Jun 10, 2008

International Philosophy Olympiad 2008

Hi all,
I am very happy to announce to the Abhinav family that two girls from our school represented India in the Int'l Philosophy Olympiad held at Iasi, Romania between 18th & 22nd May 2008 and that contrary to everyone's expectations, they performed exceedingly well. The overall result was that Vallari Sawant (XI, presently at St. Xavier's College) stood 14th missing the bronze medal by just 0.1 mark, and secured a Honorable Mention for her talent, while Chitra Adkar (X) secured a special award by ranking 23rd from amongst almost 60-odd students from about 24 countries.
I must say that this is a incredible achievement for these girls since this is the first time India has participated in this Olympiad organized by the Federation of International Philosophical Societies which runs under the aegis of UNESCO. This was the 16th year of the Olympiad which primarily is a test of talent for high school students in the field of philosophy. What is more interesting is that the 4 hour essay that the students have to write on one the four given topics (quotes by different philosophers) is based entirely on European philosophy and thus our students had had no formal training in the subject.
I had selected these students after circulating the information to some nearby schools and educators in the month of December. As it is the first time I was organizing this, it was not possible to include a larger group in the selection process. Then we had some long and some very long sessions (as all my students are used to) discussing various aspects in Ethics, Metaphysics, Aesthetics or Praxeology. Ultimately around March we began discussing the Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of the Mind. The girls and I discussed quite a few essays and read a lot of books and papers/articles over this period. At the Essay round of the Olympiad, Vallari got a topic from her favorite area - "Is the Person identical with the Body?" - while Chitra got her favorite subject of Political ethics to do with Ludwig Von Mises's quote about Freedom and Tolerance.
Our participation was quite unsure up to the last moment due to Visa hold-ups, but cooperation from the Romanian Ministry of Youth & Culture was of great help in this process. The journey was an adventure to all the three of us - the girls had many a thing to learn about the cultures and lifestyles, while I had quite a few insights into the way western philosophers thought, particularly as I am a layman to philosophy. (I used to tell everybody that since I am an Astronomer, my philosophy is out there) We all made some good friends and exchanged a lot of thoughts about our culture and theirs. Most of the countries being European, (except for Korea & Japan) they were very inquisitive about our culture and thoughts. The theme of this years event was "Philosophy: A space for inter-cultural dialog" and as such every country's delegation was very happy to receive the delegates from the land of a billion, the land of Swami Vivekananda and Gandhi and the land of the most ancient of philosophies.
And now for the lighter side ... as is usual there were quite a few "inter-cultural" mishaps. On a tour to a nearby monastery we were shown some large bells on a tower and one of the group mimicked ringing the bell. Taking cue from this I actually gave a loud jolt to the largest bell there was and then there was a huge clang and then a huge silence ... all the monks, all the workers there were and all my group members were shocked and angered by this act. The only way i escaped the impending punishment was when I explained to them that in Indian temples, bells are meant to be rung to invoke the Deity and thus i only acted according to my culture. Another incident was during the opening ceremony when everybody was invited to dance the typical Romanian dance where everyone goes dancing around a circle while a couple comes forward and does some special steps for the duration of one chord. It happened to be my turn to perform something with my partner and not knowing "any" steps I simply broke into a Koli dance 'Aamir Khan isthyle' and all the people shocked at first eventually enjoyed. The similar thing happened when at the closing ceremony, some of the organizers started doing the same dance, some of the Greek students barged in and hijacked the floor transforming the Romanian steps into Zorba's dance - goes slow in the beginning and then rises to a very fast beat. This eventually was transformed into a Russian folk dance by one of the very talented Russian students and things went on from there.
We actually lived "Multi-culturalism" for the seven days of the Olympiad. Please look-up the photos from the slide-show I have put up on Picassa.
Thus apart from the DVD-players & the I-pods that the girls got as a prize, and of course the certificates showcasing their talent to discuss deep issues of philosophy, the girls also got a once-in-a-lifetime lesson about being a global citizen. That confidence that each of them gained and the awareness that freedom comes only with tolerance of the other persons ideas, was I think, equivalent to a Gold Medal.
This is but a beginning of my meddling with Philosophy. I intend to have more of our students and more students from around Mumbai (eventually India) thinking ... thinking about the various issues that affect their lives and the various problems that plague the world; thinking about the essence of life and meaning of meaning; thinking about the use of ideas and also about the use of thinking ...