Philosophy in the Schools Project

About the Project

The Philosophy in the Schools Project was founded at the 2000 Congress in Edmonton, Alberta. The CPA's then president, Steven Davis, invited philosophers from across the country to a session organized to raise the profile of philosophy as a ‘teachable subject' in Canada's schools. The philosophers who gathered agreed to form a loose coalition designed to advance that goal.

Ontario philosophers discussed recent changes to the secondary school curriculum in that province. After many years of effort on the part of academic philosophers, secondary school teachers and Ministry of Education officials, philosophy is now a separate subject in Ontario's regular curriculum for grades 11 and 12. This success has generated optimism among philosophers and teachers across the country. The Philosophy in the Schools Project is here to facilitate the sharing of strategies and contacts among all philosophers, teachers and officials who desire to make the school subject of philosophy available to the rest of Canada's children and youth.

Due to the fact that education is under provincial jurisdiction, no single strategy will work in every province. Individual participants in the Project must form provincial teams to advance their goals. Nevertheless, some approaches and tactics will be useful from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The Project aims, therefore, to make information about local efforts and outcomes available to all as a means of creating a larger body of experience from which to draw. With the CPA's support, the Philosophy in the Schools Project plans to meet each year at the Congress as a means of spreading and solidifying its vision.

Why Philosophy in the Schools?

Philosophy is not taught in any systematic way prior to college or university and we think it ought to be. Given the traditional focus of public school education on foundational subject areas and recent trends towards accommodating subject areas formerly limited to post secondary institutions in pubic school curricula, one ought to ask ‘Why no philosophy in schools?'.

One suggested explanation is that philosophy is dangerous. Instead of instruction in skepticism and dissent, children and youth require training aimed at fostering trust in and obedience to authority. They should only be introduced to the critical agenda of philosophical study once they have internalized the norms of civil society. Another explanation appeals to theory. Philosophy, it is argued, is a subject without content. Rather, philosophical principles and practices are generic (or “abstract”) and must be incorporated into subject areas with content in order to be effectively passed on to children and youth. Both explanations share the assumption that children and youth have not yet developed the necessary capacities (moral or cognitive) to benefit from instruction in philosophy as a separate subject. Another explanation appeals to procedure. Teachers, it is claimed, are not trained to teach this subject. Philosophy is not regarded as a teachable subject in most teacher training programmes; courses in philosophy are not counted for credit by their entrance requirements.

For various reasons, none of these explanations justify the exclusion of philosophy as a teachable subject from public school curricula. While not generally taught or recognized in the public school systems of this country (Ontario is now a notable exception), there have been numerous experiments with Philosophy for Children programmes and locally developed courses across Canada and the U.S. The findings of studies evaluating the impact of such instruction have been debated. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that students' overall school performance as well as their interest in being educated is enhanced by separate instruction in philosophy and none which shows the reverse.

The Teaching of Philosophy to Children

We have known for a long time that theoretical reasoning and moral judgement need to be developed. Indeed, no one is born virtuous or a critic. These personality traits develop with the passing of years, as long as children grow up in an environment favouring the emergence of these traits, due in part to the learning of logic and ethics. However, how can these branches of philosophy be made available to children? The concrete response to this problem became gradually evident in the sixties. It became apparent to some educators - including Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp, the founders of the Program of Philosophy for Children - that one of the first purposes of education is to give children the ability to put their reasoning into action. This teaching implies that the process of education should thus be able to further the development of reasoning.

Since 1969, the introduction of philosophy into primary and secondary education has made it possible to realize to what extent it is an ideal way for children to reflect on values, for example. Indeed, through conceptual analysis, which plays a central role in philosophy, children are brought to identify the scope that various realities have.

This constitutes the background from which emerged the programme of Philosophy for Children (Lipman and Sharp). Since then, this programme has played an increasingly significant role in education. Today, the initiative, which proposes an innovative method for teaching philosophy at the primary and secondary school level, is taught in more than fifty countries throughout the world, including Canada. Although philosophy for children is appropriate for all children, not all teachers can implement the programme without preparation. Preparation of teachers - which includes knowledge and know-how - proves highly necessary. Several plans and methods of training are possible.

Due to the efforst of the Ontario Philosophy Teachers' Association (OPTA) philosophy is now considered as a teachable subject for educators in Ontario. This means that teachers will be prepared by Faculties of Education to teach the philosophy curriculum already in place.

News and available documents




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University of Saskatchewan

Dept: Department of Philosophy
Chair: Eric Dayton.
Location: Saskatoon
web: Click here

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