Philosophy education has the potential to contribute to the development of a more thoughtful and inquiring society. Where philosophy has been integrated into teaching programs, there is a small but growing body of evidence that it can greatly improve both academic and social outcomes.
In a recent literature review entitled ‘Benefits of Collaborative Philosophical Inquiry in Schools’ published in the journalEducational Philosophy and Theory in 2011, Australian academics Stephan Millett and Alan Tapper examine a number of well-designed research studies which show that the practice of collaborative philosophical inquiry in schools can have marked cognitive and social benefits. Student academic performance improves, and so too does the social dimension of schooling. Millett and Tapper’s paper gives a brief history of collaborative philosophical inquiry before surveying the evidence as to its effectiveness.The evidence is canvassed under two categories: schooling and thinking skills; and schooling, socialisation and values. In both categories there is clear evidence that even short-term teaching of collaborative philosophical inquiry has marked positive effects on students.The paper concludes with suggestions for further research and a final claim that the presently-available research evidence is strong enough to warrant implementing collaborative philosophical inquiry as part of a long-term policy.
A selection of other studies are outlined below.
On its website Quality Teaching, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) reports favourably on the Learning to Think: Philosophy in the Classroom project implemented at Buranda State School in Queensland. This project achieved significant and measurable improvements in students’ learning outcomes, with students achieving academic results well above state and national means. The social behaviour of the students has also improved to the extent that there is now little or no bullying at the school and student enrolments have quadrupled.
On 4/11/2008, the BBC published an article entitled Classroom philosophy proves a hit. It reported that Clackmannanshire Council in Scotland introduced Philosophy as part of its Curriculum for Excellence programme. The article reports on research by senior psychologist Professor Keith Topping in conjunction with senior educational psychologist Dr Steve Trickey of the University of Dundee. It states that a detailed evaluation of the ClackmannanshireThinking through Philosophy project provided evidence that collaborative enquiry can enable pupils to think more independently, communicate more confidently and ultimately become more successful learners.
As philosopher Stephen Law reports in Can children think philosophically?, after one year of undertaking the Clackmannanshire philosophy program,
• The incidence of children supporting opinion with evidence doubled, but ‘control’ classes remained unchanged.
• There was evidence that children’s self-esteem and confidence rose markedly.
• The incidence of teachers asking open-ended questions (to better develop enquiry) doubled.
• There was evidence that class ethos and discipline improved noticeably.
• The ratio of teacher/pupil talk halved for teachers and doubled for pupils. Controls remained the same.
• All classes improved significantly (statistically) in verbal, non-verbal, and quantitative reasoning. No control class changed. This means children were more intelligent (av. 6.5 IQ points) after one year on the programme.
As Stephen Law recounts, these benefits were retained. “When the children were tested again at 14, after two years at secondary school without a philosophy programme, their CAT scores were exactly the same (that’s to say, the improvements that had previously been gained were retained), while the control group scores actually went down during those two years. Three secondary schools were involved and the results replicated themselves over each school.” Findings from this follow-up study are published by the British Psychological Society in Topping, K.J & Trickey, S., ‘Collaborative philosophical inquiry for schoolchildren: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up’. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 77, Number 4, December 2007 , pp. 787-796(10)
While there is certainly much scope for further research, a growing body of evidence indicates that learning Philosophy offers students an array of academic, social and emotional benefits.
A list of numerous research studies investigating the impact of Philosophy on children’s cognitive, social and affective skills is available on the research page of Montclair State University’s Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children.
The Teaching Philosophy Database seeks to provide bibliographical references on the Teaching of Philosophy at different levels. The construction of the database is part of a research project coordinated at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ). To search the database visit the website.