Philosophy Ireland was initiated in August 2015 at a public forum entitled “Philosophy and the Irish School”. Recognizing the need for an open discussion on the role of philosophy in educational discourse, Dr Charlotte Blease and Dr Áine Mahon (both members of SWIP Ireland) hosted the forum at Newman House, St Stephen’s Green. The purpose of the event was to focus attention on the role of philosophy in the Irish school curriculum, and to bring together disparate networks of teachers, academics, and interested supporters.
Sharing the common pursuit of how best to promote philosophy beyond the academy, we were interested particularly in promoting dialogue between primary, secondary and third-level education.
Over the past twelve months, we have campaigned to bring philosophy not only to the educational but to the public sphere. We have been interviewed and published by a host of media and educational outlets, among them Newstalk 106, Leadership +, Termtalk, TEDx and Teaching Council Research. One of our members, Dr. Robert Grant, has been commissioned to direct an RTÉ documentary examining Ireland as a “knowledge-based society”; Rob’s film includes several examples of the practice of philosophy in Irish schools. Rob and other members are regularly cited and interviewed in the Irish Times and all of us are supported further by a number of high-profile academic and media ambassadors, among them Professor Claire Katz of Texas A&M University, Joe Humphreys of the Irish Times, and Dr. William Crawley of BBC Radio 4.
In July 2016, we were delighted to announce Mrs Sabina Higgins, a NUIG graduate of Philosophy and English and a passionate advocate for careful and creative thinking, as our official patron. At a meeting of SWIP Ireland in February 2015, Mrs Higgins had spoken passionately about the need for philosophy in Irish schools. She continues to promote our cause at the highest levels and we are thrilled to have her support.
From a curricular perspective, the network’s members (especially Susan Andrews, Marelle Rice, Charlotte Blease and Gerry Dunne) have been centrally involved in the drafting of the new Junior Cycle Short Course in Philosophy. Particularly keen to root the teaching of Junior Cycle Philosophy in P4C (or “Philosophy for Children”) principles, these members have worked particularly closely with such key educational bodies as the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and Junior Cycle for Teachers.
Central to this collaborative work was the development of the curriculum’s foundational and elective strands. The latter included teaching and learning in classic branches of the subject (Moral Philosophy, Social and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Knowledge, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Art) as well as less typical and more innovative areas (Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Sport, Philosophy of Science and Technology).
In line with the broader vision of Junior Cycle reform, the pedagogical focus in all of these areas was less on content knowledge and more on the development of key attributes and skills. It is for this reason that the P4C pedagogy has been placed at the very heart of the new curriculum. Through the study of philosophy in this open-ended and dialogic form, it is hoped that Junior Cycle students develop the key educational capacities of logic and critique, of creativity and care, of clearly articulating their perspectives while listening respectfully to the perspectives of others. Matching the democratic vision of P4C founder, Professor Matthew Lipman, Junior Cycle Philosophy develops the ability in students to imagine as well as to reason. It teaches its young people to speak out but not to speak out of turn. Most importantly of all, it teaches its young people how to disagree without being disagreeable.
For Junior Cycle Philosophy, the consultation process has now concluded and the finalized course will be available to schools from September 2017. For teachers and facilitators of this new curriculum, Philosophy Ireland is now developing targeted training and support. We owe our website designer, Sabrina Keenan, a particular debt of gratitude as she continues to manage and update our online resources. On November 3rd and 4th 2016, we hosted our first P4C training days at Maynooth and UCD Schools of Education. With the guidance of Marelle Rice, a P4C expert with over fifteen years of experience, teachers and students from across Ireland came together to discuss the new Junior Cycle Short Course and to share teaching practice and resources. We have plans to deliver similar training events in Cork and Galway in early 2017.
On November 19th 2016, the members of Philosophy Ireland and their guests were invited by President Michael D. Higgins and Mrs. Higgins to celebrate World Philosophy Day at Áras an Uachtaráin.
In a stirring and special address to those in attendance, the President acknowledged the inextricable bond between philosophy and education. “As President of Ireland”, he said, “I fully support Philosophy Ireland’s commitment to developing the practice of philosophy in Irish schools”. He continued: “An exposure to philosophy is vital if we truly want our young people to acquire the capacities they need in preparing for their journey into the world. They will be wiser travellers on that journey if they know to use as their compass the critical abilities, the openness to pluralism and the ethical awareness that an openness to philosophy can bring”.
We are thrilled that the importance of philosophy has been acknowledged so publicly by our visionary and eloquent President. Following this most welcome recognition, Philosophy Ireland aims in the coming months and years to build further on our initial outreach and curricular effort. As we rally teachers, parents and community workers to our common cause, we have much work still to do. Many practical and pedagogical issues are in need of development and finesse. Indeed, no more than Irish Rail – that bastion of thoroughgoing and thoughtful critique – we are not there yet but we are getting there.
For further information about Philosophy Ireland or to get in touch with any of our members, please visit our website at www.philosophyireland.ie.
Dr. Áine Mahon is Lecturer in Philosophy of Education at University College Dublin.