philosophical response to a question about educational policy or practice

  1. A 2,000 word essay developing a philosophical response to a question about educational policy or practice.

 

General guidance on writing philosophy

 

If you have not studied any philosophy before, you may find that writing a philosophy assignment is quite different from other academic writing that you may have undertaken.  Philosophy relies centrally on argument – both analysing the arguments of others and working out your own – and not primarily on gathering data.  So while you will certainly need to read up on a topic before you can engage in the arguments, your own thinking, reflection and writing are really what constitute the process of undertaking a piece of philosophical work. Often, you may find that it will only be in the process of writing that you can fully work out your argument.

 

It is therefore crucial that you pay particular attention to the quality of your written work.  This means ensuring that you express your thoughts and ideas clearly, and structure your work carefully. Often this is best achieved by dividing the work into sections with subheadings.  It is useful to have an introduction, which may be only a paragraph or two, outlining your structure; to ‘signpost’ where you are going from time to time; and to draw the argument together in a conclusion.

 

In the course of the module, and through your readings, you will encounter ideas, positions and distinctions developed by philosophers both ancient and modern. It is important that you are able to demonstrate an understanding of these philosophical ideas and that, in your written work, you are able to explain them clearly in your own words. But what we really want to do is to encourage and enable you to develop your own views and arguments about important (and educationally relevant) issues, based on the philosophical work that you have engaged with. So in your written work, you are expected to express your own views and to say what you think about a particular issue and, importantly, why you think it.  This means not only articulating a clear position on the topic you are writing about, but defending it. There are various ways you can do this, including drawing on personal experience or examples in order to illustrate a point you want to make; referring to an existing argument in the relevant literature and clarifying to the reader why you find it compelling; appealing to reason; citing empirical evidence, or a combination of all of these.  What is essential is to avoid making very general statements or assertions without trying to explain what you mean by them or why you believe them to be true.

Here is an example that will help to make sense of the above general advice.

Someone could, for example, write the following sentence in an essay:

“The aim of education is to prepare children to be productive members of society”.

If I was reading this, I would probably respond in the following way:

  • This sounds far too general. Do you mean that this is always the aim of education, everywhere in the world, or that it is the aim of education in contemporary Britain?
  • Are you saying that this is the stated aim of state education, as determined by policy makers? If so, perhaps it is better described as “the aim of schooling”, as there are many educational processes that children undergo that are not part of formal schooling.
  • If you are saying that this is the official aim of formal education in England (or elsewhere), where is this evident? Is it explicitly stated in policy documents? Is it reflected in the aims of the curriculum? Do you see evidence of it in teaching practices, or in the ways in which schools are organized?
  • Or are you perhaps saying that you believe that this should be the aim of education? If so, why? One could certainly suggest that there are other, more important aims of education: for example, I could say that “the aim of education is to teach children how to be decent moral human beings”; or “the aim of education is to pass on cultural values and traditions”. These are all normative statements, meaning that they involve values and ideas about what is good or important in life. So defending such statements means reflecting on what values are involved in them, and why certain values are more important than others; or perhaps who they are important to.
  • You may be referring to a theoretical position you have encountered in your reading. Some theoretical positions about such questions as the aims of education may be very well developed by philosophers, and very influential and familiar. But that does not mean that you have to agree with them. Sometimes explaining why you disagree with somebody else’s position can also be a valuable philosophical exercise.
  • Reflecting on this question and all the possible objections to it could lead one to wonder whether it even makes sense to ask such a question. Can we, or anyone, determine what “the aim of education” should be?
  • There are also questions one could ask about the terms used in this statement. For example, what is meant by the phrase “a productive member of society”? Would this exclude, for example, someone who lives a solitary life of religious contemplation? What ways if life are implicitly valued in this statement, and what does this tell us about the aims of education in our society?

I could go on and on like this, but the point is not to show how philosophy requires that you always define every term you are using unambiguously or that you anticipate every possible question and provide a watertight answer to it. The point is to encourage you to reflect on why you believe certain positions or ideas are valuable and worth defending, and to articulate this reflection in your writing.

This will probably sound very vague and possibly daunting. The important thing to remember is that writing philosophy, to the extent that it can be thought of as a skill, is a skill that one can only learn through practice. The more philosophy you read, the more you engage in philosophical discussion with your peers and tutors, the more you practice pieces of philosophical writing, the more you will come to feel that you can do philosophy and, hopefully, the more you will enjoy it.

Finally, a good habit to adopt is to read your essay out loud to a friend, family member or colleague when you have finished writing it. See if it makes sense to them and if it sounds coherent. If it does, you are probably on the right track.

 

You may find the following online resources on writing philosophy useful:

 

http://www.hps.cam.ac.uk/research/wp.html

 

http://www.sfu.ca/philosophy/writing.htm

 

General Assessment Guidance

 

The expectations of this piece of assessment are:

 

  1. That you choose a topic that is educationally relevant. This could be a topical issue to do with current educational policy in the UK or in other international contexts; for example, selective schooling, and parental choice in education.

 

  1. That you articulate a question about it that is philosophical in nature, rather than empirical. Given the length of the assignment, it is not a good idea to choose a very broad question – e.g. “What are the aims of education?”  – as you will not be able to go into it in sufficient depth.

 

  1. That you demonstrate to the reader that you have understood what form a philosophical response to your question could take. We do not expect you to produce a fully developed philosophical argument, but we do expect to see some independent argument in your essay (see above guidelines on writing philosophy). What we are looking for here is evidence that you have thought about the topic and formed your own view on it, and that you are able to present and defend this in a compelling manner.

 

  1. That you show that you have engaged with some of the relevant philosophical literature on your chosen topic. Again, there is no expectation that you offer a comprehensive literature review of everything that philosophers have had to say on a given topic, but we are looking for evidence of understanding of and reflection on some philosophical work, either from the module readings or from broader philosophical literature that you have identified.

 

  1. That you present your work in a clearly written style and that you pay particular attention to referencing conventions

 

 

 

Specific aspects of the marking criteria (see below) that will be drawn on when assessing the assignment:

 

Knowledge & understanding:

  • Evidence that your writing is informed by an understanding of the relevant philosophical literature.
  • Evidence that you have understood and reflected on the ideas and concepts you are working with; including an awareness of any possible tensions and complexities involved in them.
  • Evidence that you have reflected on the relationship between the philosophical and the empirical aspects of your topic.

Intellectual skills:

  • A clear, logical structure to your writing, so that the reader can follow your argument throughout the text.
  • Careful and appropriate use of quotes from relevant sources, examples or empirical data to support and/or illustrate the claims that you are making

Scholarly practices:

  • Careful, complete and accurate referencing
  • Engagement with a range of relevant literature, as appropriate (preferably more than one source).

 

 

 

 

Referencing and Plagiarism

The similarities need to less than 10% and a 2000 word essay needs at least 10 references.

 

The preferred style of referencing in our discipline is the Harvard Referencing System, often known as “the author and date system.” There are numerous online guides and examples to help you ensure that you reference your sources correctly.

The general principle in referencing is that the reader should be able to follow up your references.  This means giving the full details that would enable any reference to be traced, including publisher, place of publication, date, and page reference for quotations.

 

 

The following are two topics I learned in this module. You can only relate one of these topics to the essay question.  Or you can just come up with a question that related to education as the essay question just like the guidance said before. For the record, you need to send the question to me when you’ve settled the question. And I want to make sure that I am satisfying with the essay question.

 

1.Questions about Faith and Secularism in Education

 

In this session some ways in which philosophers, especially philosophers of education, have addressed issues to do with religious belief and practice. You can explore how questions to do with the role of religion in children’s education and upbringing connect with broader questions about the nature of liberal society, ideas about public education and the common school, the value of autonomy, and the rights of parents and children.

The following are some readings may useful.

Essential Readings

 

Haydon, Graham (1994) “Conceptions of the Secular in Society, Polity and Schools”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 28, No. 1, pp. 65-75.

 

 

Recommended Additional Readings

 

Alexander, H. and McLaughlin, T. (2003) “Education in Religion and Spirituality”, in Blake, Nigel et al (Eds) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education.

 

Bhargava, Rajeev (2010) “States, Religious Diversity, and the Crisis of Secularism”,Hedgehog Review12: 822.

http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/THR_article_2010_Fall_Bhargava.php

 

Craig, William Lane and Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter (2007) “God and Objective Morality: A Debate”, in Russ Shafer-Landau (Ed) Ethical Theory, Blackwell.

 

Gardner, Peter (1988) “Religious Upbringing and the Liberal Ideal of Religious Autonomy”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 89-105.

 

Hobson, Peter R. and Edwards, John (1999) Religious Education in a Pluralist Society: The Key Philosophical Issues, Routledge.

 

McLaughlin, Terence (1984) “Parental Rights and the Liberal Upbringing of Children”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 75-83.

 

Modood, Tariq (2010)“Moderate Secularism, Religion as Identity and Respect for Religion”, Political Quarterly81, pp.4–14.

 

Williams, Kevin (2007) “Religious Worldviews and the Common School: The French Dilemma”, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 41, No. 4, pp. 675–692.

 

Zagzebski, Linda (1987) “Does Ethics Need God?” Christianity and Ethical Theory, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 294-303.

 

2.Philosophy and Race: Questions of Identity and Difference

 
In this session we will discuss how questions about “who and what we are” raise philosophically important and interesting issues to do with identity and difference, and how these issues have been addressed by philosophers working within the growing field of the critical philosophy of race. We will explore some of the arguments developed by philosophers working within this field and their epistemological, political and moral significance, with a focus on their relevance for central questions about the content, control and provision of education.

 

 

Essential Readings

 

Mills, Charles (1998) “’But what are you really?’ The Metaphysics of Race”, in Mills, C. Blackness Visible; Essays on Philosophy and Race, Cornell University Press, pp. 41-66.

 

 

Recommended Additional Readings

 

Boyd, Dwight (1997) “The Place of Locating Oneself/(ves)/Myself(ves) in Doing Philosophy of Education” (PES Yearbook)

http://ojs.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/pes/article/viewFile/2164/859

 

Fanon, Frantz (2008) (1952) Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press.

 

hooks, bell (1987) Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, Pluto Press.

 

Mills, Charles (2015) “Decolonizing Western Political Philosophy,” New Political Science, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 1-24.

 

Willinsky, John (1998) Learning to Divide the World; Education at Empire’s End, University of Minnesota Press.

 

Yancy, George (2012) (Ed.) Reframing the Practice of Philosophy: Bodies of Color, Bodies of Knowledge. SUNY Press (2012).

 

Yancy, George (2008) “Elevators, Social Spaces and Racism: A Philosophical Analysis.” Philosophy & Social Criticism, Vol. 34, No. 8, 2008: 827-860.

 

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