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Chileans Defend Critical Thinking as Officials Consider Changing High School Philosophy Class

Philosophy

Recent controversy over changes in school curricula and the possibility of changing student inclinations towards studying Philosophy have Chileans reflecting on the importance of which subjects should be offered in schools. Photo taken by Pixabay. Licensed under Public Domain.

This week in Chile, social networks, academia, and the general public were abuzz with the news that philosophy might be removed from the list of required courses for high school juniors and seniors.

At first, it was reported that this change would turn philosophy into an optional course or even make it a part of the subject material covered in civic education class. However, the Ministry of Education responded saying that the proposal, far from limiting student access, sought to standardize the curriculum nationwide to make the subject more accessible for the majority of students.

The fate of philosophy class hasn't yet been decided, but in spite of this, many see the idea of meddling with the current set-up as something profoundly problematic. The ongoing debate involves deans, university authorities, professors, and, of course, the media. In any event, many believe philosophy's very presence in schools is being threatened.

Academics like Adolfo Estrella argued on the website El Desconcierto (which in Spanish means “bewilderment”) that philosophy should be one part of a complete curriculum that fosters critical thinking across different activities and school subjects:

(…) la Filosofía se defiende por sí sola. La asignatura de Filosofía, por su parte, merece ser defendida […]

[…] philosophy defends itself. The philosophy course, in turn, deserves to be defended […]

César Guadalupe, a professor and researcher at Peru's University of the Pacific, said in regards to the annexation of philosophy class into the civic education program that the most important thing was understanding that civic education imparts “legal, formal, patriotic, and philosophic” knowledge. For Guadalupe, it is essential to ask, “In the end, what is it that we want children to learn in school? Knowledge about certain subjects or an ensemble of abilities?” And, if it's the latter, “Which of those abilities do we want to reinforce?”

Guido Larson, a teacher for the Humanities Institute at Chile's Universidad del Desarrollo (in Spanish, University for Development), for his part commented that the proposed changes — whatever they are — don't seem to be well thought out.

And Guadalupe insisted that critical thinking is not exclusive to one subject:

El pensamiento crítico es una habilidad, una competencia que debe desarrollarse en la física, en las matemáticas, en la psicología o en la materia que sea. Uno puede reflexionar críticamente sobre la materia que desee.

Critical thinking is an ability, a competency that should be developed in physics, in mathematics, in psychology, or in any subject. One can critically reflect on the subject that one desires.

On the other hand, and in a bitingly ironic manner, Hernán Neira criticized the Ministry's plan:

Señora Ministra: tiene Ud. razón en eliminar Filosofía, ramo pérfido e inútil. Nuestros compatriotas, por ella, se preguntan cada día más por el sentido de la vida y quieren volver a ser humanos, hartos de ser consumidores de bienes materiales e inmateriales, como Educación Cívica.

Madame Minister: You're right to eliminate philosophy, that deceitful and useless study [from the educational program]. Because of it, our compatriots increasingly ask themselves about the meaning of life. They wish to once again be human beings, sick to death of being consumers of material and immaterial goods like civic education.

‘Philosophy is not a bargaining chip in Chile's market-driven education’

In a giant, endless mess of messages, Chileans expressed their opinion on what some considered to be a step that's consistent with the state of education in the country, with its high costs and a structure that many see as devoted to satisfy economic needs only. One can follow the conversation at #Derechoalafilosofía (#RightToPhilosophy), which has continuous opinions, articles, and debates:

A #Chile without memory, without civic education, without philosophy, without history, is destined for a most emphatic disaster

Others, in defending philosophy, asked the minister to roll any changes back or to do a better analysis that would allow this and other changes to be more effective.

“[Madame] Minister, throw out all of these weird ideas on cheap efficiency”

Philosophy, civics, any change requires teacher validation, and in Chile it has not been given. Hence the failures and constant experimentation

Even the Network of Chilean Philosophy Professors (REPROFICH) launched a campaign called “Petition to the Chilean Ministry of Education. A Defense of the Right to Philosophy” through the website Change.org. They hope to collect 2,500 signatures in order to validate academic and citizen opinions that align against the curricular alteration. At the moment of this article's publication, the page had gathered 1,830 signatures.

Among the demonstrations of support for the unrestricted presence of philosophy in classrooms, the Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso shared a debate they hosted called “Defending Philosophy.” Both students and professors participated, defending the study of philosophy as something more than an accumulation of knowledge or an element within “Chile's market-driven education.” The participants’ main concern centered around the possibility of philosophy disappearing from schools due to educational disinterest once the class becomes optional or part of the class material for civic education courses. They believe that, considering the competitive structures that surround formal schooling in Chile, this fear could become a reality.

The discussion remains open, although it is hoped that both sides will eventually reach an agreement. Even though this news has generated controversy within Chile, it is perhaps important to remember that just one year ago Spain said goodbye to philosophy in their schools. This could suggest that the spaces for teaching humanities and critical thinking as we know them are experiencing radical changes. The impact on the formation of youth and of citizen behavior, however, remains to be seen.

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