Thursday, September 30, 2004

Socrates for Six-year-olds

‘News is Good’ writes about how his kid siblings demonstrate a will to altruism and that the apathy so blighting the adult population has not yet set in. In the case of these particular kids, I suspect they will remain insulated from ignorance in the fashion of their hairy bro, but nonetheless kids do seem to care more about a global good than adults do. This perhaps suggests that the will to altruism and a concern for the social is an innate tendency or, at least, something instilled at an early age. The kids haven’t yet been subjected to the beige dullness that comes with a career path; to adventure's antidote lying within bank statements; or to any of the other things that help to instil selfishness, indifference and the laze. Their faith in love and escapade remains untarnished and their thoughts can be of others. ‘NiG’ asks how these qualities can be maintained in the young rather than allowing them to disappear into the folds of age.

There’s just no simple answer to that is there? But presumably it lies in education. School, at the moment, prepares us for life in an existing world - a second hand world created by and currently occupied by someone else - rather than showing us how to make it better from the get-go. School teaches you how to survive; how to make your own way through your own life; to not bight the hand that feeds you; and how to find happiness in conforming, in buying stuff and in stopping doing that because y’know, people are looking atcha. If we were to deconstruct ‘school’ and start over, we could change its mission from being focussed on getting kids to mature into controllable and selfish components of a short-sighted and malfunctioning machine towards being focused on maintaining a social and philosophical awareness.

This is nothing new, of course. There have been attempts both to introduce some philosophy - mainly of ethics - into the classroom and also to introduce some of the same stuff into the media mainstream in order to help in healing the wounds left on the soul by formal education. I recall watching a video in a university seminar called Socrates for Six-year-olds about a philosophy programme for sprogs. It seemed to be working wonderfully and it was fab to watch kids being interviewed about their own independent ideas deriving from their new classes. It'd be cool to revisit those kids and see where they are now. The ‘Pop Philosophy’ of Grayling, De Botton, Blackburn et al has proved to sell very well, as have the anti-consumer/pro-fair trade stuff like Reefer Madness and Shopped but this stuff makes the mistake of preaching to the converted and failing to make much of a difference in terms of practicality aside from making a people go ‘huh - maybe there’s something in being clever after all’ before putting the book down, vacating the staff canteen and going imediately back to the grind. But hey, they’ve got a mortgage to pay and kids who need new shoes: they don’t have the time to get all Che Guevara. In my secondary school, we took part for a few years in a programme called Time to Reflect in which someone would read from a big book of ‘reflections’ during the morning’s twenty-minute registration (roll-call) period. The reflections would come in the forms of religious parables, news stories and bits from pop-culture (I remember a kid reading pieces from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for some reason). The idea was that each ‘reflection’ would present an ethical or moral quandary of some persuasion, which the group was then encouraged to discuss. It was actually a great idea. The only problem was that we could all still taste the cheese-flavoured puff-crisps we had for breakfast; most of us were still rapidly working on the trigonometry homework due for submission in twenty minutes time and the inky skinheads at the back of the room kept throwing stationary at me and James Parry and shouting ‘yoom gay’. No one gave a shit about fictitious Parvinda, nonexistent Bryn or their hypothetical ethical quandary.

Basically, modern life doesn’t cater for philosophy; for experimental thought; for the pursuit of the Platonic ‘Good’ or for the bringing about of social change by the people. While there are no Nazi-types going around burning philosophy books in the name of government or commercialism, Atum’s ‘non-discursive thought’ or ‘thinking outside the box’ is seldom sponsored. When efforts are made such as those of Grayling or the nice Time to Reflect people (who incidentally do still operate as I discovered while tidying up the education periodicals in the library yesterday), they don’t really have much affect: their round pegs don’t really fit into modern society’s square hole. Something more practical has to take place if major change is to be implemented: a restructuring of the entire education system would be great! But also quite impossible. The next issue to consider would be how ‘Practical Philosophy’ can succeed where others have either failed miserably or merely urinated a bladder-full of sense into an entire ocean of madness. To me, at this moment in time, it seems that modern life has to adjust to accepting philosophy more willingly and that a supplement to traditional education (right the way through to university level, I suppose) might be a way of doing this.


Blogger Atum said...

I think a problem with the use of 'fairness' in promoting an understanding that children do for some reason care about it is that children understand fairness in a fairly limited and selfish way - fairness becomes the new form of appeal to parents, replacing the crying and screaming of infancy, and enabling the child to get what they want.

I suppose we are all agreed that education is where life seems to be falling down, the exact method of which remains a little elusive - we arer essentially advocating to people that teaching their children to think and not to do is worthwhile, when in fact the swagger of traditional conservative values have education, have had education, and probably will have education for a long time, by the proverbial balls.

10:26 AM  
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