Monday, 18 June 2012

S2 Philosophy

“The only thing we require to be good 
philosophers is the faculty of wonder“
(Jostein Gaarder, Sophie's World)

For the past two weeks I've been experimenting with philosophy in the classroom. The Clackmannanshire Study provided strong evidence for the inclusion of Philosophy in the curriculum with noted benefits to other curricular areas as well as the health and well-being of the student themselves.

My students are responding well to the subject and are able to handle complex ideas, more so than some of the Higher students. I have two second year classes (age 13-14). I have tried different approaches with both and reflected along the way. 

Lesson 1 - What is Philosophy?

In this lesson pupils with given a basic overview of philosophy. I took a very simple approach to the topic, philosophy is simply questioning. I has a box with a hole cut into it. I asked one pupil to come up and I moved the box towards him acting as if I was taking care. He was then asked to put his hand into the box. There was of course trepidation and "Oh just do it" from the class. As he put his had in I shouted scaring him. Schadenfreud.

I explained that in the box was both everything and nothing. Spoke a little about the Quantum Universe and the wonder of this. They were hooked. 

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Lesson 2 - Who Are You?

I am not not entirely happy with this lesson. It didn't flow well and I didn't give enough time for thought-experiments and reflection. Students considered who they were; are they their own being or is their identity reinforced by the world around them? Students reflected on themselves, what they liked about themselves and what others liked about them. 

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Lesson 3 - What is Knowledge?

This was a two-part lesson where students studied Descartes and scepticism. What is truth? What can we truly know? If any slide has a post-it note on it students had a 'snowball fight' with them. Write their thought/idea down, throw it, find the closet one to you and pick it up.

They loved the senses experiments. More importantly, they understood the first doubt. They were able to respond and comment on Descartes theory. 

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Lesson 4 - Are we Awake?

Continuing Meditation 1 we explore our dreams, what they are, what they mean, and if we can tell the difference between the real world and the dream world. This took over the lesson. I was surprised how open they were and how freely they shared their dreams. Some were only willing to show me their papers as what they had written was incredibly personal. I went forward explaining a priori knowledge was true in a dream. Several pupils however were already ahead of me explaining that when you are dreaming there is an innate feeling that it is a dream. When asked what was the same in the real world and the dream world one boy pitched in "well, you, you're the constant", pleased as hell but had to can him for 5 minutes till we got that.

I showed a 3 minute clip from The Matrix (I normally avoid film clips if I'm being honest as they sometimes detract from what we're doing, but this fitted well with both the topic and the mood of the class). The Evil Demon hypothesis didn't need unpacked, they understood it with ease - thanks TV for that one!

Senses can't be trusted; dreams can be misleading; demons can deceive us. What's left? The Cogito. They got it, they actually got it. We spent the last 5 minutes talking about how they were finding it. They felt that it was demanding but that they were speaking about it outside class which is always a good thing. 

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Lesson 5 - Is There a God?

This was a lesson I was actually more nervous about. In Scotland our subject has been heavily criticised recently; with accusations of indoctrination and brain-washing being thrown about it can be a difficult topic.

Students very openly declare what they believe. I am also open with my believes; my classes are fully aware that I am agnostic. I used opinion corners (think with your feet) to get them see what each other believe. However, when asked to explain their reasoning most of their views lacked clarity or depth. I went off plan to explore their reasons, asking others in the class to respond and for them to develop their answers. We looked at the 2001 census results to gain an appreciation of the religiosity of Scotland.

The Ontological Argument, in my opinion, is one of the most complicated of all the arguments for the existence of God. We went through it, several times. Only about 14/30 got it. If I'm being honest I never expected most of them to; however, when I started seeing more and more people get it I persevered. The hardest thing for them to do is to remove all beliefs and views on a 'God' that they may have. This is an a priori argument, as such they have to stick to logic. God, by definition, HAS to be the greatest thing they can imagine. Once they get that things start clicking. You could ACTUALLY see eyebrows raise in a Mexican-wave across the classroom.

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[I finished today on starting the Cosmological Argument, will update this tomorrow. Thanks for reading, comments are always welcomed]

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