Discussions of A-level Philosophy Changes

Posted by Edward Willatt on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

An article on the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ website responds to the AQA exam board’s proposals for a new A-level philosophy specification. Under the title ‘Philosophy is not religion. It must not be taught that way’ Charlie Duncan Saffrey raises major problems with the changes.  I agree with the thrust of his argument which is the need to distinguish philosophy at A-level. The author has taught the current specification and values its breadth and depth of engagement with philosophy. He raises the problem of students with no interest in religion being discouraged from pursuing an A-level in philosophy when half of the first year is devoted to the philosophy of religion. He reveals that the AQA had responded to his concerns by pointing out the difficulty of assessing students studying the wide range of philosophical topics available with the current specification. They have decided to select the most popular modules from the current list and make them compulsory. I agree very much with the author’s contention that if this approach were adopted with science A-levels it would not be tolerated and the same standards should apply for philosophy.

The Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ website is famous for encouraging comments and lively discussions beneath articles. There is a great deal of this beneath Charlie Duncan Saffrey’s critical broadside against AQA’s plans to cut down philosophy and emphasise areas it has in common with religious studies. This shows a great deal of concern about the A-level and the value it has for people who care about philosophy. A fair few of the comments do fall into a philosophy v. religious studies dichotomy that doesn’t achieve very much. Superficial criticisms of one discipline or the other are used to supposedly move things forward by either claiming that philosophy must be ‘saved’ from being watered down and undermined by its association with religious studies, or that religious studies is more valuable because it does not privilege the ideas of certain great individuals. There is a lot of criticism of religious studies in the name of defending philosophy and, as some comments rightly point out, this is unfair and unproductive. This false dialectic simply creates a slanging match between those who value religion, or at least respect it, and those who see it as dogmatic and unthinking. In fact both of these disciplines need the space to develop and flourish at A-level, a flourishing that involves both students and teachers in explorations of fascinating realms of thought. Their difference should be celebrated through dedicated A-levels and not turned into a negative opposition that gives rise to no positive relations of interdisciplinary inquiry.

One comment is from someone who teaches both AQA A-level philosophy and an A-level in religious studies. She explains that because they were teaching religious ethics and religious philosophy as part of the religious studies course at her school they chose to offer AQA philosophy with its choice of modules in non-religious philosophy. This currently makes philosophy an A-level that is sufficiently distinct from the A-level courses in religious studies to be offered in the same school. She fears that students won’t be allowed to study both A-levels if the proposed changes go ahead because of their similar content. She teaches modules from the current AQA specification that engage students and form vital parts of philosophy but which have been dropped from the proposed specification. The comments are now closed on this piece. They number 635 and include many important challenges to AQA’s proposals alongside the more vitriolic jibes mentioned above that arise from animosity to particular disciplines.  I agree with many participants in the discussion who are concerned that unless philosophy stands out and clearly shows how unique it is, schools will be discouraged from offering the A-level.

In : A-level Philosophy 



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Discussions of A-level Philosophy Changes

Posted by Edward Willatt on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

An article on the Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ website responds to the AQA exam board’s proposals for a new A-level philosophy specification. Under the title ‘Philosophy is not religion. It must not be taught that way’ Charlie Duncan Saffrey raises major problems with the changes.  I agree with the thrust of his argument which is the need to distinguish philosophy at A-level. The author has taught the current specification and values its breadth and depth of engagement with philosophy. He raises the problem of students with no interest in religion being discouraged from pursuing an A-level in philosophy when half of the first year is devoted to the philosophy of religion. He reveals that the AQA had responded to his concerns by pointing out the difficulty of assessing students studying the wide range of philosophical topics available with the current specification. They have decided to select the most popular modules from the current list and make them compulsory. I agree very much with the author’s contention that if this approach were adopted with science A-levels it would not be tolerated and the same standards should apply for philosophy.

The Guardian ‘Comment is Free’ website is famous for encouraging comments and lively discussions beneath articles. There is a great deal of this beneath Charlie Duncan Saffrey’s critical broadside against AQA’s plans to cut down philosophy and emphasise areas it has in common with religious studies. This shows a great deal of concern about the A-level and the value it has for people who care about philosophy. A fair few of the comments do fall into a philosophy v. religious studies dichotomy that doesn’t achieve very much. Superficial criticisms of one discipline or the other are used to supposedly move things forward by either claiming that philosophy must be ‘saved’ from being watered down and undermined by its association with religious studies, or that religious studies is more valuable because it does not privilege the ideas of certain great individuals. There is a lot of criticism of religious studies in the name of defending philosophy and, as some comments rightly point out, this is unfair and unproductive. This false dialectic simply creates a slanging match between those who value religion, or at least respect it, and those who see it as dogmatic and unthinking. In fact both of these disciplines need the space to develop and flourish at A-level, a flourishing that involves both students and teachers in explorations of fascinating realms of thought. Their difference should be celebrated through dedicated A-levels and not turned into a negative opposition that gives rise to no positive relations of interdisciplinary inquiry.

One comment is from someone who teaches both AQA A-level philosophy and an A-level in religious studies. She explains that because they were teaching religious ethics and religious philosophy as part of the religious studies course at her school they chose to offer AQA philosophy with its choice of modules in non-religious philosophy. This currently makes philosophy an A-level that is sufficiently distinct from the A-level courses in religious studies to be offered in the same school. She fears that students won’t be allowed to study both A-levels if the proposed changes go ahead because of their similar content. She teaches modules from the current AQA specification that engage students and form vital parts of philosophy but which have been dropped from the proposed specification. The comments are now closed on this piece. They number 635 and include many important challenges to AQA’s proposals alongside the more vitriolic jibes mentioned above that arise from animosity to particular disciplines.  I agree with many participants in the discussion who are concerned that unless philosophy stands out and clearly shows how unique it is, schools will be discouraged from offering the A-level.

In : A-level Philosophy 



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