At Bedales pre-prep Dunannie, little people are encouraged to think about big ideas. This academic year, pupils in Year 3 (age 7 – 8 years) have started dedicated lessons in philosophy led by Bedales head of philosophy, Clare Jarmy and Dunannie Year 3 teacher Catherine Claasen.
These sessions follow the form of a Community of Inquiry, where students have a stimulus for discussion, break into groups, and reassemble to address big questions. Students have asked whether we can know that this world is not a dream, whether there would be any reason to be good if you were invisible, and whether we can think of nothing, among many other things. When they were discussing nothingness, the children were also asked to listen to a unique orchestral recording by John Cage entitled ‘4 minutes & 33 seconds’ and give their own opinions on what he was trying to achieve through devising the piece.
The children took part in a three schools’ video on Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (PRE), which featured students across Dunannie, Dunhurst and Bedales and their thoughts on philosophy.
At Bedales, an innovative curriculum, where students study everything from time travel to artificial intelligence, to whether good is only what society permits, is augmented with lectures and workshops with professional philosophers. Nigel Warburton, who is one of the most celebrated interpreters of philosophy for a younger audience, is the judge for the Bedales Philosophy Essay Prize.
Last term the school welcomed its first ever Philosopher in Residence, Professor Keith Ward, Emeritus Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. Professor Ward spent time discussing philosophical questions with students, including such diverse topics as the nature and possibility of a utopia, whether genes define us, ethics, religious language, the existence of evil, quantum physics and the nature of reality. In addition to partaking in intellectual debate, the students benefitted from his advice on their studies and university.
On the subject of PRE, Clare Jarmy, head of philosophy, religion and ethics at Bedales commented that; “Among educationalists, philosophy is accepted as a means to develop more complex and rigorous thinking in students. What is so refreshing about Bedales is that philosophical thinking is utterly embedded in both the curriculum and the mindset of the school. Talk of ethics doesn’t begin or end when students walk into or out of my classroom, but can be seen in the work of The Green Committee, The Vegetarian and Vegan Society, Amnesty and numerous other student ventures. Bedalians can and do live by what they believe in, which gives the experience of teaching PRE a real richness.”
This term, Bedales welcomed Father Luke Jolly of Worth Abbey as Contemplative in Residence. As part of his stay, Fr Luke ran a special school assembly, know in Bedales as a ‘Jaw’, on the topic of vocations. Fr Luke also accompanied the students on walks around the school’s estate and a special early morning walk to the Poet’s Stone with breakfast. His stay gave the students some respite between study and exam revision to enjoy calm and quiet reflection.
Commenting on the Bedales approach to philosophy education from age 7, Jo Webbern, head of Dunannie said; “In their first lesson, the children really embraced the questions that were posed to them and enjoyed expressing their thoughts with some impressive answers. Given the successful take-up of philosophy in Year 3, the next step is to roll-out these classes to our youngest children. It is not only a fascinating subject for the children to explore but is also an essential part of what makes us unique at Bedales – inspiring a love of learning by developing independent thought and enquiring minds.”