Teachers ill-equipped to foster debate

12th January 2007 at 00:00
I welcome Jack Ferguson's call to recognise the importance of critical debate and endorse his view that teachers have a crucial role to play in "reclaiming the language" of debate (TESS, December 2229).

The teaching of argumentation in schools is of great importance to the continuing development of a democracy which is worth defending, and Mr Ferguson quite rightly asserts that there should be no excluded area of human knowledge and experience in this great debate.

However, it is questionable whether we have a teaching profession which has the capability to achieve the remarkable project Mr Ferguson describes. The decline in the status of philosophy in Scottish universities has led to a graduate body with philosophic training at an unprecedentedly low point.

Philosophy and the teaching of critical thinking play little, if any, part in initial teacher education.

Yes, it is imperative that we re-commit ourselves to the enlightenment project which Scotland helped to form. The dangers of not doing so are that we allow our democracy to become further debased to the point where we cannot remember what it is we want to defend, and that we lose the ability to enter into the cross-cultural discourse which has the potential to give us hope for the future.

Jack McConnell has recently expressed the wish that Scotland might experience a second enlightenment. But this will remain a pious hope if philosophy is not located at the centre of the education of teachers.

Sharon Jessop

Department of educational and professional studies, Faculty of Education, Strathclyde University

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