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.

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