Friday, 22 November 2013

A kids’ outing: Peggy plays philosophy at Parliament

Nine year old Peggy and two of her classmates had an unusual afternoon on Wednesday. Along with children from a number of other schools, they had been invited to take part in an event at the Houses of Parliament. It was held by by the Philosophy Foundation, to demonstrate how the Foundation holds lessons in philosophical enquiry in schools. Peggy’s class had previously  been lucky enough to have a series of lessons with one of the Foundation’s specialist philosophy teachers, Miriam Cohen Christofidis.

The Foundation’s lessons use games, stories, and group discussions, to explore ideas and dilemmas. The ideas to be discussed are introduced through the games and stories, and the discussions are moderated by the specialist teacher. When Peggy’s class last had a series of lessons, all of the discussion themes came out of stories from the Odyssey. On the days when Peggy had philosophy she would be full of talk after school about who thought what, and wanting to carry on the conversation with us at home.

The demonstration lesson at The Houses of Parliament was on the theme of truth and lies. First there was a spirited introduction by Angie Hobbs. Then the specialist teacher conducting the lesson, Peter Worley, sparked it off with a game of pretend involving magic stones and pendants that caused the wearers to either tell truth or lie, and from there quickly moved into a discussion of what had happened in the game.

It was great to see how quickly all the children became engaged, and how they were ready to explore ideas, and were ready to shift positions as they heard others come up with alternative ideas. This exploratory openness made the discussion very different to the kind heard in a debating competition where participants must defend a predetermined position. It also made for a discussion where it was possible for children to contribute without worrying too much about having a correct answer in advance.

And afterwards there was tea and cake, and a chance for the audience to talk with the young philosophers.

You can read a post by Peter Worley arguing for teaching philosophy in schools on the TES Opinion blog. It’s a short enough post, but I’m including an an even shorter extract below:
There was a time when the chief way through which we understood the world was myths and legends; later, it was religion. And it was through philosophical lines of inquiry that these paradigms were challenged, either by philosophers such as the Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and later Popper and Kuhn or by scientists adopting a philosophical attitude such as Galileo, Newton, Einstein and Feynman. (Interestingly, Newton was known in those days as a ‘natural philosopher’ not a ‘scientist’.)

By extension, when ‘how we understand the world’ is taught uncritically there is, of course, the ever-present danger that those undergoing the education programme may be subjected to indoctrination, either political or religious. The ‘philosophical attitude’ that I claim any education programme should include, safeguards those undergoing it from these very real dangers, that history has shown – and continues to show – to be much more than the paranoid delusions of conspiracy theories.

Another claim I will make is that philosophy – done well – is dedicated to understanding, and if understanding really is at the heart of education, then, wherever possible, philosophy should be included in any education programme.
Read more here.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Vivat Rex Benedict

Time, I think, for a Rex Benedict revival. I have just finished reading the above book with Bo, Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch, and it has much the same fine qualities as Good Luck Arizona Man, on which I blogged earlier. Two more of his cowboy stories sit ready on the side table, Goodbye to the Purple Sage and The Ballad of Cactus Jack.

There is not much to be found about Mr Benedict online, but Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch includes this glimpse of the man:

About the Author

Rex Benedict writes that his biography can best be set forth in periods:

“There was the Oklahoma Period, where I was born and raised; the Northwestern State College Period, where I was educated; the U.S. Navy Period, where I flew from aircraft carriers; the European Period, where I translated and dubbed movies; the Greek and Roman Revival Period, where I pined among the relics; the Freighter Period, where I cruised endlessly on blue seas; the Corsair Press Period, where I privately published my greatest works and gave them all away; the Translation Period, where I translated many books, including The Decameron, into many languages, hopefully the right ones; the Juvenile Novel Period, where I astounded myself and others by writing Westerns; and finally the Terrace Period, where I now sit on West 88th Street in New York City, marvelling at it all.”

An antiquarian book site gives Rex Benedict’s date of birth as circa 1920. It also describes him as a British poet, so who knows. The rather perfect cover illustration for Last Stand at Goodbye Gulch is by Quentin Blake. It was published by Hamish Hamilton, London, in 1975. The first American edition was in 1974.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Video Shop

John Dog’s latest, Video Shop, fantastic period videotography in this rewind to the horrors of the late 20th century, and with finger puppets! This is the first song from his upcoming collection The Random Walk.

More John Dog songs here.

A school comics fair

I’ve been thinking recently about children’s comics, and the number of good books now available that are not widely known by children or parents. In the UK, regular bookshops carry only a fraction of the good children’s comics currently being published.

A curious thing has happened with comics in the past few decades. Many comics enthusiasts, creators, publishers, and traders, have been eager to escape the idea that comics are merely downmarket children’s literature. They have succeeded only too well, with the result that much comics publishing is now aimed at older collectors and connoisseurs. The books are more beautifully produced than ever, but more expensive, and much of the newer content, in aiming for greater sophistication, seems to lack the direct engagement, excitement, and humour, of past works.

Meanwhile fewer children buy comics at newsagents. There are some publishers of excellent comics for children but, with the exception of the best known titles, they seem to have a hard time getting their books into non-specialist bookshops, and comic shops attract mostly older readers.

Well, if we can’t get the comics into the bookshops, and can’t get the kids into the comic shops, a third option is to bring the comic shops to the kids, and that means into schools.

Book events in schools such as author visits and book fairs are now common events. I’ve had in mind for a while to try something similar with comics - a school comics fair. And next week, with the help of Gosh! Comics of Berwick Street, we’re going to hold the first one at my daughter’s primary school. I’m really looking forward to it, and from what I hear so are the kids!

Images on the flyer above come from the following good books:

Yoko Tsuno: The Prey and the Ghost, by Roger Leloup
Cat Burglar Black, by Richard Sala
• The Laureline and Valerian series, by Mézières and Christin
Lucky Luke: Jesse James, by Morris and Goscinny
Blake and Mortimer: The Yellow “M”, by Edgar P Jacobs
The Rainbow Orchid, by Garen Ewing
Moominvalley Turns Jungle, by Tove Jannson