I never thought I’d get paid to pass on existential dread to teenagers.
I’m kidding of course: they bring their own, and they bring it in bucketloads. We share in the joy that is questioning everything, including but not limited to unmovable movers, uncaused causers, infinite regresses, and… temporality. Enter: Jeremy Bearimy.
This term I have had the privilege of teaching junior philosophy for the first time. They are a mixed-age class of year 7s to year 11s (around 11-15 year olds). My students are: chaotic, bursting with wacky ideas, brimming with insight. They make me laugh, they make me think, and they continue to surprise me with their witty, wonderful ways.
It has made a fascinating change, however clunky at times, to teach an entirely new subject. Not only that, but to teach it on my own terms. I have amazing support from the senior philosophy teacher, and I’m appreciating having someone in the same curriculum area to bounce ideas off and learn from.
This term I’m teaching my favourite part of the discipline: philosophy of religion. We talk about cosmology and existence, the features of science contra religion, the nature of god (i.e. what makes a god a god?), about ontological and teleological arguments, logical paradoxes like “Can [an omnipotent being] create a stone so heavy that it cannot lift it?” and infinite regresses. Soon, we’ll be diving into the problem of evil, determinism versus free-will, arguments from personal experiences and miracles… Finally, I’ll hand over to the kiddos themselves for their final assignments.
The most fascinating part is perhaps stepping back and attempting to be as objective as possible.
I have found myself at times having to challenge my students – who waltzed into my course already overwhelmingly atheist and/or agnostic – to consider arguments for god with careful interest. There are a fair few that are relatively robust, and after all, it’s important for us to examine our biases.
For their philosophy assessments, some students are choosing to “invent” a religion – which will prove entertaining to say the least. One student elected Beta Mathematics as the sacred text of their faith. Another student (aged 12) explained his religious idea by rattling off a bunch of charismatic yet slightly disconcerting word salad about having the path to enlightenment. I told him it was an honour to have his expertise in the class and that I’m sure I had much to learn. He laughed and responded that he’d searched “how to start a cult” on Google. These Gen Alphas, dude?! At the end of the day, however unorthodox their medium, if they can demonstrate that they understand key concepts covered in the course, I’m happy.
If any of this gets your juices flowing, I’m a big fan of PBS’s Crash Course Philosophy on Youtube, hosted by Hank Green: