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An exchange of ideas: Children, teachers and philosophy students

Typically, philosophy in schools looks like this:

Either a philosopher works with a group of children, whom they barely know, often with little classroom experience under their belt.

Or a teacher works with their own class to explore a subject that they have little experience, of and no background in.

Yes, there are some of us out there with convoluted careers that span philosophy and education, but there’s not a lot of us to go round. How limiting it would be if we saw that as the solution anyway.

These typical approaches sometimes work, but neither seems ideal to me. And yet, nor does the prospect of philosophers taking time out to train as teachers, or teachers taking time out to train as philosophers. Clearly a philosopher doesn’t need to be familiar with all the intricacies of teaching, to do her job, nor does a teacher need a degree in philosophy to do his. So the solution, it seems, is training. If teachers and philosophers are deficient in some way, why not train them? And this is what providers – including Thinking Space – have been claiming to do for years.

The only problem is, that on the whole this training is very brief, and this can give the mistaken impression that upon completion of such training, you’ve mastered pretty much all you need to know about philosophising or teaching. And clearly that’s just silly. Training, is just a foot on the ladder. Next, you have to climb it, by doing philosophy day in and day out in the classroom.

The experience of doing philosophy with children day in and day out is some of the best training you can have in my book. But my worry is, that this is exactly the time that you’re likely to run into trouble either because you lack knowledge, understanding, and skills as a teacher, or as a philosopher.
A far more promising approach – it strikes me – is collaboration between professional (or trainee) teachers and academic (or student) philosophers, that is sustained over time and recognises their distinct (and in after a while, their common) areas of expertise.

This is what Leeds Philosophy Exchange sets out to do.

The project was conceived of as an Agora – a market place of ideas, although often it feels move like a laboratory. Leeds Philosophy Exchange is an on-going project that brings philosophy students, primary school pupils, and teachers together to learn from each other. It recognises that while philosophers have their expertise, they often know little about education and the lives and learning of local children. It also recognises that teachers who are experts in the classroom, are often philosophical novices. Finally it recognises that children can benefit from the wisdom and experience of teachers and philosophers as in turn the adults can benefit enormously from philosophising with children.

Thinking Space has a history of partnership working and has worked in this collaborative way, with staff and pupils at Shire Oak for almost two years. But in September 2012 we made things a little more exciting. In partnership with The University of Leeds, Grace has written and lectured on a course for second year undergraduate philosophers, interested in going into schools. In January 2013, 15 highly trained philosophers were partnered with teacher at Shire Oak. Each taking half a class at a time, they began to facilitate weekly philosophy sessions that have been some of the most interesting I’ve seen in years.
The on-going discussions we have had, amount to a fascinating analysis of what it is we think we’re doing as academic philosophers and as professional teachers. Meanwhile the children are developing the discipline, vocabulary, patience, curiosity, and sense of wonder, that will stand them in good stead when ….


Except that for next year’s students, the project will be part of their degree at Leeds, and the training and reflective discussions we have had this year, will form the basis of their assessed essays on the pedagogy, practice, and philosophy of philosophising with children. If this year is anything to go by, they won’t struggle for material.

This post is by Grace

Philosophical Questions