Updated: Mar 29
A conversation with Kevin McArevey - a principal with philosophical mind and compassionate heart
Young Plato is a delightful and heartwarming watch. It's so well produced and its message is so powerful. What was the reception of the documentary so far?
We are blown away by how warm people have received the film and how much it touches their lives. So many different people who watched the film have so many different stories to tell how it touched their lives, people who have lost people to death and suicide, and they love how that's handled within the movie. Also how it's spoken to the children and how children are given a chance to look at it and reflect on it and talk about it in a philosophical inquiry, so it's many different things to many different people. There's so much packed within the story, history of the troubles (Belfast), there's the history of the Holy Cross Girls in 2001 and how are you seeing children respond to that. And a lot of people would comment on the rawness of the children and how they are so articulate and so confident in discussing it.
YOUNG PLATO IN CINEMAS - CLICK HERE
So why philosophy, Kevin? How did a principal of a national school in Belfast end up doing philosophy with the children?
It goes back to when I started my journey with philosophy and my degree in Queen's University. One of the years involved doing political ideologies and looking at Hobbes and Locke and Bentham and Mill and Jean Jacques Rousseau - with a wee bit of Machiavelli thrown in there for good measure. So I remember doing Thomas Hobbes, and his story around the Ship of Theseus and thinking years later, I wonder if we could apply that to children. I didn't really know how to, whether to tell them a story, let them talk about it. I needed more structure. I had a great principal, I worked under in the Holy Cross Boys’ NS called Terry Laverty who had me create the professional learning community within the school I suppose I was trying to bring teachers back to studying and to developing themselves. So I did some research, slowly getting a grip of educational researchers on thinking - Geoff Petty, Barrie Bennett and Edward de Bono (his six thinking hats). Once we had exhausted that, Terry was to retire. But before he left he said, Philosophy, bring it into the school. How can I do that? We did a bit of research and saw this guy, Pete Worley. I contacted Pete, and he said, sure, come on over. I went to London and met all the great guys of the Philosophy Foundation, they made me feel so welcome. I thought this is what I want. Although I wanted a little bit more than what they were doing. As a principal, I wanted it to be something that was within the fabric of the school, something that was permeated, embedded and infused into the curriculum - a logical way to get there. I brought it back, and the teachers were a bit reluctant, but eventually, they embraced it. And now it's a part of who we are, it's in our DNA in Holy Cross Boys’.
Lovely. You are now also in the process of publishing a book right? Would you like to tell us what it’s about?
Yes, the book is a blueprint of this incredible journey. of how we have put teaching and learning of philosophy at the heart of our curriculum. The book shows you how to bring philosophy into a school, the impact of philosophy, why we do philosophy, who the great thinkers are who I'm trying to get to the model themselves on. It also gives a history of philosophy. Going from the Greek three - the book shows the different schools of thought in philosophy to give people an idea of what these thinkers thought and how we use it today. In the book also, there are stories and philosophical inquiries written by the children through the use of Pete Worley's The If Odyssey, and how we get children to actually write. Philosophy is great for conversations and talking, but we develop the journey into writing. And the philosophical inquiries are obviously all conceptual things, and we do conceptual analysis on the different philosophical themes like loneliness, happiness, bullying or handling change, aliens, time travel and religion. Everything is contained within that book. It's called Philosophically thinking in Holy Cross Boys’ TTR PS.
What is TTR?
Think, think, respond. Whenever I ask the boys a question, I tell them Think about it, think about it and then respond. It's just part of what we do with the boys. I want them to have at least 5 seconds before answering a question.
A very prominent motif in the field is conflict. Can philosophy help with resolving conflicts in everyday life, in school life for example, and on a bigger community scale?
I think it can. The reason for us, bringing philosophy into a primary school, obviously, is to promote the mental health and well being of the children, and also as an antidote to fake news. But it's a way of connecting, it's a way of looking in at your emotions. And also, why is it people are doing things they do? Can we challenge it, what way do we challenge it? What strategies do we have? I think if children know what their triggers are, what is it that triggers their emotion of anger, and how can we deal with that? What strategies we have in place whenever these are triggered, because, you know, philosophy is the balm for the wounds of life. And that's what we're trying to show to these kids - you may be able to control that trigger you maybe not, but you recognise the trigger, you may be able to control the emotion that comes after. But you're starting to see triggers. And when these emotions come, you can recognise them and think here are the strategies that Seneca would have told us about 2020 years ago. It's amazing that our children, and you see this in the film, are thinking the same way as this great stoic philosopher. And so philosophy in a way can help us all deal with pressures or stresses. Boethius was talking about the consolation effect of philosophy and a lot of people will argue that you can't really get your consolation from philosophy, but I think it's more than that. It's also about the mind and the working of the mind and a sort of growth mindset as well.
The growth mindset is so important. And teaching children the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset is also very important. And to relate to it. Oh, hold on a second, what is my mindset? What philosophy strategy can I employ? What would Aristotle say about this? What was Plato saying about it?
These kids are doing this and it's fantastic and it spreads out into the community because it's about giving our community the confidence to be confident. It's not confined within the four walls of Holy Cross Boys’ PS. it's like water-fluid and leaks into the community, beyond the community and into the wider wo