I am working on introducing my young students to philosophical and political concepts surrounding the question of a just and fair society. I am using the work of John Rawls and Emmanuel Kant to aid my efforts.
Today I asked the group this question:
Which society would you choose:
A.) Everyone can do as they choose if it maximizes the happiness of the society
B.) Everyone can do as they choose provided it benefits the most vulnerable in society
Interestingly, the vote was 8-4 in favour of option A. In other words, the students voted for the utilitarian principle (Jeremy Bentham) as opposed to the difference principle (John Rawls). As we discuss these matters further, I will revisit this question with them.
I am currently working on an exercise for young adults and public school age children that involves exploring “the difference principle” as articulated by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice. I find this to be an especially interesting exercise as it has me thinking about how to conduct a group activity where each child/young adult has to imagine a society where the social benefits that accrue to those most well off must also improve the position of the worst off or most vulnerable. I am led to what is, for me, the inevitable question:
Do social goods like health care and public education improve the position of the most vulnerable in our society?
My answer, drawing from personal observation and experience, will have two categories: 1.) Canada. 2.) United States.
On another note, what I am interested to know is whether children & young adults find Rawls’ “difference principle” to be fundamentally fair or not. Will they find it necessary for the creation of a just society?
Apparently the English have shown that when you teach students philosophy they improve in mathematics and logical reasoning skills. I am pleased to say that I teach and discuss philosophy with my students. The Socratic approach is the very core of what I do; it’s what I’ve been doing at DEMOI for three and a half years and it is what I am also doing at The Infinity School. http://infinityschool.ca
I’m also pleased to say that my students love the challenge of thinking philosophically and would excel in any school that makes philosophy a core subject:
I must say that I am again delighted with the session I had with the philosophy discussion group. Yesterday we met a second time and discussed The God That Failed, a collection of testimonials by six writers who turned against communism.
I remain deeply impressed by the contributions of the group. Not only did they read the book with enthusiasm but they also connected the analysis of writers like Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone and André Gide to contemporary socio-economic and political problems. To witness a group of young people sit and debate ideas with intellectual commitment, personal humility and unfailing politeness is always a great joy for me and offers me hope for our social future.
At the risk of being repetitive, I just cannot help but express my delight at having the opportunity to work with such a group of engaged and committed thinkers who approach ideas with purpose and verve. Not only are the sessions delightful to participate in, but they are a personal gift to me as I am reminded why teaching is my calling. I am grateful to my students (and their parents) for reminding me of that.
–Jeremy Nathan Marks
I am looking forward to my upcoming sessions with a local “philosophy group” comprised of teenagers who have spent some months studying the works of many important historical thinkers.
Beginning this Friday we will be having five Socratic sessions which cover a range of books including The Communist Manifesto, The God That Failed, To Kill A Mockingbird, Winnipeg’s General Strike and Utopia.
It is always exciting to see students taking ideas seriously and embarking upon the work of unpacking systems of thought. Like many critics, I also believe that all too often ideas are being turned into soundbites and quotes which are divested of intellectual, socio-economic and historical context. Therefore it is a pleasure to be invited to be part of a group that is working hard to educate itself and is not afraid of an intellectual challenge.
–Jeremy Nathan Marks