A digital face-lift will bring a unique high school elective that fuses the work of Renaissance philosophers with modern science, society and politics even further into the 21st century.
From next year Our Lady of Mercy Catholic College Burraneer will trial blended and online learning modules for ‘Philosophy by the Bay’, an elective developed for Year 9 students by the school’s gifted education facilitator and teacher Kerrie Ramsay to explicitly teach critical thinking skills.
The course has run at the college since 2015 after the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) endorsed it. It crosses topics such as science, politics, history, literature, power and truth, and gives students a framework to connect with the world and their studies on a deeper level.
Ms Ramsay said moving to a combination of online and face-to-face lessons will give the course longevity and allow other schools to take part. Whether discussing the ethical algorithms programmed into driver less cars or whether journalists have an ethical obligation to help the people they encounter while reporting on conflicts in foreign countries, there is an emphasis not on what to think, but how.
‘It’s always topical and the philosophers become another opinion to draw into the discussion,’ Mrs Ramsay said. ‘It’s really about the concepts and the students’ own thinking and ideas.’
“We look at social media and the influence of media in general when it comes to concepts like power, truth and ethics. In truth, Donald Trump gets a good run, in ethics it’s around technology, gene editing and other scientific areas and the day-to-day ethics of an OLMC girl.’
‘They find it interesting that the philosophers were asking the same questions we are asking ourselves today. Immanuel Kant would talk about whether it was ever okay to tell a lie. Some would agree and some would disagree but they would know their mothers are probably quoting him without knowing. It’s very interesting to see the parallels between the past and present.’
Year 10 students including Tegan Whitelegg and Amity Reynolds value the freedom of thinking and discussion the course provides.
‘You can extend your own knowledge by listening to other people’s opinions and have your own, knowing it won’t be held against you,’ Tegan said. ‘It’s a really good environment.’
Amity said discussion in Philosophy was wider than in other classes.
‘In Philosophy we’re allowed to delve into different hypothetical situations so we understand a lot more of how those topics relate to our lives and the decisions that we make,’ she said. ‘Everyone is in good spirits even though they may disagree. I really like that when assessments are due, I don’t feel pressured to think in a specific way or do a specific thing. We follow the curriculum, but we still have our own opinions.’
Lily McAdam said the class also explored the ethics of day-to-day scenarios, including when discipline is given wrongly based on the prior reputation of students involved in a fight, or someone is unfairly promoted within the student leadership team.
‘We’re all really respectful of each others’ opinions, personal experiences and how they adapt that to the topic we’re talking about,’ Lily said. ‘We use a lot of the skills we develop in philosophy, like essay writing, across other subjects.’
With a greater affinity for Mathematics than the humanities, Genevieve De Gioia said she was skeptical the subject would be right for her but has enjoyed it.
‘There’s an openness to give the ideas that we really think’” she said. ‘It has become one of my favourite subjects.’