Emma Worley is the co-founder and joint CEO of The Philosophy Foundation, a charity that brings philosophy to schools and other learning communities, including prisons, business and community spaces. Emma’s work in developing and sustaining The Philosophy Foundation was recognised when she was awarded an MBE for services to innovation in the 2020 New Year Honours.
Hi Emma, congratulations on the award; how’s it going?
Good thanks Nigel! 😉
Where are you based and can you tell us what you do on a daily basis?
The Philosophy Foundation is based in London, we have an office at Forest Hill Library where we run the day-to-day charity, but most of our work is carried out in schools/prisons/community settings away from the office. I, however, spend most of my time in the office writing funding applications, doing research and development, overseeing strategy and planning, basically keeping an eye on all aspects of the charity as well as philosophy in the wider world.
You set up the Philosophy Foundation and work with your husband (Peter Worley). How do you both find that?
Actually we both work really well together – mainly because I’m in the office and he is either writing at home (he’s just finishing his 9th book as I write this) or working in schools or other educational settings. We both have strengths that compensate for each other – I’m highly organised and can help him steer his creativity into action. His knowledge of philosophy and development of philosophical enquiry methodology helps to underpin much of what I do. Plus we both laugh at the same things (mainly each other).
How receptive are people in schools to the idea of philosophy (on the curriculum)?
Well I suppose we only work with people who are receptive, so I might say ‘everyone is very receptive’. But of course there are those that don’t know what philosophy is, or have a notion of it that means they think it is not useful for children to learn or do. But we do get great feedback from teachers, parents and children – and we are re-contracted into schools regularly (we actually have an average re-contract rate over the last 10 years of over 90%). However, we’re not sure whether we would insist on philosophy being on the curriculum officially – if it were to become government top-down approach it could lead to it being done badly, with teachers who don’t want to do it being forced to do it, with those who have had little experience of philosophy trying to facilitate or teach it, could do more harm than good.
How about prisons?
The feedback we’ve had from our work in prisons has been very positive, with prisoners saying it has given them new skills and a new desire for learning. I certainly think more adults should be exposed to philosophical enquiry, not only the content of, for instance, political philosophy, but the ability to think together in a group, to communicate our ideas clearly to one-another and to listen to try to understand, rather than just winning arguments. We’ve got so many problems to solve and at the moment we seem to be in the grip of ‘us and them’ mentality from all sides of politics.
Are people treating you differently after news of your MBE?
Nope. Damn it. 😉
When is the ceremony and who are you taking?
5th March; I’ve got 3 tickets so I’m taking my Mum and Dad and daughter Katy who has been allowed a day off school for this special occasion. My Mum is – and I can’t quite state this enough – over the moon!!
What is your relationship with Ruth Maddoc? It was either Christmas morning or the day of your wedding, she woke me up with a drink. I was resting on your garage floor.
Ruth met my mum through being treated by her (as a physio) when she was doing a show in Bournemouth, they became friends and Ruth and John began to use Mum and Dad’s house as a base whenever she was working nearby, and we would visit them for holidays, weddings, get-togethers. Must have been the wedding, John was ‘master of ceremonies’ at our wedding.
Have you got any plans to go back to acting, or have you already?
I still have my agent and still do the odd audition and job occasionally. Trouble is, I can’t really do theatre so much any more as it is so time consuming, and getting into film/TV is difficult at the best of times. My last paid gig was as a voice on Eastenders Christmas edition in 2018, before that an advert for Virgin Media in Ireland. The work I do fairly constantly is for this charity: Scene and Heard, which is just about the most enjoyable thing an actor can do: https://www.sceneandheard.org/
Last year I played a girl pop band. The whole band. All four parts. With the wonderful Rufus Wright (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0942782/) who played a Shield. Actually at the same time he was playing a Shield for Scene and Heard he was also playing Armstrong in the BBC’s ‘8 Days to the Moon and Back.’
Finally, what do you do with companies and how can philosophy help people in the workplace?
We have spoken at a wide range of industry events including working with FTSE100 businesses, social enterprises, health services, trade associations as well as art and cultural institutions. We run training in critical thinking, creative thinking and questioning; underpinning each of our programmes is the simple premise that the skills required for philosophical reasoning are fundamental to creativity, team building, decision making and leadership. In addition, we firmly believe that corporate culture and ethics can be developed and embedded through philosophical enquiry. We have worked with small teams on specific skill development, but also presented to hundreds of graduate employees when they first arrive in a company on business ethics.
Philosophical enquiry can be great for team-building, and helping teams develop skills together (such as critical and creative thinking). Feedback we’ve had from our training is that people always want more, or they want the sessions to be longer. I think we don’t have enough time nowadays to sit and think and reflect together. We are often in silos, working on computers, with people at the other end of the internet, and if not, in meetings with an agenda. So Philosophical enquiry can help develop a team’s communication and understanding of each other, whilst at the same time building individual cognitive skills. It’s also been really helpful for managers to see the strengths of certain individuals within their teams that hadn’t been recognised before.
“I thought that it was a useful insight into my colleagues and how they think. We attend other courses that talk about how people approach problems/ideas in different ways, but this was a great illustration of that and felt more useful than just trying to put people in boxes.”
Our work in business supports our work in the classroom. You can read more about what we can offer business on our website: https://www.philosophy-foundation.org/business