The Young Philosophers

Opportunities they would not otherwise get

A beginning…

Andy Day (author of Numberverse) came up with the idea. He explained it to me in his kitchen one evening:

We should select young people who shine in philosophy and who would not otherwise get to see certain places and have those opportunities; then we take them there and give them those opportunities, as philosophers!

Inspired by these words (or something pretty close to them), the impact of The Philosophy Foundation’s (TPF) World Philosophy Day activities; and mindful of the lack of experiences and opportunities that many children we work with have, we set up the ‘Young Philosophers’ programme. 

The aim of the programme is to gather children from disadvantaged backgrounds and give them opportunities to engage with a cultural, professional and political world that they might not normally get to see. This will involve taking them to significant places such as parliament buildings or media offices, and engaging them with questions such as: How should we decide who leads? And what is the role of the press?

The questions are arguably the most important part. They are important questions to ask and attempting to answer them is tough, so requires a particular type of engagement. We get them to engage with the challenges and difficulties that lie behind the questions such as, should newspapers papers lie to keep the peace? If the majority elects a poor leader, should they be overruled? And by who? The pupils will also have to challenge their assumptions about how they think leaders should be chosen or how events should be reported. This kind of engagement with fundamental issues is what we mean when we say we want to take them there as philosophers.

Some philosophers from the TPF Training Team decided how to select pupils. The challenge was to avoid only targeting a pre-defined group. It would be easy to select children who are classes as Pupil Premium, but they might not necessarily be the pupils who would benefit the most. Some families with Pupil Premium provide excellent opportunities for their children, and some children not eligible for Pupil Premium have barriers to meaningful experiences and opportunities that aren’t economic. In the end we worked with teachers and took cases individually, based on a knowledge of the pupils’ background and potential. The list may not be perfect but by addressing individual cases the hope is that we are closer.

The group, which is made up of pupils from different schools, stay together from Year 6, all the way through their secondary education. This is in order to bridge the transition period which is particularly tough for many children, and to allow the peer and mentor support to continue right up until they need to make decisions about their future. Many young people lack the contacts, confidence and sense of ‘I could be one of them’ with regard to many institutions and professions. The Young Philosophers will actively and critically engage young people in parts of society that they may otherwise feel excluded from, with the aim of raising aspirations, confidence and social engagement.

In 2015-16 academic year, we have taken children from three schools on two school trips, to Goldsmith’s University and the Wildlife Gardening Centre, in East Dulwich.

Posted by Steve Hoggins on 1st August 2016 at 12:00am


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