Understanding consists in a unity of these outlooks, and until the-powers-that-be understand this, education will fail to meet the ends at which it should be aiming. Yes, everyone has a right to be able to read, write and count, but what is less often argued for – and very often forgotten – is that everyone has a right to better understanding and to greater wellbeing."
Peter Worley, chief executive of the Philosophy Foundation and editor of The Philosophy Shop, writes:
"My organisation has already put forward several arguments for why philosophy should be taught in schools but here is another.
I believe – and I believe and hope that many others would share this belief, though I don’t have time to argue for it here – that education has (or should have) two overarching aims: understanding and well-being. Education should enable those educated to understand the world better and it should also provide those educated with the means to achieve greater wellbeing for themselves and for others.
As I do not have time and space to argue for these claims, I shall ask the reader, if they don’t already accept them, to do so for the sake of the argument.
So, if understanding and well-being are central to the aims of education, as I have claimed, then I can now say why philosophy is central to education. In other words, why education, understood in this way, cannot exist without philosophy (or, at least, a philosophical attitude).
Education needs something to make sure that it is meeting its aims as well as it can. So – to take the aim of understanding as an example – education cannot succeed if it simply attempts to ‘understand the world’, it also needs to ask this (second-order) question: ‘how do/should we understand how we are currently understanding the world?’
This idea can be explained historically. There was a time when the chief way through which we understood the world was myths and legends; later, it was religion. And it was through philosophical lines of inquiry that these paradigms were challenged, either by philosophers such as the Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and later Popper and Kuhn or by scientists adopting a philosophical attitude such as Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Feynman. (Interestingly, Newton was known in those days as a ‘natural philosopher’ not a ‘scientist’.)
By extension, when ‘how we understand the world’ is taught uncritically there is, of course, the ever-present danger that those undergoing the education programme may be subjected to indoctrination, either political or religious. The ‘philosophical attitude’ that I claim any education programme should include, safeguards those undergoing it from these very real dangers, that history has shown – and continues to show – to be much more than the paranoid delusions of conspiracy theories.
Another claim I will make is that philosophy – done well – is dedicated to understanding, and if understanding really is at the heart of education, then, wherever possible, philosophy should be included in any education programme. There are now ways of doing philosophy with nursery children and teenagers, as well as undergraduates and others, so why is the teaching of philosophy not more widespread? In addition to all of this, it has been recognized time and again that there is an understanding gap in the current system. We should, of course, know the ‘what’ but we neglect the ‘how’, the ‘why’ and the ‘should’ at our peril.
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