Larissa Brigatti was anseo for Neasa Ni Chianain and Declan McGrath’s documentary about implementing philosophy in schools.

Young Plato, a documentary directed by Neasa Ni Chianain and Declan McGrath, screened as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. This film asks questions of the Northern Ireland educational system, focusing on a school in post conflict Belfast’s Ardoyne, where a marginalized, working-class community has – for generations – been plagued by poverty, drugs and guns.

The movie introduces Kevin McArevey, a school principal of the Holy Cross Boys School. A man with new ways of thinking, challenging the sociopolitical zeitgeist. He implements a philosophy room, where the boys and school teachers can share dialogue in a relaxed and playful manner and the children are encouraged to learn principles of morality. They explore virtues of stoicism, resilience and many other aspects of philosophy.

The film documents Mr. McArevery’s own life, his unique way of looking at the world and his belief in how philosophy can empower young children to think for themselves. We witness his supportive nature within the school community, reading philosophy books, going to the gym and motivating other staff members to exercise too – all done with a warm and playful attitude.

The director’s use of footage from the Troubles reminds the viewer of the ever-present generational impact of violence. There are a fights between the boys, which Mr. McArevery follows by facilitating philosophical debates of why these are happening and the importance of avoiding them. These micro-violences mirror the larger conflict; and vice versa.

One of his most impactful quotes was, ‘it’s time to think for yourselves. Challenge any statements you might hear. Violence breeds violence.” McAverery refers to one of the pupils relaying how his father told him that ‘if someone hits you, you have to hit them back’. McAverery encourages the boys to challenge this statement and to exercise intellectual autonomy.

The documentary brings to attention the benefits of critical thinking and philosophy in schools and how it can help guide students to reflect, how to value peace and to mutually coexist.

Towards the end of the film, the principal and two artists paint a large mural outside the school of one of their pupils in the pose of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ with quotes from the students themselves, encouraging them to reflect on life and their actions.

McArevery’s inspirational vision is aptly summed up in the Elvis song he listens to at full blast in his car – “If I can dream of a better land/ Where all my brothers walk hand in hand”…

Young Plato screened on 26th February 2022  at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.


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