Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A former RS A-Level student and current Philosophy undergrad writes...

Response from Tom Hewlett, a former RS student at John Hampden Grammar School who is currently studying Philosophy at the University of Bristol. [Edited from email response]

Firstly, it seems like it is now much more explicitly an RS GCE, which is fine as it goes. But, I think it would be great if someone could stress to the exam boards just how much demand there is for an actual Philosophy GCE. There simply isn't any provision, and hence the A-level does not prepare students for undergraduate level study of Philosophy, which is what a lot of students take this subject for. In all fairness though, it looks like a better RS A-level than we did. (Although it is worse for Philosophy)

Secondly, I have a concern left over from the old syllabus. It seems like students can still take 2 out of 3 of the GCE units while never actually reading an original text. In fact, even in Textual Studies, there will be a large amount of learning where students are expected to simply absorb what their teacher tells them someone else thought. Say they are going to study Guthrie on Christology. Will they read Guthrie, or their teacher's summary of what Vardy said he was saying?

If they are not expected understand the words of Guthrie, who is not a very technical writer, then my inclination is to say that they are inevitably expected not to understand the original ideas in their full complexity. Instead, what is learnt (as when we were supposed to be able to mention the key tenets of the flipping Tractatus) is a simplification thereof.

Simply, my concern is that there is no expectation students will read original texts, eg short papers or chapters from fairly accessible writers like Mill, maybe Hume or Ayer. This is really, really bad preparation for undergraduate study. A remedy would be to look at simpler ideas which are clearly expressed such that sixth formers can understand them in the original. But this would require studying fewer ideas, so I expect the consequent lack of breadth would be rejected.

Basically the whole thing needs to be rethought from the start if it wishes to address the concerns people have about the purpose of RS, but as there is simply not enough time for that, these are the two things I think are vaguely useful feedback. STUDENTS SHOULD BE READING PRIMARY SOURCES!

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