often by governments and politicians would decrease. Would the world not be a better place if humans held more readily in their cognitive tool-boxes the principles of reasoning? I for one, think it would.
Would it be possible that the study and practice of Stoicism go some way to alleviate even a small portion of the mental health issues so prevalent in our young people? I hope that it might. The hallmark of a philosophy education is critical thinking and inductive reasoning. Surely this should be the hallmark of the post-enlightenment Western society. Bryan Van Norden argues in his book “Taking Back Philosophy” that philosophy can serve as an antidote to the wilful ignorance he finds in contemporary American society. In fact he has great fun mocking the intellectual Lilliputians of the Republican Party such as M a r c o R u b i o , w h o l e f t philosophers, economists and grammarians alike gaping at his remark, "welders make more money that philosophers. We need m o r e w e l d e r s a n d l e s s philosophers."* I think Van Norden is quite correct. Philosophy delivered correctly within a school’s curriculum would be a salve for the idiocy of our times. But it does feel slightly wrong to frame an argument for the inclusion of content in the curriculum based on negating the problems in society as we see them today. I would much rather we see the inclusion of any subject in the curriculum as justified for more positive reasons.
Philosophy study would enrich the lives of our students. As part of a w e l l d e s i g n e d c u r r i c u l u m philosophy would imbue students w i t h t h e t o o l s n e e d e d t o thoughtfully navigate the unknown waters of a post-truth future, it would lay before them a map describing routes to a more fully human, fulfilled, purposeful and good life.
*Led willingly by Fate: How to combat parochialism in philosophy - Peter Adamson