We’re excited to announce that our in-school program Big Questions has just won a prize! It’s the inaugural Prize for Innovation in Inclusive Curricula, awarded by the Australasian Association of Philosophy. It’s both a fabulous honour and a wonderful source of encouragement to have the Big Questions program recognised in this way by the major professional association of philosophers in our region.
The prize is intended to develop more innovative approaches to teaching philosophy: approaches that present the discipline as accessible to a wide range of participants, that off-set well-known disparities of participation, and that can be expected to improve retention rates of under-represented groups in the profession.
In our submission for the prize, we argued that one relatively untapped but very promising avenue for making philosophy accessible to a wide range of participants is to introduce philosophy to children. By providing kids with a grounding in philosophical thinking, we can inure them against widely-held negative attitudes towards philosophy, and promote the value and relevance of philosophical thinking to an otherwise overlooked audience.
By introducing school children to the practice of philosophy through collaborative enquiry, Big Questions builds a sense of inclusive community. It encourages wide participation and enables all participants’ voices to be heard. The program offers kids plenty of other personal, social and intellectual benefits, too, as the students of Heatherhill Primary School will soon discover when Big Questions 2014 launches there in a fortnight’s time.
There is not much point in studying philosophy if there is no possibility of using its insights to make a difference.
Big Questions is unique in Australia in bringing the practice of philosophy to primary school students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. It represents a strategic step towards introducing the benefits of intellectual enquiry and critical thinking to communities that have traditionally been excluded from formal philosophical study.
And Big Questions is truly innovative: it’s the only program in Australia that connects primary school students with highly trained philosophical thinkers. This offers benefits not only for the students but also for the mentors who work with them: building their confidence, broadening their professional practice and honing their conceptual, communication and facilitation skills. Mentors particularly appreciate the opportunity to apply their philosophical learning to enhancing the wellbeing of the community. One commented:
“Sometimes, it feels like studying philosophy, although enjoyable, does not [provide the opportunity] to be actually useful. This program presents the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives, while doing something that I enjoy… There is not much point in studying philosophy if there is no possibility of using its insights to make a difference.”
We’re keen to continue building a more reflective, articulate and collaborative society through the practice of philosophical enquiry with kids. If you know a school that might be interested in our services, please get in touch!
Meanwhile, I’d like to share here my words of acceptance which were read out at the AAP’s award ceremony last weekend:
I would like to say a sincere ‘thank you’ to the AAP and its Award Committee for this very meaningful recognition of the ‘Big Questions’ program. ‘Big Questions’ is the first school-based initiative of my social enterprise, The Philosophy Club, and this prize is both a great honour and a wonderful source of encouragement.
The practice of Philosophy for Children has had relatively little uptake in Australia. My colleagues and I seek both to widen this uptake and to deepen the analytical rigour of the practice.
We have been working with primary school students in low socio-economic status communities, with the aims of developing the students’ capacity for critical and creative thinking, improving their oral literacy, building their collaborative skills, and igniting their curiosity about the big questions that confront us all as human beings.
The generous contributions of our volunteers – senior undergraduate Philosophy students from Melbourne and Monash universities – have been instrumental to the success of the program. I would like to thank these talented students for the exceptional dedication, enthusiasm and sensitivity that they bring to the task of facilitating philosophical enquiry with children.
I am indebted to the staff of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts – and in particular, the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies – for their ongoing support, and for providing University funding for this year’s program implementation.
I would also like to acknowledge the early support ‘Big Questions’ received from the National Australia Bank, the Australian Council for Educational Research, and the Foundation for Young Australians, which made last year’s pilot program possible.
As we continue our work to bring philosophy and critical thinking to young people in the wider community, our efforts will be revitalized by receiving this prize.
We at The Philosophy Club would be delighted to hear from staff – at any university – who may be interested in collaborating with us on the ‘Big Questions’ program or on other similar projects in the future.