… a big part of being good philosophers is being able to hold two or more different understandings in our head at once, and seeing the strengths (and possible weaknesses) in each of them.
It’s been a real privilege to train and collaborate with this year’s cohort of talented undergraduates in the Big Questions program. They’re bringing striking talent and irrepressible enthusiasm to their voluntary roles as ‘Philosophy mentors’ at Heatherhill Primary School, facilitating philosophical dialogues among kids in Years 4 – 6.
We’re now part way through our 8-week program of in-school Philosophy sessions, and we’ve been universally delighted by the children’s gentle supportiveness of one another, especially when sensitive issues have arisen in the course of discussion.
Coming from the world of ‘grown-up’ philosophers, where sometimes people try so hard to look clever that they forget what is right, it was brilliant to see you exercising this kind of respect and care.
We’ve also been impressed by the school’s exceptional teaching and leadership staff: caring and motivated individuals who are genuinely interested in how Philosophy can contribute to the school’s inquiry curriculum.
All this has created a school culture that’s perfectly conducive to philosophical inquiry. We’re excited to continue rolling out our program of thought-provoking scenarios, dialogues and creative activities during the coming weeks, engaging the intellects and imaginations of almost 50 kids from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
As part of our mentor training course, the university students observed and participated in Philosophy classes at the King David School, where Philosophy has been integrated into the curriculum for more than 30 years. The mentors-in-training reflected on these observation experiences, and sent feedback to the Years 3 – 6 students.
… we can all practice philosophy wherever and whenever we are, with whoever we’re there with, whether we call it philosophy or not. All it takes is careful attention to the world around us and a little bit of patience.
I found their feedback uplifting, at times touching, and altogether worth sharing more widely – so I’m including some examples here, with special thanks to the thoughtful and articulate mentors, and to the Philosophy teachers and students at the King David School who so kindly made them welcome.
“Dear Young Philosophers,
Thank you so much for having me at your school. It was really interesting, and not just because it was the first time I’d ever sat in a classroom full of lounges (though that was very cool).
I remember that we looked at a painting by Jackson Pollock, full of swirls and splatters and squiggles, and tried to work out what it meant. You all had very different ideas, and some of you saw freedom in it, and some of you saw violence. What really impressed me was how aware all of you were of one another, and how you were (mostly) pretty good at taking each other’s ideas on board. It was also great to see people providing encouragement and help when it was needed. Coming from the world of ‘grown-up’ philosophers, where sometimes people try so hard to look clever that they forget what is right, it was brilliant to see you exercising this kind of respect and care. I hope you continue to exercise it – it’s the most important thing to remember when we’re working with ideas! Just like the painting we discussed, there will be many situations where different people have very different understandings about what is what, and sometimes they might even seem to contradict each other. This doesn’t have to mean that only one is right – a big part of being good philosophers is being able to hold two or more of these different understandings in our head at once, and seeing the strengths (and possible weaknesses) in each of them. You’re doing exceedingly well at this, so now please keep it up.
Good luck in your future endeavours, philosophers – I’m sure that the skills you are learning will prove to be tremendously valuable, no matter what you end up doing. This is one of the great strengths of what we do – we can all practice philosophy wherever and whenever we are, with whoever we’re there with, whether we call it philosophy or not. All it takes is careful attention to the world around us and a little bit of patience.” – Andrew
“Going back to primary school, even for two hours, was a great experience… the level of energy and passion for ideas present in your classroom reminded me more of a university class than some of my high school classrooms. I think you’re at a great point in your education when you can expand your horizons and begin to ask important questions of the world, to do with right and wrong, how we learn, and how we reflect critically on what we have learned. If I could talk to my Year 6 self, I’d tell him to keep that enthusiasm through the next few years. Never be embarrassed about being a passionate learner.” – Julian
“… I was taken aback at how articulate you all are, and the level of critical thinking that went on… You were all able to actively and respectfully listen to each other, and build on each other’s ideas. The rigour that you all showed in asking questions about all the different details in the portrait is a hallmark of great philosophising.” – Andy
“… It was really inspiring to see how enthusiastically you all participated in discussions. I was impressed by how patient you all were with each other and I think that makes you great philosophers – as you are finding out, philosophy takes patience. But it can also be really fun, and you reminded me how important it is to play when we do philosophy.” – Carmen
… after seeing the level of critical thinking and philosophical thought that a lot of you had, our future looks very promising indeed.
“… It was incredible watching the students grapple with philosophical ideas, displaying an insight and curiosity that was really inspiring. I particularly enjoyed observing the discussion evolve as the students offered up their various interpretations… The kids demonstrated both a respect for the views of their contemporaries and a passion for interrogating ideas and assumptions. The philosophy program at King David is a real testament to the power and value of philosophical enquiry at all ages.” – Alice
“… One of the things that really stood out to me was how much interest there was in doing philosophy within your classes, even more so than in some tutorials I’ve had during University! … I’m extremely happy to say that after seeing the level of critical thinking and philosophical thought that a lot of you had, our future looks very promising indeed.” – Tristan
Five years after writing this post, we were invited to deliver a series of workshops for Years 2 – 4 students at the King David School as part of their World Philosophy Day celebrations. You can read the report with reflections on this event here.