“You Have Got To Have Memorable Experiences” In Order To Learn

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Students at Newton Farm School in Harrow, northwest London, have recorded the best SAT test scores in England for the second year in a row. What’s their secret? Philosophy lessons, says the school’s headmistress. From the London Telegraph:

“Classes in which children are posed questions such as ‘what is success?’ from the moment they join are partly responsible for the school’s high results, according to headmistress Rekha Bhakoo.

Ms. Bhakoo also pointed to clear rules on behavior, and a policy of making sure no child slips through the net, in explaining Newton Farm’s recent success. ‘It’s to do with the richness of the curriculum and the expectations and the high quality teaching experiences that the children have from the teachers and support staff,’ she said.

Around 70% of children at the school speak English as an additional language, and philosophy lessons—which start from the moment pupils begin nursery—help them to improve their speaking and listening skills, she said.
‘Engaging them in Socratic dialogue has been a real lift,’ Ms. Bhakoo said.

‘You have got to have memorable experiences in the curriculum, because that’s how children learn,’ she added. ‘Children need to be taught how to read and write, you can’t do anything without that. But it’s the way that’s done—it’s got to be engaging, fun, relevant.’

She added that it was down to the children to pick topics to discuss in philosophy, drawing on resources such as recently read books. ‘Recently one inquiry was, “If you feel successful will you be successful in life?” and “What is success?” (Read more here.)

Not every school needs to teach philosophy, of course—but this head of school put her finger on it when she said, “You have got to have memorable experiences in the curriculum, because that’s how children learn.” Those memorable experiences can take many different forms.

Can you remember an experience you had in a classroom that made a deep impression on you? I think of an assignment given to me by my high school history teacher, Mr. Barnett, who asked us to write about a complicated moral issue in a historical context. I wrote about Southern plantation owners’ rationales for slavery, and learned so much about the power of self-interest and self-delusion to warp our actions and beliefs.

How about you?

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3 Responses to ““You Have Got To Have Memorable Experiences” In Order To Learn”

  1. PatrikD says:


    I went to a school that taught mandatory philosophy classes, and if there is one “memorable experience” that I took away from that, it’s that most philosophy is just useless mental masturbation.

    Schools that can afford to teach philosophy classes typically also can afford to teach good math and science classes though, so I’m not surprised they got good SAT scores…

  2. Suzanna Jemsby says:

    Why are students in the UK taking SAT? How many students there take the SAT? How does this school’s performance compare to schools in the USA?

  3. Gary Logue says:

    These anecdotes are backed up in research, “PatrickD”

    Collaborative philosophical inquiry for
    schoolchildren: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up
    from the British Journal of Educational Psychology

    There’s a good amount of evidence in support of philosophy.

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