Posted: 2022-04-26

Young Plato is a remarkable film about the importance of philosophy on every school's curriculum





IN March President Higgins sent a letter to Kevin McArevey, Principal of Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School, congratulating him and the makers on winning the ICCL Human Rights on Film Award 2022 at the recent Dublin International Film Festival. He referred to the work they have done in highlighting philosophy as a cornerstone of education and personal development.


The winning documentary, Young Plato, was released in cinemas in March and shown on BBC Northern Ireland on 18th and 19th April. It is quite remarkable, demonstrating that primary school children can understand some of the most important philosophical questions if they are explained to them in a lucid and involving manner. And philosophy is important because, among others: it questions prejudice and dogmatism; it promotes tolerance and empathy; it encourages humility; it forms the basis of logic and reason; it develops our ability to think for ourselves; and it provides a sketch map to guide the ways in which we decide right and wrong and how we live our lives. In short, it provides the basis of the critical thinking that Martin speaks about.


If that all sounds abstract and theoretical, then watch Young Plato. Observe McArevey discuss Seneca’s techniques to control anger with a class. Note two answers he received when asking children if Heraclitus was right in saying that everything in life changes, just as you cannot step into the same river twice. One child said he was wrong because DNA doesn’t change; another said that the past doesn’t change.


Much of McArevey’s effort is directed at controlling children’s anger and promoting their mental health and well-being. As a counter to all the paramilitary murals in the area, he has added the school’s mural on a wall outside the school gates. It depicts a pupil called Conor in the pose of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker, surrounded by paintings of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato.


Two aspects of the school are ignored, however. It is a Catholic school and it is all boys. Segregated and single-sex schools remain as marks of our backwardness. How much of the religious ethos cancels out the critical thinking that is also encouraged? How much of the single-sex nature of the school fails to challenge the sexism and mistreatment of women prevalent in Northern Ireland society?

Finally, in view of the film’s success at promoting Philosophy as an essential educational tool, why on earth is it still not a CCEA GCSE or A Level subject but is only covered within Religious Studies? That’s a glaring irony in itself.


Brian McClinton, 26rd April 2022