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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy in schools’

Live philosophy session on radio

Posted by Philosophy Foundation on October 27, 2011

Primary school philosophy live on the Philosophy Now radio show, with children from All Saints School, Blackheath, years 4-6 (ages 8-10). Run by Peter Worley, interviewed by Grant Bartley from Philosophy Now.

Available to listen to here: (Show number 13)

This paper was written to aid our trainees. This is a document of techniques, hints and tips and good practice by The Philosophy Foundation, written whilst listening to this podcast. Particularly interesting contrast between Peter, using the PhiE method, and Grant who hasn’t had any experience or training in doing philosophy with children.

For more on the PhiE method and techniques for doing philosophy with children and developing higher-order thinking buy The If Machine: Philosophical Enquiry in the Classroom by Peter Worley. Available here:

‘The best book of its kind currently available, an invaluable resource for teachers wanting to try out some philosophy in their classrooms and a significant contribution to educational theory. Buy it!’ Michael Hand, Reader of Philosophy, London’s Institute of Education.

NB: some of the techniques mentioned here (‘If-ing, anchoring and opening up’), all fully explained in The If Machine, but for a quick overview you can download Peter’s paper ‘What can university philosophy learn from primary philosophy?’

First discussion

  • Notice the clarity of the opening question to the children.
  • Repetition of stimulus and Task Question (TQ): TQ – Talk Time – TQ repeated.
  • Encouraging divergent answers (‘Lets see how many different answers we can find.’)
  • Because of nerves Peter’s responses are slower at beginning because he is taking the time to make sure he is actively listening (‘playing back’ in his head) – this is important to remember in the classroom, particularly when you are first starting out, nerves can be a problem – focus on listening very carefully to the children.
  • Peter reminds them of the hand/finger rule.
  • Trying to develop dialectic / controversy as soon as possible through the use of ‘fingers’ (responses) and Right-to-Reply (See The If Machine).
  • A few ‘echoes’ (repeating exactly back what the children have said) and paraphrases (ask questions – ‘is that right Charlotte?’ – to make sure the paraphrases are exactly what the children mean). Echoing gives everyone time to think about the last comment, and to make sure everyone has heard it.
  • Peter aids Carter and Luke in linking their ideas.
  • If-ing (a technique to encourage hypothetical thinking) with Carter (difference between the pencils) – ‘either-or-the-if’ and then ‘anchoring’ back to the TQ (See The If Machine for more on ‘If-ing, anchoring and opening up’).
  • Gave Carter ‘time to think it through’ (Peter could see that he was nervous).
  • Clarification question (‘could you explain what you mean?’ with George).
  • Linking, with the use of ‘Tension Play’ (playing off ideas that disagree with each other to develop thinking, see The If Machine) George and Luke (pencils count as one thing).
  • George’s ‘Norway example’ providing a counter-example to Luke & Ellie’s idea that there was just one thing there.
  • Ellie (things / objects) – Peter could have if-ed ‘objects’ rather than correcting her about the question.
  • Jack and Ellie – (she asked him a really good question).
  • Clarification question used for Charlotte to understand atoms.
  • Peter makes sure they have a concept of ‘atom’ that they could work with. He avoided telling facts about atoms and molecules – more interested in a ‘working concept’.
  • If-ed to test and clarify Ellie’s idea of the number of atoms (‘if we had one atom… if we had two atoms…?’).
  • Heather –  Peter’s question: ‘Why are they different?’ (Justificatory questioning.)
  • Charlotte – ‘1006 things’ Aristotle, “the whole is different from the sum of its parts.” – Charlotte seems to be moving towards this idea. If appropriate Peter will bring in relevant philosophers and their ideas later on in a session, see the Sibelius Model in his paper ‘What can university philosophy learn from primary philosophy?’ available to download here:

Second discussion

  • Charlotte takes Jacks ‘1000 atoms’ and ‘ifs’ with the idea perfectly well, as do the others. (Advanced hypothetical thinking.)
  • Peter refocuses the question by quoting Charlotte more accurately than she did herself.
  • Looking for agreement with Charlotte (‘Who agrees with Charlotte?’ – Response Detector, see The If Machine).
  • Peter allows Charlotte to respond generally.
  • George ‘But…’ (dialectic is developing nicely here, and naturally) this is because Peter is staying out of the discussion.
  • Peter seeks the less frequent contributors (this gets Luke to put up his hand).
  • New TQ (‘Emergent Question’, i.e. a question that has emerged from the discussion and therefore from the children) is introduced: ‘if we took the thousand atoms away, what would we be left with?’

Grant takes over (NB: Grant has not done philosophy with children before, so this is a brave move on live radio! Many of the problems Grant experiences are something that philosophers new to doing philosophy with children experience.

  • His objective is definitional.
  • He challenges the children personally and thus risks ‘blocking’ them.
  • This is essentially an eristic dynamic (eristic = ‘combative’ in contrast to dialectic = ‘collaborative’).
  • Adult / child disjunction (two conversations happening: Grant’s agenda / children’s limited understanding of that).
  • Discussion dries up in places due to the eristic dynamic.
  • Honeycomb dynamic – each child responding directly to the adult, rather than each other (no dialectic).
  • Grant shows some exasperation because he has an agenda and the children are perhaps not fulfilling his aim.
  • Putting words in their mouths: (the ‘so you’re saying…’ principle)
  • He’s doing all the talking (fear of silence – even worse on radio).
  • He has to keep rephrasing his questions until a child responds.
  • Children are no longer talking to each other but each one to him.
  • These kids are particularly good at dealing with his questions but many other children would simply dry up under this pressure.
  • Grant flicks from one idea to the next where the children are not sure of the rhetorical value of having done so (e.g. body / ghost questions) – because they don’t ‘own’ the conversation it is not clear that they understand it synoptically (the conversation as a whole) even though they understand each isolated exchange with Grant.

Third discussion

  • ‘Can you say a bit more about that?’ – Peter tries to get Carter to say more about his idea. Remember in a philosophy session to always go deeper: ‘why?’, ‘can you say more?’, ‘what do you mean by…?’
  • Corrected Eli’s ‘minicules’ without correcting her directly, merely by using the right word (although ‘minicules’ is lovely!)
  • Anchoring them to Charlotte’s challenge – more advanced level of focus here than at the beginning. ‘If you counted all the atoms you would still have the arms, legs, head and body to count wouldn’t you?’
  • ‘Can anyone answer Charlotte’s question?’ – ‘Anchoring’
  • George and Charlotte have started to take the discussion to another level
  • The discussion is touching on identity (‘is water identical with H2O?’) – this is one possibility of where to go next with the next session. An emergent discussion – the children are deciding on the direction rather than the facilitator, the facilitator keeps the discussion within the realms of philosophy, and uses techniques to deepen thinking and reasoning.
  • Anchored them again and again to Charlottes’ question ‘If you counted all the atoms you would still have the arms, legs, head and body to count wouldn’t you?’

Final question to the children: ‘Why do you like philosophy?’

  • Heather: I like speaking about what I think is right, but I also like finding out what other people think about it.
  • Luke: Philosophy is mainly all about thinking and I really like thinking because I think all the time.
  • George: We do questions which are hard. It helps you understand the question and be more open-minded. If you think about something quickly you’ll get the answer but it helps you to think: ‘is that exactly the correct answer or are there more?’
  • Ellie: There’s never just one answer – and there’s never a wrong answer. So, let’s say if I said something and Heather said something different, we’re both right in our own opinions.
  • Max: I just like solving the questions. I just like trying to ‘work’ it. Trying to get the answer.
  • Carter: I like when we finish the discussion and solve it and we have loads of different answers. I like it because it’s really a fun way of thinking about things.
  • Charlotte: It makes you think really deeply. And once you get really deep into the question there’s even more answers.

With thanks to all the children who took part in the programme, from All Saints School, Blackheath: Heather, George, Ellie, Max, Carter, George, Luke, Jack & Charlotte.



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Can philosophy help with the rioting?

Posted by Philosophy Foundation on August 9, 2011

The first response to this is that ‘critical thinking’ or ‘reasoning’ is merely the difference between irrational criminals and rational ones. Or, those that get caught and those that don’t!

Here’s an argument for a positive role for philosophy in the context of the motivations behind the riots:

Having conducted many philosophical enquiries with the very children in Lewisham who are – or may one day be – involved in the kind of behaviour we are seeing as part of the London riots, I have also witnessed the following. During (and as a result of) the discussions children very often begin with intuitions and beliefs that they feel strongly about and would clearly be prepared to act upon. However, following a philosophical enquiry that is structured and disciplined, I have also often seen these very children change their mind or realise that their starting assumptions are wrong. I cannot say to what extent this rational reflection impacts on their actual behaviour, but I can comment on what I see taking place with, I believe, sincerely spoken thoughts and reflections from the children.

Now, if it is the case that a child (or anyone for that matter) can change their mind about a belief that they are prepared to act upon through rational reflection then it follows that they may – or may be more likely to – recognise that beliefs they find themselves holding in the future, beliefs they are about to act upon, are also open to challenge and revaluation. They may (or be more likely to) therefore refrain from acting on that belief. They may (or be more likely to) even refine their belief to include other points of view for instance, or logical analysis, or moral considerations etc.

Philosophical enquiry can (and does) provide the tools for the sort of reflection that is clearly not going on when the youths of the August 8th night act upon what they believe to be good justifications (when there are justifications at all) for looting or rioting.

Crazy as it may sound, I believe that philosophy, for the reasons given above, can help to tackle some of the underlying problems that lie behind the looting and rioting that we are seeing happening at the time this author is writing (from Lewisham!)

By Peter Worley 9/8/11

See also Anarchy in the UK: philosophy a luxury or a necessity by Emma Worley

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Anarchy in the UK: Philosophy, a luxury or a necessity?

Posted by Philosophy Foundation on August 9, 2011

It was during the student riots in the late 1960’s in America that the first ‘Philosophy for Children’ novel, Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery, was written (1969). Matthew Lipman, a professor of philosophy at Columbia University was troubled by the lack of dialogue and dialogical abilities among students (and between students and faculty members!). The book was intended to help further education students learn to reason and dialogue.

At times like these I’m sure many people are not thinking about philosophy and how it can help, or how it could have helped. Philosophy is generally seen as a luxury, some say the Ancient Greeks had time for philosophy because they had slaves. Most philosophers have come from the middle and upper-classes, and today in the UK it is seen as something done in Universities by academics, not something that is practical or even accessible to many people.

However, every description of the rioters includes ‘unthinking’ and ‘mindless’ within them (and if it’s Theresa May then ‘criminal’ and ‘criminality’ are also a running theme). Disaffected youths are rioting and looting the streets at night in numbers that are overpowering the police. A perfect storm perhaps caused by a lack of trust in those running the country, anger at bankers, police, the media, the economic meltdown, austerity, the example of scenes from the ‘Arab Spring’, and the young being taught about rights, but not about responsibilities? And perhaps a great deal more.

Can philosophy possibly help? More rational rioters? “Do you bite your thumb at me sir? No, sir. But I bite my thumb sir.” Perhaps not philosophy in the ‘history of ideas’ sense (although this can come in to it), but philosophical dialogue and communities of enquiry based on reasoning, reflection and critical thinking really can help. A community of enquiry or philosophical dialogue can help build community cohesion: people talking together to consider the best course of action for their own communities. Rethinking ideas as a group, re-evaluating their own and others ideas, learning to listen and to understand each other, to build on other people’s thinking and to internalize this dialogue so they can critically evaluate their own thinking. Philosophical enquiry not only helps a community as a whole, but also individuals within the enquiry.

In Dr Catherine McCall’s book ‘Transforming Thinking’ she talks about her method of Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CoPI) for children and communities. “Engaging in a CoPI over an extended period of time transforms individual participants and improves their life chances. It is not that the participants learn skills that they can use in other settings; rather, they themselves are changed, and everything they then do is different from what it would have been had they not been part of a CoPI. This is why children behave differently in the playground, at home and in the community – not just in the classroom.”

McCall then goes on to describe a community project she ran from 1994-1995 in a deprived area of Glasgow. The aim of the project was to reduce aggression and violence in Castlemilk. Other initiatives had failed and philosophy was a last resort: the funders decided to take a risk and try to develop a Community of Philosophical Inquiry across the Protestant-Catholic divide. Four groups of children and three groups of adults were created with people from across the sectors to engage in philosophical inquiry. Not only was this the first time these people were engaging in philosophy, it was the first time they were engaging in dialogue with those from the opposite sectarian group.

The results? As the groups of children and adults developed their philosophical reasoning skills and became a member of a community with their traditional ‘enemies’ their behavior changed. Violence decreased and the hold the respective gang leaders had over the communities was diminished.

“The results of the project demonstrated the benefits both for individual children and for the community or society. Individual children improved their performance in school, their behaviour changed, and they gained the opportunity to get to know a whole segment of their community they would not otherwise have known. Society benefited directly from the reduction in violence and the lessening of the gang leaders’ power, as well as from the presence in the community of people who now had the skills and disposition to become active citizens and make further changes in their community.”

The importance of individuals questioning society should not be underestimated. Hannah Arendt called Adolf Eichmann’s unquestioning administrative work during the Nazi regime ‘the banality of evil’. His ‘unthinking’ passive life led to atrocities being committed.  But you need to learn how to question, and how to evaluate the answers you are given. Questioning society does not mean throwing bricks and burning down shops and homes. Questioning involves dialogue. It involves listening and it involves thinking.

When we talk of a ‘Big Society’ and communities we also need to consider the individuals within the community and how to help them. It is through individuals learning to think autonomously, learning to question and not follow the crowd, thinking about how their actions will have consequences in their own community and for themselves that we can help develop a more collaborative, cohesive and caring community.

Philosophy has been seen to be a luxury, but it is not. It surrounds us and we cannot escape it, nor should we want to. We should use it to help us. Life: the economy, politics, media, society cannot function without thinking. It is all about philosophy.

By Emma Worley, Lewisham 9th August 2011

See also Peter Worley’s reflection on the riots: “Can philosophy help with rioting?”

Posted in Practical Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »