The need for philosophy in promoting democracy: A case for philosophy in the curriculum

Gilbert Burgh


The studies by Trickey and Topping, which provide empirical support that philosophy produces cognitive gains and social benefits, have been used to advocate the view that philosophy deserves a place in the curriculum. Arguably, the existing curriculum, built around well-established core subjects, already provides what philosophy is said to do, and, therefore, there is no case to be made for expanding it to include philosophy. However, if we take citizenship education seriously, then the development of active and informed citizens requires an emphasis on citizen preparation, but significantly more than the existing curriculum can provide, namely, the acquisition of knowledge and skills to improve students’ social and intellectual capacities and dispositions as future citizens. To this end, I argue for a model of democratic education that emphasises philosophy functioning educationally, whereby students have an integral role to play in shaping democracy through engaging in philosophy as collaborative inquiry that integrates pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. I contend that only philosophy can promote democracy, insofar as philosophical inquiry is an exemplar of the kind of deliberative inquiry required for informed and active democratic citizenship. In this way, philosophy can make a fundamental and much needed contribution to education.

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