Milestone students’ success in the philosophy OKTV – and what lies beyond

Those following Milestone’s news could already have got used to regular reports about the success of the Institute’s students at different competitions. Debating competitions, essay contests, natural sciences challenges: Laikas are there everywhere, and they achieve outstanding results both at the national and at the international level. Besides publishing news on results, however, we consider it particularly important to introduce the work carried out at the Institute, whose aim is not “only” to perform excellently at academic competitions but also to develop and improve complex, critical and problem-solving thinking, which would remain for even after secondary school and university graduation, and can be an enormous advantage in every area of life. As János Hódsági, the Institute’s head of teaching and learning explains: “The modular teaching system operating at Milestone has a disciplinary basis, but it is important for the subject elements to transform into intellectual practice and, eventually, impact”.

In this regard, philosophy education has a strategic significance as philosophy is closely linked to all four disciplinary divisions present in Milestone’s education system (arts and humanities; natural sciences; numerical sciences; social sciences), and it is a pillar of interdisciplinary approach. “When students arrive in Milestone the first thing to do is to critically revise the beliefs and preconceptions in connection with studies. Such preconception, for instance, is the superficial dichotomy of “soft” and “hard” sciences. Philosophy helps a lot in that” János says.

Philosophy’s central role to Milestone’s curriculum is well demonstrated by the fact that this year the first, the second and the third prizes of the philosophy OKTV (National Secondary School Study Competition) all went to the Institute’s students: Bence Örkény (ELTE Radnóti Miklós Gyakorlóiskola) came in first, Dániel Gonda (Eötvös József Gimnázium) second, and Márton Vida (Eötvös József Gimnázium) third. The OKTV’s final, as János puts it, specifically focuses on “active construction exercises”: the contestants are given a philosophy quote, which they have to place in context, they have to reflect on it, and then, to underpin their position, they must construct a complex system of arguments. The latest winner, Bence Örkény, for example, analysed a quote from Descartes. As he says the greatest challenge for him was to integrate his own thoughts and argumentation into a philosophy history analysis. Results show that eventually, he came over that challenge outstandingly. Bence is particularly grateful to two people for their help throughout the preparation: one of them is Béla Rideg, Bence’s “truly incredible” high school teacher, and the other one is László Kőszeghy, Milestone’s module leader: “I consider his modules to be among the best courses at Milestone”.

László Kőszeghy is also very proud of Bence’s, Dani’s and Marci’s success, of course, particularly because they are all participants of the Philosophy Workshop led by him. As a module leader, it is László who turns the goals expressed by János into practice: the improvement of argumentation techniques, of writing skills and of individual, critical thinking. He feels that his students’ achievements indicate that the pedagogical method he applies works. The method’s essence is that even though the student face “serious challenges”, they get plenty of “attention and personalised feedback”, while “instead of performance pressure the emphasis is on the joy of thinking together”. According to László in his class “the most important is not what we are talking about but how we are talking about it”.

Therefore, the module is primarily a skills development class: students analyse and think further – mostly contemporary – philosophical texts together. They write argumentative essays about the topics raised at home, then they read one another’s work, and evaluate them in groups in class – and László’s priority is to make sure that they can do so in a “relaxed, stress-free environment”. As sometimes philosophical language can cause problems even to the more experienced readers, too, it is the module leader’s job to help his students understand and apply newly learned ideas, so that ultimately they can use them as “instruments” or criticise them on their own. At the same time, by László’s own admission, a session is best if after a certain time he’s there only as some sort of moderator: “Students are provided enough space to meet the challenges posed by the texts”.

The method helped Bence a lot, too:

“I had the chance to talk to and argue with lots of talented Milestone students, and their opinions, thoughts and criticism definitely contributed to my knowledge and formed my way of thinking”.

Although Bence – who is going to graduate from high school this year – is planning to shift towards philosophy even at a university level (he applied to majors Philosophy and Liberal Arts and Sciences in Belgium and in the Netherlands), that’s not true for everyone attending László’s modules.

According to the module leader students “understand very well what philosophy is good for; they know that it’s not only important for those who would like to major in philosophy at university. The clear understanding of theoretical issues or the improvement of the logical skill are also crucial when it comes to political science, psychology or even physics. The primary aim of education is to teach independent thinking and to avoid giving simple answers to complex questions”.