Monday, March 14, 2016

The Philosophy of brain-power

Brains are all about connections between cells, much like a railway network, the more pathways there are the easier it is to get from A to B. Brains grow connections by being used and according to a recent study it would seem that certain types of thinking could help improve literacy and numeracy in children. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) tested the effect of teaching children philosophy through a randomized controlled trial and found that the kids who attended the courses showed an equivalent of an extra two months of teaching in reading and maths skills even though the material was not intended to improve reading or maths. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger jump, reading up by four months and maths up by three.

I've never studied Philosophy formally, it wasn't an option in the schools I attended, but as an adult I've taken a keen interest and have read widely on the subject. I can easily imagine that encouraging children to reason, formulate and ask questions using constructive conversation and argument would help them whatever their background or interests were. Confidence is key, if kids are confident they are unafraid to express themselves, they will interact more, ask more questions and consequently learn faster. In addition to this, developing skills around connecting ideas and using logic cannot be anything but beneficial. I fear that for too long Philosophy has been hijacked by religious education, I suspect that even now, most people think it has something vaguely to do with RE teaching (they are often "bundled" together); nothing could be further from the truth. In my view Philosophy (or at least the processes involved in developing philosophical ideas) should be seen as a tool that can help give our thinking power a work-out; mental exercise that helps us develop learning skills and life skills (particularly spotting logical fallacies) that are invaluable, whatever field we end up in.

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