The power of collaborative learning

Expanding our Horizons: Les Philosophes

1 Comment

Kumar Viswanathan is Head of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Aldenham School.  He has a background in philosophy, and before he entered teaching he worked in government.  He has a current research interest in Nietzsche’s criticisms of Buddhism. For more information about Les Phil email Kumar or find Les Philosophes on facebook here

Les Philosophes is a society for Aldenham’s academically most able Sixth Formers.  About 60 boys and girls are invited to join the Society on the basis of their academic achievements to date.  The aim of the Society is to broaden the students’ intellectual horizons, to make them aware of topics and issues that go beyond the A Level curriculum.  Ten lectures and a debate were arranged last year.  Speakers included Lord Ian Blair (former Head of the Metropolitan Police) and Professor Anthony Grayling (founder of the New College of the Humanities).  Speakers deliver their lectures and then students have the opportunity to raise questions, and the evening ends with drinks in a more relaxed atmosphere.  The last event in the year’s programme is a Garden Party in the grounds of the Head Master’s house. What follows is a review of the last academic year of lectures at Les Philosophes, written by one of our then sixth form secretary, Zoe Arnold.


Les Philosophes Yearly Review, 2014-2015 

It has been a great year for Les Philosophes. Mr Smith gave the first lecture in September. He spoke about the importance of Greek Tragedy in ancient times and about its continuing influence in Western culture. His own students raised a number of questions and referred to some interesting examples after his talk. Others also contributed to the subsequent discussion, and it was clear that all came away with some valuable insights into this wonderful Western art form.

We were very fortunate to host our next speaker. Lord Ian Blair, who was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 2005 to 2008 and is now a member of the House of Lords, spoke about policing and security in the UK. He covered everything from the early history of British policing to threats to national security in an increasingly media-dominated age. His talk generated a great deal of questions. He finished by revealing the real identity of the serial killer, ‘Jack the Ripper’. A few of us had the honour of dining with him after the lecture.

12 angry men

It was the Headmaster who gave the next lecture, on a cold, dark evening in January. Mr Fowler drew on his experience of jury service and put forward a compelling case for retaining this aspect of the law. He began by explaining some of the historical background to juries and used extracts from the film ‘Twelve Angry Men’ to great effect. It was interesting to hear what the social dynamic is like in a real jury, and many of us were surprised at how fair the whole system sounded.

At the beginning of February, there was a debate. The motion was ‘This house supports the UK’s continuing membership of the EU’, which was defended by OA Lawrence Brewer and opposed by UKIP candidate Andrew Smith. The Apthorp Room was packed. The debate was heated. It was clear that a number in the audience believed that some countries could prosper outside the EU. Nevertheless, when the vote was cast, the motion was carried. Brewer had swayed the audience in favour of the UK’s remaining in the EU.

EU flags and member states

A month later we had an ‘Introduction to Neuroscience’ from Eleanor Browne and Claire Williams, two PhD students from Imperial College. They gave a clear and concise survey of the field and summarised their respective research projects. They were asked a lot of questions both immediately after their talk and over drinks in the Foyer Room. They opened our eyes to this new and exciting science. It seemed as if they really enjoyed their visit too.


A C Grayling, professor of Philosophy and founder of the New College of the Humanities, visited us in March. He discussed ‘The Importance of the Humanities’. To defend their importance, he asked the audience to imagine a world without history, philosophy, novels, poetry. Grayling argued that without them not only would humanity be worse off but science would suffer too. In his fluent and learned lecture, he reminded us of the power of the imagination and the creative value of a healthy emotional life.

Mrs Sharda Dean gave the final lecture of the year. She focussed on ‘The Economics of Happiness’. happiness infographicHer main thesis was unsettling: she claimed that affluent countries that keep pushing for more and more economic growth tend to be less happy than materially poorer countries that do not do that. The audience questioned whether ‘happiness’ could be measured and therefore how reliable the statistics are.

The year ended as usual with the Garden Party. It was a warm, relaxing and cultured evening. All enjoyed the readings, food and drink, even our newest and youngest member – the HeadMaster’s new dog, a Black Labrador called Libby.


Author: TeachAldenham

Online profile of TeachAldenham, Aldenham School Teaching and Learning Group. teachaldenham.wordpress.com Find us on twitter @teachaldenham

One thought on “Expanding our Horizons: Les Philosophes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s