Roundtable discussion at Manchester Uni

Should we teach children to be individuals?

Alongside Professor Philip Booth of the Institute for Economic Affairs
David Goodhart of Demos, Dr Esther McIntosh of University of York St John
John Pugh MP for Southport and Lord Stewart Wood of Anfield, Grace was invited by
colleagues at The Lincoln Theological Institute, University of Manchester to take part in a roundtable discussion at Postliberalism, Individualism & Society.

Under discussion was the teaching of individualism in schools, a topic interesting for philosophers using community of enquiry as it’s a pedagogy that emphasises the importance of thinking for ones self, but not by ones self. Although community of enquiry supports individual thinkers prepared to accept or reject ideas on the basis of good reasons rather than following the crowd, this is only possible thanks to the ideas, criticisms, support and encouragement provided by a group of peers.

Below is an extract from Grace’s short talk.

“Should schools teach children to be individuals? My response to this question is a qualified yes. Yes insofar as schools should teach children to think for themselves but they ought not to give children the mistaken impression that they can think by themselves.

I approach this question as a philosopher who works in primary and secondary schools. Unlike my work in universities which concentrates on teaching the content of philosophical work as well as the practice of philosophising, my work in schools is largely practice-focused. I use my own version of a pedagogy designed my American philosophers Matthew Lipman and Ann Sharp in the mid part of the last century. The pedagogy is known as known as “Community of Philosophical Enquiry” emphases three elements: the enquiry, the community and the philosophy.

My focus on enquiry involves an interest in “the what” of the discussion: the topics pursued, the questions asked, the reasons given, the individual positions voiced and the various conclusions drawn. All of this stuff, you might think, is at the heart of thinking for yourself. It involves introducing children to ambiguous and challenging problems and asking them to draw out and justify their own conclusions.

But this thinking for yourself, does not take place in isolation. My focus on community emphasises and tries to make transparent “the how” of the discussion: the process, the agreement and disagreement, the quality of listening and contributing; the overall dynamic.

Children in a community of philosophical enquiry come into communion with other ideas in the room and sometimes ideas beyond the room, those of other philosophers or thinkers whose work may have provided the stimulus for the discussion.

In encouraging children to think for themselves; not to conform to the view of the school or a friend or the majority of the class unreflectively to arrive at their views for good reasons, to interrogate existing views in order to strengthen or reject them all of this take place within an intellectual, social and emotional context – a community. Thinking independently, or thinking for one’s self, requires the input of others to test, stretch and enrich that thinking. Philosophy is particularly good at doing this because of its emphasis on critical thinking, open ended enquiry, debate, dialogue and questioning.

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