Traditionally, philosophy is a subject offered only in universities. In recent years, however, philosophy is increasingly found among the list of subjects offered in primary and secondary schools, in Singapore and in various parts of the world, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and much of Europe, South America and Africa (see UNESCO, 2007). Unfortunately, many teachers involved in primary and secondary education are unsure how best to teach this subject to students whose ability to deal with abstract concepts and arguments is still developing. The purpose of this essay is to discuss how audiovisual media, in particular, films and podcasts, can be used to teach philosophy in secondary schools. (By "secondary school", we mean a school for students who are intermediate in level between primary school and university or college.) But before we begin that discussion, it is useful to first understand what philosophy is and appreciate some of the difficulties teachers face when teaching philosophy to secondary school students.
What is philosophy?
A good place to start when trying to answer the question "What is philosophy?" is to think of philosophy as a subject taught in universities and schools. This subject studies the fundamental issues about what it means to be a human being, for instance: Does God exist? How should we live? Are there universal moral truths? Do we have direct epistemic access to the world around us or is our knowledge of the external world inadvertently coloured by whatever conceptual framework our minds are operating within? What is the mind? Do we have genuine freedom of choice and action? And so on. The range of issues is extremely wide, covering almost every aspect of human existence-just see the range of topics listed in the table of contents of the online encyclopedia of philosophy The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Philosophical discussions can become very abstract very quickly, which explains why it is traditionally taught only in universities. People sometimes complain that these discussions have little or no relevance to the practical concerns of life, that philosophy is a game academics play with one another purely for intellectual gratification. This is a serious misunderstanding of the nature of this subject. Much of everyday life is rooted in some philosophical view or other. Two of the most hotly debated issues in Singapore this year are whether people should be allowed to sell their organs to patients who need them to live, and whether terminally ill patients should be allowed to end their own lives if they wanted to. Until we address the basic philosophical assumptions and convictions we have about morality, these two debates cannot never be fully resolved.
There is therefore a sense in which almost all of us have been engaged in philosophical discussions or deliberation at some point in our lives. When we consciously subscribe to some particular set of values by which we live our lives, when we wonder if there is an ultimate creator who started it all, when we ask whether we have an eternal soul that will carry on living when our body dies or whether we are just complex arrangements of physical matter that will eventually disintegrate to dust after we die, when we think about how we came to know something or how we could obtain knowledge of something-when we ask these questions and other similar questions or subscribe to certain answers to these questions, we are doing philosophy. Of course, many of us hardly think about these questions, or if we do, we do so only at a superficial level. For example, most of us are convinced that it is wrong to kill another human being, but only a few of us would have thought carefully about why it is wrong to do so, about whether it is always wrong to do so, and about what "wrong" means. Philosophy, thought of as a subject, means being more reflective about our beliefs and prejudices, being clear about the connections between our different views, being aware of our reasons for our actions, and learning about the answers others have given to the different questions concerning what it means to be a human being and their reasons for giving those answers. …