What a fun documentary on a Catholic primary boys’ school! It’s all about the Elvis-loving principal, Kevin McArevey, who uses philosophy as a principle driver in the school’s success. The only acceptance criteria into Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School is the student’s proximity to the school. Yet yearly test scores are extraordinary in all areas. The secret? Thinking.
Early on in the documentary, there is an emergency fire drill. The young students head outside quickly. It was a bomb scare. Eventually the devise is discovered, but in the meantime many of the students had walked past it. This scares the entire community because they live in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where deadly conflicts between the Protestants and Catholics still occur.
Mr. McArevey’s challenge is survival in a simmering conflict zone. How does he transform the thinking of his community?
He uses four strategies. First, each week he conducts a philosophy class using a Socratic Dialogue technique. He always has a question. One student volunteers to take notes on the whiteboard. At the end McArevey asks, “What went well?”
One day he asked, “Should you ever take your anger out on someone else? A student responds about the importance of defending yourself. Others respond. He asks who agrees with the first student and who agrees with another. Why?
The next strategy is a Concept Mapper. The question is put in a circle and all the responses are written in spokes around it. Then Mr. McArevey will compare the boys’s answers to a great philosopher’s answers.
A third strategy is role-playing.
“My daddy says if someone hits you you have to hit them back.” The principal responds, “Think for yourself – challenge what you hear – violence breeds violence. It never stops. But you boys have the power to stop it. It’s not who can punch the hardest.”
Then he says, “I want to show you how to question your parents.” A student volunteers to be the dad and McArevey acts as his son.
Dangerous. Really, could challenging parent values go over well anywhere in the world?
This brings us to the fourth strategy. The parents of these primary students know the mission of the school and they also attend parent classes with Mr. McArevey. No one has to send their student to this school. The parents agree to be learners as well. Part of their Mission Statement reads: “Catholic education is inclusive and engages with people of all beliefs. It aims to harmonise faith and culture, build a better society and pursue the common good. It is rooted in the gospel values of respect for Life, Love, Solidarity, Truth and Justice.”
Example after example is given on how the great philosophers can still guide us. This is truly an inspirational and instructional documentary.
Directors: Declan McGrath and Neasa Ní Chianáin
Writers: Etienne Essery, Declan McGrath, and Neasa Ní Chianáin
Featuring: Kevin McArevey and Jan-Marie Reel
Awards: 14 nominations with 9 wins
Release: Sept. 30, 2022 (US), March 18, 2022 (Ireland)
Official Website and how to see: https://youngplato.com
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