A great piece in the Boston Review on Citizen Philosophers in Brazil, where since 2008, philosophy instruction has been compulsory in all high schools. A philosophy teacher in Salvador, a virtually African city in the country’s Northeast, explains its value:
The contrast between the new luxury hotels along the beach and Itapuã’s overcrowded streets gives rise to questions about equality and justice. Children kicking around a can introduce a discussion about democracy: football is one of the few truly democratic practices here; success depends on merit, not class privilege. Moving between philosophy and practice, the students can revise their views in light of what Plato, Hobbes, or Locke had to say about equality, justice, and democracy and discuss their own roles as political agents.
As one can imagine, not everyone thinks this is a great idea in practice. But what a bold idea for building a thoughtful and critical-thinking citizenry. Would be great if someone designed a rigorous study to test the impact of studying philosophy on citizen attitudes and participation.
Human Rights Watch made an interesting plea this week to South Africa, Brazil, and India – don’t go easy on Syria. Leaders from the three countries recently met for trilateral talks on a range of issues, and while they condemned the violence in Syria, HRW points out that the death-toll has been huge, and these countries have done little to push for greater oversight of the situation or to make meaningful criticisms of the current regime.
I think this is an interesting story because HRW typically barks at governments who are directly doing wrong (the Zimbabwes and Myanmars of the world) and the rich and powerful countries – especially the U.S. — who may be doing wrong themselves or not doing enough to right the wrongs of other countries.
But in this case, they are going after what I think are the developing world’s democratic anchors, who themselves engage in a fair bit of dialogue owing to their shared geo-political position, and increasing trade and investment links. And in this regard, HRW is absolutely right – these are the countries most likely to be influential in their respective regions and in the developing world more generally in the years to come. So far, South Africa has been unimpressive in its relations with Swaziland and with Zimbabwe, let alone more distant Syria. Of course, it may be pretty naïve for HRW to think that any of these states are more interested in human rights in foreign lands than they are in the economic relations, which more directly affect their own citizens. (I think this would be a good topic for an International Relations thesis…)