DEC SCAN JOURNAL
‘The Case for Philosophical Inquiry in the K-12 classroom’, Britta Jensen and Kate Kennedy White * August, 2014. DEC Scan Journal Vol 33, Issue 2, Page 7. Download DEC Scan Journal _ Volume 33 Issue 2, Page 7
Students swap Play-Doh for Plato, Andrew Taylor June 26, 2011
Real philosophers cannot agree on whether stealing is ever justified so it’s little wonder year 1 and year 2 students at Bondi Public School are engaged in lively, but civilised debate on the question.
Like Plato and Immanuel Kant, seven-year-old James believes stealing is wrong. But Salvatore, also seven, follows a more utilitarian view, arguing it may be justified to save a life.
Ned’s hand shoots up to offer an alternative view of Mr. Fox’s chicken rustling in Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox: ”It’s not fair to steal chickens for yourself but Mr. Fox shared his chickens with everyone.”
It’s heady stuff for young minds but the school’s philosophy teacher Kate Kennedy White said students at Bondi Public were capable of applying the rigours of philosophical inquiry to issues such as bullying, leadership, stealing and even the deaths of the school’s four chickens the previous week.
”They’re fired up by it, which is so fantastic,” she said.
Ms Kennedy White said students were always asking questions. ”You’ll often find children will listen to a point of view, disagree and then come back later on and say I’ve changed my mind,” she said.
She is supported by parent philosopher, Dr Paula Keating who said: ”These classes are much better than many university tutorials. There’s much more conversation.”
Rather than teach about specific philosophers, the Philosophy with Children classes are designed to encourage students to think critically, creatively and co-operatively.
”It’s more about getting them to ask questions, justify responses and analyse suggestions,” Dr Keating said.
Social skills such as listening, disagreeing with respect, building on each other’s arguments and having one person at a time speak were also taught, she added.
While primary school students in Europe, Britain and South America have been taught philosophy since the 1960s, it is taught at some NSW primary schools, including Stanmore Public and Rozelle Public.
Bondi Public School’s philosophy program, now in its fourth year, is based on the work of Dr Philip Cam, a lecturer in teaching philosophy to children at the University of NSW. He is also author of the ethics course taught to year five and six students whose parents do not want them to attend scripture classes.
Dr Keating said ethics is only a small part of what she and Ms Kennedy White teach students who are as young as five.
”We do ethics but we also do the other tenets of philosophy,” she said. ”We do logic. We do aesthetics. We do political philosophy and we also do metaphysics and epistemology [investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion].”
While Dr Keating provides philosophical depth to classes, she said: ”You’ve got to access the kids and teachers can do that.”
Ms Kennedy White has also taught philosophy to Bondi Public School parents, who were suddenly confronted by their children applying critical reasoning to why they have to eat their greens, go to bed or obey their parents.
She gave identical lessons on giving and loving to year two students and parents.
”They were quite shocked that the children had reached the same level of inquiry and were quite shocked that there were a couple of questions the children had thought of that they hadn’t,” she said.