Tag Archives: Philosophy for Children

everything you wanted to know about unicorns

Everything you always wanted to know about unicorns

What do you know about unicorns?

  • mythical creatures
  • look similar to horses
  • usually white
  • have a single horn protruding from the forehead.

What else is there to know?

It appears there could be much more to learn by engaging in philosophical discussions, especially with young children, about the existence of unicorns and their features.

For many years I have been a fan of Philosophy for Children (P4C), a pedagogical approach for teaching children to think critically, to wonder, question and reason. The approach is “taught” through student-led discussion in which the teacher is present to offer support, rather than leadership. Students are presented with a stimulus, about which they initially ask questions. When there are no more questions to ask, children discuss their thoughts and responses.

I knew unicorns would be a great starting point for philosophical discussions with children, so wasn’t surprised to find suggestions for conducting an enquiry into Unicorn Horns – Thinking about Things that Don’t Exist by The Philosophy Foundation.

The suggested discussion centres around fictional characters, including the more controversial ones such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy which I’ve previously discussed here and here.

What intrigued me most in the article was

“The problem (is) characterized in this statement ‘The Tooth Fairy does not exist’, which seems to say ‘there is something that does not exist’, but then if it does not exist then how can it be anything?”

Or another way of putting it,

“‘If there is anything that can’t exist, then it exists, so there can’t be anything that can’t exist.’”

Totally confused?

Me too! Please pop over to the article for greater clarity. Then maybe you can explain it to me.

The article continued with suggestions of other questions about unicorns that could be discussed; for example:

  • Are unicorns real?
  • If something doesn’t exist, can it have any special features?
  • How many horns does a unicorn have?
  • What if a unicorn is born without a horn, is it still a unicorn?
  • What if a horse is born with a horn, would it be a unicorn?
  • Since ‘uni’ means one, is any animal with one horn a unicorn?
  • What about a narwhal? Is it a unicorn?

My thoughts of unicorns this week were instigated by the flash fiction prompt by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a unicorn. It can be realistic or fantastical. Go where the prompt leads.

Now, I have written about unicorns before, here, here and here.

In a post about security comforters, I explained that a toy unicorn was of comfort to Marnie when she was feeling particularly vulnerable. Her need for it continued into her early school years and its appearance was an indicator to teachers that things were going badly for her again. When, as a confident adult, she returned to her childhood home, she found she had long outgrown the unicorn that had given her comfort as a child.

In some of Marnie’s stories, she was teased and bullied, mainly by a boy named Brucie. Fortunately, she had a good friend in Jasmine who was often there to offer her support.

In my response to Charli’s unicorn prompt, I revisit Marnie and Brucie and attempt to add a little philosophy to their discussion. I hope you like it.

Unicorns aren’t real

“What’s that supposed to be?” sneered Brucie.

Marnie bit her lip.

“Doesn’t look like anything to me,” he scoffed, inviting an audience.

“A unicorn,” she whispered.

“Miss said, ‘Draw your favourite animal.’ A unicorn can’t be your favourite animal–it’s not even real.”

Marnie continued drawing.

“Anyway, doesn’t look like a unicorn with those four horns.”

“They’re not horns.”

“Marnie’s unicorn’s got four horns,” laughed Brucie, a little too loudly.

Miss investigated.

“He said my unicorn’s got four horns. He said unicorns aren’t real.”

“How can unicorns have four horns if they’re not real?” asked Miss.

Brucie was silent.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

A cheap shot?

Michelle demonstrates through her article what she states in her final paragraph as the benefit of involving children in philosophical enquiry. She says, “We get children thinking critically, rigorously and sceptically, so that they’re less likely to succumb to ill-founded beliefs or be duped by self-deception, spin or rhetoric. We help children develop their reasoning, so that they become more adept at building logical arguments and rationally defending their views. We encourage children to question the assumptions underlying different points of view, enabling them to challenge dogmatic beliefs. And we cultivate deep and deliberative thinking – often neglected in traditional schooling, which tends to focus more on getting ‘the quick right answer’ – so that children have a chance to explore the nuances of complex ideas.”
Who could disagree with that?

The Philosophy Club

The New Yorker has disappointed me again, this time by its recent coverage of a series of children’s philosophy workshops at the Brooklyn Public Library.

Rebecca Mead’s article, ‘When Kids Philosophize’, reports on the Tilt Kids Festival’s philosophy workshops – billed on the Festival website as an opportunity for children, aged 6 – 12, to “explore some of life’s biggest questions” and “engage in deep conversations about … key themes in philosophy” with acclaimed philosopher Simon Critchley and some graduate student guests.

On the face of it, ‘When Kids Philosophize’ offers a light-hearted glimpse of what went on during three of the short workshops. But the article’s mild humour has the unfortunate effect of trivialising the important the task of engaging children in philosophical discussions.

I personally found little to smile about in the volley of random questions, irrelevant observations, unsubstantiated claims and juvenile distractions that were…

View original post 1,471 more words

The Question X Revisited

Tomorrow, 20 November 2014, is UNESCO’s World Philosophy Day. Celebration of the day “underlines the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual.”
In recognition of the day I am reblogging a recent post from The Philosophy Foundation which discusses the differences between open and closed questions and explains the greater value of The Question X.
The importance of encouraging children to ask questions has been a recurring theme on my blog (here, here, here and here) , as has the need to encourage them to think for themselves rather than to become experts at regurgitating force-fed information (here and here).
The discussion of The Question X gave me a lot to think about. Maybe it will do the same for you.
Happy thoughts and thinking on World Philosophy Day 2014!

philosophyfoundation

We read this blog ‘Closed Question Quizzing, Unfashionable Yet Effective‘ by Andy Tharby the other day. The virtues of closed questioning are well known to The Philosophy Foundation as they are central to our philosophical questioning approach, so we wanted to share this extract taken from a chapter entitled ‘If it, Anchor it, Open it up: A closed, guided questioning technique‘ that Peter Worley has written for the forthcoming book The Socratic Handbook ed. Michael Noah Weiss, LIT Verlag, 2015. Some of these ideas were first written about in The Question X published in Creative Teaching and Learningand available here: The Question X. In this blog Peter has developed some of the ideas written about in The Question X.

Plato’s Socrates asks many closed questions – questions that elicit a one-word or short answer such as ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘Paris’. Dip in to any of the dialogues…

View original post 2,461 more words

Motivation – why we do the things we do

Over at the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills is talking about motivation, specifically the motivation of fictional characters to do the things they do. She explains that ‘motivation can be external–a desire to please, to be found attractive, to be accepted’ or ‘internal–a drive to succeed, a passion to experience adventure, a fear of failure’.

Motivation is not a new concept to this blog and I have explored it in a number of previous posts.

stars

In What did you do that for? Rewards and motivation I discussed the use of extrinsic rewards (such as stickers, awards and cash incentives) for school students; and questioned the authenticity of intrinsic motivation, which ‘is usually related to something of one’s own choice through interest, challenge or purpose’, in an institution at which attendance is compulsory.  I suggested some strategies that teachers may employ to stimulate an intrinsic love of learning.

why am I doing thiswhat's the point

Continuing the consideration of the effect of compulsory schooling on a learner’s motivation, the post Why do I have to? explored the use of philosophy as a tool for making the goals of education explicit. All three philosophers: Peter Worley, Michael Hand and Stephen Boulter agreed that if students knew why they were expected to learn certain things, they would be more motivated to do so.

the examined life

A discussion of the impact of praise upon a learners’ motivation and achievement was stimulated by reading The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz, a book recommended by Anne Goodwin.  The Post Seeking praise – Stephen Grosz revisited explored Grosz’s suggestion that praise could cause a loss of competence, especially if children were being praised for being clever. Responses to the post, including a guest post by Anne Goodwin, added greater depth to the discussion.

Other ideas about motivation abound.

Shelley Wilson’s blog Live every day with intention,  which promises to inspire and motivate you (‘A motivational blog about living life to the full, writing, reading and feeling inspired to follow your dreams’) is the basis of her new book ‘How I changed my life’.

In this TED talk The puzzle of motivation, Dan Pink explains that the value of intrinsic motivation is a scientific fact. While the focus of his talk is the business world, the findings are equally relevant to education. He says that external rewards may work in limited situations but that they often impede creativity. He says that ‘the secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive – the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things because they matter.

Which brings me back to my motivation for writing this post and sharing these thoughts: Charli’s post, mentioned at the beginning of this article, was an introduction to her flash fiction prompt to In 99 words (no more, no less) show the underlying motivation of a character.

My motivations for engaging with the flash fiction challenges set by Charli are both intrinsic and extrinsic:

I enjoy:

  • the dual challenges of writing to a prompt with a clearly defined word count;
  • the opportunity of writing fiction;
  • exploring the application of Charli’s prompt, however tenuous, to education;
  • the camaraderie of the fellow writers and the opportunity to read and comment on their posts and flash fiction pieces; and

I appreciate the feedback, support and encouragement I receive in response to my writing.

In her prompt, Charli suggested that the character ‘may not even understand the motivation fully, but (that I should) let the reader grasp it.’ I have written two pieces in response to this prompt. I hope you enjoy them, and get an inkling of what motivates the characters.

 

More than numbers

The more he stared at the numbers the less sense they made.

They swirled and blurred. He just didn’t get it.

“Numbers don’t lie,” they’d admonished.

“But they don’t tell either,” he’d thought.

The hollowness left when all he knew had been extracted could not be filled with the smorgasbord of numbers loaded on the page.

The richness of lives reduced to mere squiggles.

“This is what’s important,” they’d said, fingers drumming tables of data.

With heaviness of heart he closed the book and walked away.

“They are not even numbers,” he thought. “If they were numbers, they’d count!”

 

 

More than words

“More!” they implored.

She surveyed their eager faces then glanced at the clock.

“Just one more?”

“Okay. Just one more.”

Before she could choose, a book landed in her lap.

“This one,” he said.

“Yes,” they chorused. “It’s a good one!”

She smiled agreement, then started to read.

They joined in, remembering, anticipating.

She turned the page.

“Wait!” he said. “Go back.”

“Did you see that?” He pointed to the page.

“But look what he’s doing,” someone else chimed in.

They all laughed.

The shared joy of a beloved book. Each time the same. Each time a little more.

Thank_you_pinned_note

Thank you for reading. I do appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or my flash fiction pieces.

Water wise

My first thought when reading this week’s flash fiction prompt set by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch: in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about water, was of the street on which I had hoped to open an alternative to school twenty years ago. I thought I could write about the property which, located on the corner of Water and Love Streets, seemed ideal. I thought I could write about the vision of our group “The Centre of Learning Opportunities” with its focus on the children’s program “Kids First” and how our centre would cater for children and families. I thought I could write about how we would implement our motto “Create the possibilities” which I have also adopted for my blog. But just like the centre itself, it didn’t eventuate.

Instead I thought a little deeper, considering how water is the substance of life, how fortunate we are in developed countries to be able to turn on a tap and access clean water whenever we want. According to the UN almost 8 million people do not have access to clean water and more than 2 million do not have adequate sanitation. Millions of people die each year from diseases related to water. The projections of water availability and access are quite alarming.

I thought about the use and misuse that is made of water in our rivers and streams and of a local issue that was reported quite recently.

I decided to write a poem about the journey of a river, from its beginnings high up in the mountains down to the sea; how it starts out crystal clear but picks up toxins as it wends it was down. You can probably guess that my next thought was of education; of how children begin full of wonderment and creativity but, as they are subjected to years of schooling, collect toxic thoughts and attitudes.

That may seem a bit harsh I know, and I have written a poem before comparing what I consider Education is to what I think schooling is.

education-is-2

However I thought I’d try to write a poem as an allegory of the schooling process; likening the way we are polluting our waterways to the way we are polluting and muddying the minds of our children. I’m not very happy with my first (fifth!) attempt, but I have met the word requirement and Charli’s ‘deadline’ is fast approaching.

Let me know what you think.

 

Water

It started way up

In the highest of hills     

So crystal-clear pure

With a life to fulfill

 

It babbled through forests

And danced in the streams

Marveling  at wonders

Before never seen

 

It passed through the valleys

Irrigated the farms

Taking the runoff

And doing no harm

 

Down past the villages

Watered them too

Acquiring their discards

Now murky like stew

 

Passing by factories

Spewing out waste

Picked up their burden

And left without haste

 

Weaving its brown trail

Way down to the sea

From its mouth vomited out

A poisonous mix

Deceiving all living things

Expecting a gift

However I don’t want to leave you on a negative note. I’d rather acknowledge that there are many wonderful things happening in schools around the world. There must be, or we couldn’t be making the advancements we do.

 

I have shared many great things with you before like some of these great articles on edutopia.org. Just last week I shared information about a prize for innovation in inclusive curricula being awarded for a program, Big Questions teaching philosophy to children. Listen to any TED talk to be amazed at advancements and innovations.

I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of the article or my flash ‘poetic’ fiction piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLE Man

I love listening to TED talks.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The mission of this organisation is Spreading ideas, a goal dear to my heart.

I always find the talks fascinating, challenging and inspiring. I feel quite humbled by the fact that there are so many clever, creative and innovative people in the world. However, at the same time, I feel reassured, knowing that our collective future and the future of our planet is in such capable hands.

Recently I listened to some talks by an educational researcher, Sugata Mitra,  winner of the 2013 TED Prize.

The TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a creative and bold vision to spark global change. . . . the TED Prize supports one wish to inspire the world.

Mitra’s wish is to build a School in the Cloud, a school where children learn from each other. He introduces the idea of the Self Organized Learning Environment and invites people around the word to help him achieve his wish by downloading a SOLE toolkit to bring these Self Organised Learning Environments to their own communities.

The toolkit is a step-by-step guide which is designed to “prepare you to ignite the fire of curiosity in kids at home, in school or at after-school programs.”

A SOLE is basically a small group of children learning together, using the internet to answer questions of interest to them, with minimal teacher intervention.

There was much in Mitra’s talks that I agreed with, such as

schools as we know them now, they’re obsolete. I’m not saying they’re broken. It’s quite fashionable to say that the education system’s broken. It’s not broken. It’s wonderfully constructed. It’s just that we don’t need it anymore. It’s outdated.

“Encouragement seems to be the key.”

“There is evidence from neuroscience. The reptilian part of our brain, which sits in the center of our brain, when it’s threatened, it shuts down everything else, it shuts down the prefrontal cortex, the parts which learn, it shuts all of that down. Punishment and examinations are seen as threats. We take our children, we make them shut their brains down, and then we say, “Perform.”

much that intrigued me, such as the grandmother method

“Stand behind them. Whenever they do anything, you just say, ‘Well, wow, I mean, how did you do that? What’s the next page? Gosh, when I was your age, I could have never done that.’ You know what grannies do.”

much that inspired me, such as

“I think what we need to look at is we need to look at learning as the product of educational self-organization. If you allow the educational process to self-organize, then learning emerges. It’s not about making learning happen. It’s about letting it happen. The teacher sets the process in motion and then she stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.”

and much that I wasn’t sure about, that led me to question, such as, 

“Could it be that we don’t need to go to school at all? Could it be that, at the point in time when you need to know something, you can find out in two minutes? Could it be — a devastating question, a question that was framed for me by Nicholas Negroponte — could it be that we are heading towards or maybe in a future where knowing is obsolete? But that’s terrible. We are homo sapiens. Knowing, that’s what distinguishes us from the apes. But look at it this way. It took nature 100 million years to make the ape stand up and become Homo sapiens. It took us only 10,000 to make knowing obsolete. What an achievement that is. But we have to integrate that into our own future.”

As well as listening to TED talks, I also love reading about philosophy, especially the inclusion of the study of philosophy in the school curriculum.

While following up this philosophical interest, I came across this great blog post by Michelle Sowey, “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education“.

I couldn’t resist the title, of course, but imagine my delight when I realised that Sowey was critically appraising Mitra’s SOLEs from a philosophical standpoint.

Sowey saw much to agree with in Mitra’s talks, but for her also, the talks raised many questions.

These are points of convergence that Sowey saw between  Mitra’s approach and that of philosophical enquiry in the classroom:

  • both are curiosity-driven
  • both involve collaboration of students
  • both seek to engage children’s interest in big questions
  • both support children in exploring ideas and sharing discoveries
  • both offer the prospect of intellectual adventures that spring from children’s sense of wonder and their ability to work together.

Sowey went on to say:

“What’s more, Dr Mitra’s proposed curriculum of big questions includes many deeply philosophical ones, such as ‘Can anything be less than zero?’, ‘Will robots be conscious one day?’ and ‘What is altruism?’”

Then came the BUT:

Sowey went on to say

“There are two major points of difference, though, and it’s here that I see cracks in the veneer of minimally invasive education. It differs from collaborative enquiry in that (1) it features the internet as a principal learning medium and (2) it renounces the guidance of qualified teachers or practitioners.”

Sowey raised concerns including the need to develop in students the ability

  • to assess the credibility of internet sources
  • to challenge faulty arguments
  • to question claims that are dogmatic, propagandistic, biased, pseudoscientific or downright erroneous

She went on to say:

“We need to make sure that kids develop thinking and reasoning skills alongside skills in research and information awareness. For this, the support of a competent guide is indispensable, equipping children not only to assess the reliability of different sources but also to evaluate the many arguments they will encounter.”

I agree wholeheartedly with this.

She then goes on to say:

“To dismiss the infrastructure of schooling altogether because of traditional standardisation is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Surely it makes more sense to repurpose that infrastructure in ways that better nourish children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration.”

which makes perfect sense to me also.

Although I am not a fan of traditional schooling and have made that stance very clear in previous posts, I have expended a lot of energy in trying to establish what I consider to be a better approach. The goal of nourishing “children’s curiosity, critical thinking and creative exploration” was always high on the agenda.

I encourage you to listen to Mitra’s inspirational talks, and to read Sowey’s compelling article in its entirety.

Sugata Mitra “Build a school in the cloud

Sugata Mitra “The child-driven education

Michelle Sowey “Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education

I will leave you with Sowey’s concluding statement:

“We need the incisiveness and probing of critical and creative thinking to get deep into the viscera of the facts and anti-facts, the experts and anti-experts. And we need the incisiveness and probing of good teachers to go deep into children’s thought-space: to discover what they’re understanding and what they’re not, yet.”

What do you think?

Please share your thoughts.

Thinking about Philosophy

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe third Thursday in November has been identified by UNESCO as World Philosophy Day, and the theme for this year is Inclusive Societies, Sustainable Planet”.

A round table discussion will include topics such as “the growing inequalities between rich and poor within many countries and between countries and sustainable development” including “concepts of social justice, solidarity, exclusion and inclusion in different societies, as well as issues related to the vulnerability of various groups – including women, children, young people, people with disabilities, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees, people living in poverty – and the interfaces between these issues and sustainable development.”

18457-Bubbles-Comic-webThe development of global citizens who are able to reason, think critically and contribute positively to the world by the ability to identify, discuss and suggest ways of resolving such moral and ethical issues can begin with the study of philosophy in schools.

Peter Worley, co-founder of the charity The Philosophy Foundation, is just one of many philosophers who believe that children are able to engage in philosophical discussions, and are convinced of the importance of placing the study of philosophy at the heart of education.

In his article “Class Act”, published by The Philosophers Magazine (April 2, 2013) Peter Worley explains why he considers philosophy should be taught in schools. The following is an excerpt from that article. Please follow the link to read his article in full.

“The “basic” argument: Thinking and reasoning are even more basic than the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) given that reasoning (the fourth “R”?) and the concepts involved in reasoning underpin all three. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in conceptual thinking and reasoning, therefore we may appeal to a very basic educational need for doing philosophy, i.e. conceptual thinking and reasoning.

The “truth” argument: By honing the concepts that we use in all other truth-seeking subjects (e.g. the sciences), philosophy, which is singularly concerned with concepts and reasoning, is the subject best placed to improve the thinking on which the other truth-seeking subjects are based, thereby improving our efforts to reach truth. (This is to paraphrase an argument owed to Catherine McCall.)

The incoherence argument: When incoherence occurs between disciplines (or simply in the way the world seems to “hang together” or not) one needs the tools to deal with such incoherence, to be able to attempt to make sense of it. Philosophy is the subject that specialises in making sense of incoherence. Therefore philosophy should be taught. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put forward to me by Stephen Boulter.)

It is worth noting that incoherence is just as much a feature of school children’s lives as anyone else’s. Just think of the way the children learn objectivity in the sciences but then are taught something like universal relativism in other aspects of their schooling, perhaps in religious education or the classroom mantra “opinions are never wrong” and such like.

The inescapability argument: Philosophical problems are inescapable. Every time you read something in a newspaper or on the internet you are faced with a philosophical problem: how do you know when something is true? When the teacher teaches you about atoms and shows you the atomic model: how do they know that atoms look like that if they’ve never seen one? If it’s true that philosophical problems are inescapable then surely there is an argument for preparing people/students for how to respond to these problems intelligently and philosophically. (This is a paraphrase of an argument put to me by Michael Hand.)

Perhaps the last word on teaching philosophy to children should go to Montaigne, who wrote, back in the sixteenth century: “Since philosophy is the art which teaches us how to live, and since children need to learn it as much as we do at other ages, why do we not instruct them in it?”

I am grateful to Peter for permitting me to reproduce this excerpt as my contribution towards the celebration of World Philosophy Day. For more information about Peter’s publications, please visit

The Philosophy Foundation.

Watch this video to listen to Peter and Emma Worley, co-founders of The Philosophy Foundation, explain why it is important for philosophy to be taught in schools:

Teaching philosophy in schools

You may also enjoy this entertaining and enlightening video, written by Emma Worley, “What has philosophy ever done for us?” (adapted from Monty Python’s Life of Brian):

What has philosophy ever done for us?

What do you think? How important is philosophy to you?