Category Archives: Articles

Punishment

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

 

Background

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Socrates is walking through the streets of Western Heights, a small town in the country of New Zealand. Feeling rather hungry, he decides to visit a café for food and coffee. As he is about to enter, he bumps into his old friend Greg, the owner of the café.

Persons of the dialog

Socrates
Greg

 

Socrates: It is good to see you Greg. It has been too long, my friend.

Greg: Two years I think.

Socrates: I remember last time we talked, you told me about your interest in opening your own café. Did you go ahead with this?

Greg: Yes indeed. This is my place. I have been running this café for nearly a year. It’s been hard work, but I think I’m now on top of things.

Socrates: I hear there are long hours involved in running cafés and other such businesses.

Greg: It is a seven-day a week job.

Socrates: If that is the case, it is no surprise that you say it is hard work. You surely deserve to take some time off. Do you employ staff?

Greg: Yes, I have a few part-time employees.

Socrates: Well, perhaps they can take care of business while you have a day off. You can turn a seven-day a week job into a six-day a week job.

Greg: I wish I could, but I can’t rely on the staff. I have had a bad run with employees. On more than one occasion I have caught them stealing from me.

Socrates: I am sorry to hear that, my friend. To suffer an injustice can be a troubling experience. May I ask, what was your response?

Greg: I sacked them. I was very angry. The legal system didn’t give them nearly the punishment they deserved. People get off lightly these days.

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Philosophy in Schools

A Socratic Dialogue
By BRENT SILBY

Click here to download the PDF for reading in a page-by-page format

 

Background

Over recent years there has been a growing movement pushing for the inclusion of Philosophy in schools.[1]

As a subject, Philosophy is broad. It can be separated into many sub-disciplines such as Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Mind, Ethics, and Philosophy of Science, to name a few. These sub-disciplines reduce back to three broad pillars of Philosophy: Epistemology, Metaphysics, and Axiology.

Regardless of where one’s philosophical interest sits, the essential skill set remains the same. This is the ability to reason. Philosophers produce rationally convincing arguments and critically assess the arguments of others.

In this fictional dialogue Socrates meets with Allison Fells, the Principal of Western Heights School, to discuss the inclusion of Philosophy in the school curriculum. Socrates has been running a successful Philosophy club at school and believes that students would benefit through the extension of the club into the regular school curriculum. Socrates argues that Philosophy equips students with the skill set needed to live the good life.

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Self Driving Cars

A philosophical discussion starter
By BRENT SILBY

[For teachers, click here to download article and lesson plan]

Driving can be an exhilarating experience. The thrill of negotiating the interesting bends on a hilly country drive is a joy to many. At other times driving can be downright boring. The mind-numbingly dull drive through peak hour traffic is something most of us try to avoid. For many people, owning an autonomous vehicle – a car that can drive itself – would be something of a dream come true. No more boring traffic congestion. The car can worry about traffic while we pursue more worthy endeavors such as reading a book, watching a movie, or catching up with our social networks. It sounds promising, and many people are lining up to be among the first to own an autonomous car. However, as is often the case, benefits come at a cost. In the case of autonomous cars, the cost is a loss of driver control. For a car to be fully autonomous, the driver must relinquish some of their own autonomy – specifically, the autonomy to choose a course of action in a life-threatening situation.
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Do Schools Kill Creativity – A Response to Ken Robinson

By BRENT SILBY

Robinson argues that schools are primarily concerned with conformity and that this has a negative impact on creativity. He suggests that by grouping students by age, delivering a standard curriculum, and testing them against standardized criteria, schools are essentially diminishing the individuality and creativity of students. In his Do Schools Kill Creativity TED Talk, Robinson states that:

“…all kids have tremendous talents. And we squander them, pretty ruthlessly.” He goes on to suggest that “creativity is now as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status”. (Robinson 2006).

Robinson seems to be implying that schools currently place little value on creativity. He is also creating a distinction between literacy and creativity, suggesting that somehow schools value one but not the other. But literacy and creativity go hand-in-hand. A highly literate person can become hugely creative in the production of written works. It is not the case that schools favor literacy over creativity. Schools encourage both. Furthermore, in other areas of creativity, schools excel. During their life in school, students are exposed to an immense array of creative endeavors from music to visual art; from fiction to game design. It is simply false that schools place little value on creativity. Robinson, himself, is a product of what he might call “traditional schooling”, and he is clearly creative. Arguably the most creative people on the planet are the products of traditional schooling. Given the fact that there is so much creativity in society, it seems to be misleading to make the bold claim that “schools educate the creativity out of kids”. Continue reading

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Humans Need Not Apply – a comment

By BRENT SILBY

Last week I happened to come across a short video about the mechanisation of the work-place. The video examined the history of tool use and argued that we humans are constantly driven to extend our capabilities through the automation of mundane, or difficult, tasks. The central point of the video was to show that automation does not only apply to physical tasks. It also applies to mental tasks, such as computer programming. They argued that automation of manual jobs has shifted the workforce to office-based employment, but that this is a short-term change. Future automation of office-based work will lead to massive redundancies in the middle-class, which will lead to increasing levels of poverty. Continue reading

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Philosophy’s Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

BY BRENT SILBY

Recently, a number of prominent scientists have made the bold claim that philosophy has outlived its usefulness. On the very first page of his book The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking states that “Philosophy is dead”. Physicist Lawrence Krauss argues that philosophy might be an interesting intellectual endeavor, but it has nothing useful to say to science. Although he doesn’t explicitly state it, he seems to be implying that philosophy is sort of like an intellectual game, which is fun to play for its own sake, but has no real-world application. Continue reading

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Astrology: Does it work?

(an introduction to skepticism)

By BRENT SILBY

We’ve all done it. It usually happens in a moment of weakness. You see the newspaper sitting on the table, inviting you to take a little peak into your future. Quickly you turn to the horoscope section and browse down the list until you find your star sign. With baited breathe, you read through the short paragraph to find out what events are in store for you over the next few days. Often the predictions seem vague, almost like they aren’t yours. But occasionally something fits and you find yourself exclaiming, in a moment of clarity, “ah, yes, of course…I understand”. Continue reading

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Hackschooling?

BY BRENT SILBY

The TEDx talk below by 13 year old Logan LaPlant is spreading around various sites dedicated to “unschooling”. It is being promoted as an argument for alternative approaches to education. I am impressed with the articulation and confidence this young person demonstrates. But does he make a rationally convincing argument?

When talking about writing, LaPlant claims that he was turned off because “my teachers used to make me write about butterflies and rainbows, but I wanted to write about skiing”. I wonder if he’s being entirely honest here. Every teacher I know encourages students to write about what they know. He might be referring to that imaginary classroom that often comes up in these sorts of presentations. This imaginary classroom constitutes part of an often used strawman argument that characterizes schools as authoritarian institutions in which children are strapped into their seats with teachers shoehorning information into their heads.
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Is Problem-Based Learning Superior to Direct Instruction?

BY BRENT SILBY

Alfie Kohn (2008) argues that techniques found in Progressive Education, such as problem-based learning, are superior to direct instruction. His argument is based upon research carried out primarily with children ranging from preschool to year 3 of primary (elementary) schooling.
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Rethinking Education – A Response to Sugata Mitra

BY BRENT SILBY

In his recent article “Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education”, Sugata Mitra argues that our education system needs to change. He suggests that the existence of modern technologies such as Google make the skills of the past obsolete. For Mitra, the only reason we continue to teach skills such as longhand multiplication is because we have some sort of romantic attachment to the past.

I worry that Mitra is downplaying the importance of the skills we teach in school. I’m also concerned that his views devalue knowledge. Mitra claims that:

“It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete” (Mitra 2013a)

In this series of posts I will break Mitra’s Guardian article down and offer a critical response to each of his points. Continue reading

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