Philosophy Matters Conference | Preshil
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Principal’s Blog

By August 13, 2014 Blogs, Word from the Principal

Philosophy Matters Conference
Recently, Preshil hosted the “Philosophy Matters Conference” at the Senior School. We are delighted with the success of this venture and will use the feedback from participants to plan our next conference.

Our VCE Philosophy teacher, Dr Lenny Robinson-McCarthy and I have discussed running such an event for quite some time. This year we have also had James Watt, a State Reviewer for VCE Philosophy, teaching at Preshil and so the time seemed ripe. VCE Philosophy at Preshil has had a strong following for many years and, as a school with a deep commitment to ideas, it has seemed particularly appropriate to offer such an opportunity for students and teachers from other schools to get together.

This year we have included a philosophy subject as part of the ever expanding and innovative Activities Program, so this term, for example, students from across Years 7 to 10 are engaged in grappling with “The Meaning of Life” as part of their weekly program. Philosophy is a very appropriate area of study for the Middle Years Program, with its strong emphasis on questioning and open-mindedness as fundamental to reflective and principled learning.

We are also keen to extend Philosophy throughout the Junior School. The whole basis of communities of enquiry sits easily within our traditional culture of student meetings, where respectful listening, sharing and acceptance of different views are learned, supported and practised.

While the philosophy conference set out to support senior secondary students and their teachers it generated great interest within our own community and the wider network of Philosophy in Schools. The eagerness to participate in the conference was very encouraging and we found that the limited places we could offer were quickly oversubscribed. The experience has given us sufficient confidence to seek a much bigger and more sophisticated venue than we currently have at the school. During the time I have been at Preshil we have faced, again and again, the realisation that our students and teachers need an expansive performance, exhibition and conference space; a space that does not set out to impress, but can accommodate rich and exciting events such as this one.

Professor Peter Singer, a proud Preshil alumna, was our keynote speaker and it was a very humbling moment to have him tell the audience that he had ‘learned to question’ during his primary years at Arlington. This capacity to question conventional wisdom and not to be satisfied with simply maintaining the status quo is a powerful element in Preshil’s underlying ethos, summed up in our ‘Courage to Question’ motto. Rigorous questioning is not confined to philosophical argument; it is the means of advancing all human knowledge and creative expression. That Peter Singer has been identified as one of the most influential thinkers in the world today is testament to the power of philosophy to influence and shape our society.

Together with Professor Singer and several other eminent philosophers, it was an honour to welcome back some of our more recent alumni; Chris Dite, a Premier’s Prize recipient, and Jordan Oakley, as well as his father, Associate Professor Justin Oakley, who is the Deputy Director of Bioethics at Monash University.

The conference reinforced our commitment to having our students to do much more than simply trot out the ‘right answer’. Preshil wants our students, and their parents, to ask the hard questions, to create their own solutions and find their own truths.