Philosophizing with children and teenagers allows them to acquire a critical mind, an autonomy to think in order to avoid any manipulation and prepare them to take in hand their own destiny. They learn to think rigorously, impartially, objectively, and respect of the others. The lack of self-esteem, of dialogue, but also an oversized ego, can provoke incivilities such as insolence, verbal aggression… and even violent behaviors. The child must realize, from an early age, that his actions and his words are linked to his own being; to do this, it is necessary to teach him to take charge of his emotions while inviting him to reason.
PHILOSOPHICAL PRACTICE IN EDUCATION
In his youth, anyone must not hesitate to engage himself in philosophy. For anyone cannot engage too early or too late in the activity that the health of the soul provides. Philosophical activity imposes itself to the person who is young as well to the one who is old. (Epicurus, 341-270 BC, Letter to Menecius)
Philosophy: we are wrong to paint it inaccessible to children … Since philosophy is the one that teaches us to live, and that childhood has its lesson there, like other ages, why don’t we communicate it to her? A child is able to philosophize, from his first years, much better than to learn how to read or to write. (Montaigne, 16th century, Essais)
A child is a researcher: from the time he starts speaking, he is curious, he touches to everything, he wants to experiment, he asks questions. But usually either the parents answer him and move on something else, or they say that they don’t have time to answer or that they don’t know, or they prefer to send him to watch TV, play games… But they don’t discuss with him, which means take the time to sit with him, do nothing else, and have a real conversation with the child. It’s not anymore: « do this » or « don’t do that », or « if you work well at school you will have this thing »… It’s to take the child as an equal person. What happens? The child grows up, gets used to not having answers to his questions: how did I get born? Why the sky is blue? Why sometimes I am sad and some other time I am happy?… all these existential questions which are important to him, but as he get used to not receive answers, he forgets and learn how to play the « adults’ game », the one from the parents and the one from the teachers. At school, he receives a lot of knowledge (he forgets most of it when he grows up), learns some rules in order to live in society, learns to think of/about/into (think of doing his homework, to tell his mother something, of his friend…) but does not learn to think critically, « to think the thinking »: it means judge, analyze, criticize, be able to distance oneself, estimate, make connections between its own representations, use logic. But to think, we need to be conscious. It’s a necessity. There is no possible thinking without consciousness, this « presence to oneself » like Descartes said.
WHAT IS IT?
Critical thinking, or more commonly called philosophical practice, is the incessant research for truth that proceeds through questioning, allowing one to interact and deal with the others, to confront with oneself, to get out of received ideas and give meaning to banalities. It is the ability to think clearly, rationally, and to engage in reflective thinking. It is a way of thinking in which we don’t simply accept all arguments, objections and conclusions. It teaches how to think objectively and rigorously, to develop a critical and constructive thinking, to give meaning to what we say, to what we do.
I work a lot with children and teenagers; the lack of confidence and/or strong ego provoke often some violent behavior, antisocial behavior (insults, insolence…); during a “critical thinking” session, they – and it is the same thing for any human being – must be clear with the words they use, be precise. Critical thinking helps to become conscious and responsible of one’s own words and acts, it obliges “to know” and “to see”, “to make judgments”, “to take decisions”, to “think before talking”. It is also a moment where one’s learns to produce and understand ideas, to deepen them, to problematize them through questions and objections, to clarify them by forging and identifying concepts. It invites to identify issues and obstacles in the learning process. It is a way to examine the world and one’s own existence. Here, one’s must use reason, which is the power to distinguish what is true from what is false. It is to be able to think at the same time the thinkable and the unthinkable, like a police investigation on oneself, on others: seeing, questioning, analyzing, constructing, deconstructing, concluding, seeking for the truth. But like any other activity, this one has rigorous rules that one must understand and apply in order to reach the level of an art.
Practicing philosophy is usually different from what the professor or the philosophy teacher does. This one is generally a theoretician, teaching the most important ideas of the philosophers, talking for example about the concept of truth in Plato, Descartes, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard. They are teachers, some of them good pedagogues, they know well the history of philosophy, but they don’t do philosophy, they don’t practice it. Doing or practicing philosophy, it is « dare to know » (Kant), it is « to know how to be astonished » (Aristotle), it is « to be curious of what surrounds us » (Russell). It is to take distance with oneself, it is to be at the same time oneself and the other, it is to invite the subject to reconcile himself with himself through his words and his acts, it is to face its own fears, it is to accept the finitude of its being, its imperfection, its nullity. It is a dialogue with oneself and the others, it is to question oneself, learn how to like reality, to get out of its illusions, it is being here, present to the world and to oneself. It is to learn how to know oneself in order to give it up. We are not in “what is true?” but in “how is it true?”, not in what we think but how we think it, not in descriptive but in performative: we examine all the problematics, even the ones that are refused. It is not about a vision of the world, but how to develop and think some competencies. Think through what we know and not only as knowledge.
One starts from an idea, an opinion, and before moving on to another, we work on it, like a sculptor with a piece of clay. We put aside our subjectivity; it is used, of course, but in order to make it an objective thought.
It is “taking part in a discussion, a dialogue, a debate: speaking to others, listening to others, formulating a point of view, justifying it with an argument, making a judgment”.
To discuss, to dialogue does not mean imposing one’s ideas on others, but thinking, which is taking the risk of seeing one’s beliefs, certainties criticized, analyzing what is said so as to verify whether a proposition is valid, see how it is false or useless, simultaneously take a perspective and its opposite in order to test a hypothesis, to construct it, to elaborate it. It also means making an “effort of intellectual work”. Problems are articulated – we learn to do so, to reconcile ourselves with a problem that is generally perceived as something negative, an obstacle, whereas it is at the heart of all teaching. Deconstruct to rebuild. Is that still true? Are there times when this is wrong? Is that still the case? This forces one to think of one thing and its limitations.
Always we must ask “How do we know this?”, “Is this conclusion based on evidence, certitude, feelings, or on something built logically, reasoned?”. We must be able to suspend our own judgment (Descartes) in order to understand the other, even where there is still a disagreement. We must try to put ourself at the place of the other (Kant), which means be able to go out of our own opinions, of our own beliefs in order to understand the others’ opinions, the others’ beliefs. In this way, we can either reinforce our opinion, either nuance it or change our mind. It is an important part also of creativity because we need it to evaluate and improve our creative ideas. We use Socrates’ questioning which is a work on oneself, on consciousness: how do I know what I know? What are my arguments? Can I justify all my affirmations? Am I coherent with myself? And Hegel’s dialectic where he makes a distinction between internal critic and external critic. In critical thinking, we deal more with internal critic, where we “work” the opinion inside instead of giving a new opinion. The philosophers are there, in filigree.
WHAT IT HAS TO DO IN EDUCATION?
In general, the teacher, the “educator”, establishes direct relations between him and each pupil, instead of creating a communication network among the pupils themselves. Here, he is asked somehow to agree to come down from his pedestal, and even more to put aside his ego. Because the teacher is the one who knows, the ego is strengthened. If some students learn easily, this is not the case for all, each not having the same relationship to knowledge, to the acquisition of skills. Now every knowledge, every matter, every skill is in a way a world in itself. Either the teacher will mostly work with the five-six students who always raise their hands, who are rather good students and keep quiet; and then it will work with those who are in great difficulty, separately. But here, in the philosophical discussion, what do we ask? To tear oneself away in order to plunge into a world that is not his, and that is all the difficulty. Who says wrenching says pain, suffering, violence, and it is something that one cannot conceal when one teaches. To discuss and debate is above all to think critically, to problematize, that is, to analyze what is said in order to verify whether a proposition is valid, and to see how it is false or useless. Take simultaneously a perspective and its opposite to test a hypothesis, to construct it, to elaborate it. Simple questions to ask themselves, and children usually learn them quickly: is that always true? Are there times when this is wrong? Is that still the case?
This forces to think something and its limits.
It is about “deconstructing” to “reconstruct”. The Cartesian principle of method (tools for thinking), which will be found among others in Spinoza, Hegel… Principles of philosophy applicable both in class and in everyday life. This means reconciling with the concept of “problem”, which is generally perceived as something negative, as an obstacle, as something not good, whereas it is at the heart of all teaching, and for the reasons cited above.
It is to oblige the children (and the adults) to get out of themselves, to become more active, more with the others, to be responsible for themselves and the society in which they live. Terrible responsibility, terrible freedom! “Human beings are condemned to be free.” (JP Sartre).
Studies, mainly in Quebec, have been carried out on the impact of the philosophical workshop as a prevention of violence, by working on emotions: knowing how to name them, explaining them, looking for causes, consequences, giving them Meaning, since violence is often linked to badly managed emotions. In these philosophical courses, children do not “tell their own life”, talk about themselves, their problems (it’s the role of psychologists), but learn to do research work together with others: To seek the meaning of words, to ask questions, to provide reasoned answers (what we call “arguments”) based on their opinions, on what they think, to take a critical look at the ideas of their comrades; that is to say, to learn to see a logical or reasoning problem (it is not a question of whether it is good or bad – what is commonly called moral judgment – but simply to find problems), make links between ideas…
It is not a matter of bringing children into competition with each other, but of getting them to cooperate (learning how to ask for help from their peers when they can not do it), building a thoughtful thinking. One can use any medium, oral or written (a question, a history, paintings, a concrete situation…). Co-construction of knowledge through listening, respect of the other’s speech, sharing, solidarity that allow to learn how to be autonomous, to live with the others.
Every gesture laid down, every word uttered is not insignificant: everything has a cause, a reason for being. One transmits one’s thought with words, one constructs one’s thought with words, one constructs one’s being. It is the learning of language from kindergarten, it’s education; speaking does not come alone, it must be educated.
“To educate is to anticipate the evolution of the other, to assume it is capable of doing what it does not yet know how to teach it to do so” said Philippe Meirieu, a French pedagogue, specialist in education (he is very well known in France). A language that elaborates itself through sentences and not signals (for example: head-marks), with a subject (what we are talking about, a fixed point) and a predicate (what we say and assume responsibility for). It is the language that will allow to dialogue with the others, children and adults.
I will make a parenthesis. One day, a director of a big high school in the French suburb told me: Our students do not know how to argue, express a point of view in a clear way, they do not even know how to make a sentence. Because of this, because they cannot express themselves with words, they use their bodies and it leads to violence. So asking them to think is an impossible task.
It is a question of “thinking”, not of “thinking to something”. We must just look at the results at the philosophy exam at the end of high school in France (very important) or discuss with philosophy teachers to see that there is a real problem. It is not by teaching philosophy at seventeen or eighteen years old that a student will learn to think by himself. Thinking must become internal to existence, and not external to existence, it must be something natural, normal.
“To live without the thought, is not to live, it is to lead a life of ignorance. (Plato).
Here, we raise awareness that words have meaning, which values the pupil as a person, as a subject. It is a kind of reconciliation with one’s identity, hence the importance of the confrontation with the other: that other than me, the “stranger” (differing in culture, social origin, past, temperament, religion…). By accepting the other, one accepts oneself more, the other serving as a mirror. Critical thinking gives a confidence in his own possibilities, in his own capacities, for example cognitive as knowledge is no longer reserved to specific people.
I will make a second parenthesis. In France, philosophical workshops were added to the curriculum at the beginning of the actual school year in the course of Moral and Civic Education which contains four main dimensions:
– the sensitivity which aims at the acquisition of a moral conscience through work on expression, identification, the putting into words and the discussion of emotions and feelings;
– the rule and the law which aim at the acquisition of the meaning of the rules of living together;
– the judgment that makes it possible to understand and discuss the moral choices encountered by each during his / her life;
– the commitment which allows the practice to be put into practice by insisting on the spirit of autonomy, cooperation and responsibility vis-à-vis others.
The difficulty is that most of the teachers don’t have the skills to do it, and usually the workshops become more debates of opinions than something which has to do with philosophy!
The teacher must become a facilitator, not in the teacher-student relationship but in a mutual teaching. It can bring knowledge, but it must also, and above all, make children think. Often students want to convince others that they are right, that their ideas are good, or even the best, correct. When someone wants to convince another person that he is right, he does not try to argue with him, he wants to prove something to him, among other things that he is right, that he knows. But when a student asks the teacher: I have a question. Could you answer that? He waits for the right answer. If the teacher answers: what is your answer to this question first? And then, “are you satisfied with your answer? “, it obliges the pupil to think, he has to leave his role of” consumer “. Often, because we became so accustomed to it, the student wants the answer of the teacher, of the one who holds the knowledge, and that is a problem. Here, we learn to expect nothing, not even the “right” answer. Even if the student says something wrong or false, we forget our desire to “rectify” his slightest mistake. Something that the teacher does naturally, even if he is not always conscious of it.
In order to think critically, it’s necessary to have a self-discipline. We must not leave our desires to be stronger than reason, desires that can lead us only to chaos, confusion, frustration, resentment, sadness, anger.
This knowledge (philosophical skills) allows us to get out of our affective condition and to go in a more reasonable condition (based on reason).
WHAT DO THESE CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS BRING TO EDUCATION?
. Help resolve conflicts
. Learning to life in society, to citizenship (taking into account the other)
. Formulate correct answers (proficiency in the language), answer the questions asked
. Self-knowledge, and therefore openness to others and to the world
. Critical thinking
. Giving meaning to learning
. Promotes behavior appropriate to classroom life
. Speaking to others without fear
. Bring confidence, less fear, learn to be responsible (one leaves the status of victim)
. Identify problems, name them (articulation)
. Development of individual thinking, structuring
ABOUT THE IMPACTS IN THE CLASSROOM
I will quote two teachers with whom I have been working for many years on the connection between critical thinking and education.
One is the director and teacher of a primary school located in a very poor suburb of Paris (France).
– Better consideration of student mechanisms
– Better management time in class
– A change in the view that the teacher has and regards his pupils
– Change in students’ attitude in the classroom: more listening, attention, dialogue with others, freedom (learning to say “I do not know” not to get rid of a difficulty or because I’m not interested, but because I really do not know)
– It allows them to get out of themselves, to be interested in others, to get out of boredom for some (boredom they often have with themselves), to “see the world”.
– Setting up a climate of confidence in the classroom (instead of answering “nothing” when chatting with the neighbor for example, we speak the truth and we pass …).
The second is a secondary and high school’s teacher who is working in one of the poorest suburbs in South Africa: Every time I give instructions, I check if the students understand by asking someone in the class to repeat the instructions with their own words. If there is confusion, if they have forgotten something, or if they simply cannot repeat it, they must ask another student to help them. In this way, I let them become more responsible for their own understanding. I let them do the work of clarification, explanation for everyone, so everyone can understand. It’s something they do better than me. Slowly, the students begin to listen to each other, and listen to me with more attention. They are able to speak more clearly and, more importantly, ask questions when they do not understand. It is up to each teacher to create a space in his classroom where the students:
– feel safe and able to express themselves, ask questions when they do not understand;
– listen, clarify the thoughts and ideas of others, and offer additional explanations when necessary;
– speak clearly and are responsible for their ideas, for themselves;
– understand and accept each with its differences, and have the patience to work together despite their disagreements.
As educators, parents and teachers, it is up to us to lead change, so our children can become responsible beings, capable of thinking for themselves, and more than ever this is what the world needs. Critical thinking is an essential tool in education. And we must ask ourselves, in our time, where social networks, where the facticity of relationships have become common objects, what we want to offer to our children, what society we want for them. It’s a choice we make, wherever we live, whatever our culture, our religion, the social environment we live! We must offer this opportunity to our children who will become the citizens, even/indeed the leaders of tomorrow.
I will finish by a quote of the Holy Qu’ran: « If you manage to know yourself completely, if you can honestly and harshly confront both your dark sides and your bright sides, you will come to a supreme form of consciousness. When a person knows herself, she knows God… »
Thinking Summer Camp
Beijing, August 18th – 24th, 2019
Translated into Chinese, we wrote it on a large sheet of paper and pasted it on the wall. Walls of the “Thinking room” where we stuck what we were doing during the days: ideas, reflections, drawings… We added as well the objects the children made with the clay.
At our arrival on Monday morning, half an hour before the beginning of the first session, I saw a lady, Anqing: she was the teacher-assistant for the week. She knew already philosophical practice as she has been doing tutoring for quite a long time. What was good for me is that she spoke well English. A couple of other persons were there, I learned later that they were teachers-observers. I told Anqing what I expected from her and from the other, which was different from what had happened during the first two camps. I asked them to observe, to take notes, to analyze. I told them that it was a good way to learn.
We made a circle with the chairs, and, when the children were all seated, I presented what we were going to do during the week, gave them some ideas about what is thinking, what it means, how it can be painful sometimes, especially at the beginning when we are not used to it, and as well how it can be and/or become joyful. I also settled some rules that I explained. For the first two days, I repeated them, made the children them repeat, and then stuck them on the wall along with some other papers.
Importance of the walls: a room just for this group, the children and the adults, during 6 days, included during the workshop and activity in front of the parents on the afternoon of the 6th day. A room where many things happened during this intensive week: tears (some children cried, especially on the first days), laughters, moments intense or relaxed, moments where children were thinking hard, totally involved in what was happening, some other where they got tired, where they couldn’t concentrate anymore, some other, really beautiful, calm – like for example during the monk exercise at the end of each day — so amazing on the last day, in front of all the parents and organizers. Very intense, demanding week where the children did what some adults won’t be able to do. 16 children, 9 boys and 7 girls from 9 to 12 years old (with an average of 10-11) coming from different backgrounds, different work class (middle/upper middle class, maybe even above), children who were like little adults for some of them in their way of speaking, of behaving but who were just kids, willing to play, having fun, laughing.
Thinking: it does not mean waiting for results, positive or negative. Listen, observe, question. Difference between what is important from what is secondary. Learn to be satisfied. Don’t wait for perfection. Enjoy ideas.
Importance of rules from the beginning
To repeat them during the day and following days, make sure they are applied. A rule is not arbitrary, it has reasons which need to be explained, understood by the children: raise hand when you want to speak, put your hand down when someone speaks, don’t choose your neighbor, nothing in the hands apart from when you have to write or read what you have written. Small circle. Change place every day increases focus of the children.
How the days went…
Starting at 9 am, a break at 10:30, then lunch time between noon and 2 pm, starting again, a break at 3:30 pm, finishing at 5 pm.
Everyone seated in a circle, a candle on a small table in the middle, an old man representing reason, common sense, the day starts with meditation – it helps to tranquilize the mind – accompanied from music, a new piece every day (starting with 5 minutes, adding one minute every day and finishing with 10 minutes the last day). Then, we move with a first workshop, that we usually continue after the break; it allows to go deeper and not to stay at the surface. During it, we work both on attitudes: listening, taking distance with oneself, see the other as an equal and not as an enemy, get interest in the other, be responsible; and on skills: give valid reasons, reasonable arguments to support an idea, give objections, interpret.
A philosophical workshop (or “thinking” workshop as it’s the name we use during the camp) is not a debate of opinions; it’s a place where everyone learns to discuss, to dialogue with the others. Dialogue which does not mean imposing one’s ideas on others, but taking the risk of seeing his own beliefs, his own certainties criticized, analyzing what is said so as to verify whether a proposition is valid or not, see how it is false or useless, simultaneously take a perspective and its opposite in order to test a hypothesis, to construct it, to elaborate it. It also means making an “effort of intellectual work” where problems are articulated (we learn to do so, to reconcile ourselves with a problem that is generally perceived as something negative, an obstacle). To deconstruct in order to rebuild: is it still true? Are there times when it is wrong? Is it still the case? This forces one to think of one thing and its limitations. It’s to learn to use his reason and his capacity to control his emotions, to be an autonomous and responsible person, which makes one human.
We can say that ignorance and the mistake characterize more or less human knowledge. It’s through reflection that the child can tear oneself away from its original situation and rise to the point of understanding the other: put away his opinions, his convictions, get out of his comfort zone, suspend his judgment to empathize with the other and to understand what he is saying; get out of his desires of trying to convince the other in order to go into his thought.
Here, it is to recognize the child as a human being; to invite him to think what he has in mind; to respect him as a person with his own identity, his own choices, his own decisions. It is not a matter of bringing the child into competition with the other, but of getting him to cooperate with him. Learning how to ask for help from his peers when he cannot do it by himself, thank them for it. There is a co-construction of knowledge through listening, respect of the other’s speech, sharing, equality, solidarity that allow to learn how to be autonomous, to live with the others. We give meaning to the concept of “freedom”, which is not about making money and buying what we want, having a high position, not fearing the other’s judgment, not fearing of loosing face, all these fears that they call in Taoism “being a prisoner”, but thinking by oneself with his own mind, researching oneself with the help of the others, making choices, growing up.
At the beginning, it was difficult, uncomfortable as children are not used to “think”, but more and more there was a progress as they were starting to understand what was happening during the sessions. Some children looked naturally well with themselves, but some of them looked really sad. Fear of existing, or of not existing! Some kids cried, not for the same reason. One boy because he just wanted to do what he wants. At the same time, he wanted to be in the group, he was afraid of being excluded. On the second day, as he cried again, when he came back (I asked him to go out of the room for a little while), he made a clear adjustment, passing from the mixture of sadness and anger to peace. One of his reflections during the week was: “The camp is fun but why the teacher does not always pick me up when I raise my hand?”. A girl cried on the first day, because she did not want to answer any of my questions, she was rejecting all of them, sending me away. Even when we went outside for an activity, she did not behave well. After discussion with one teacher, I decided to exclude her from the creative workshop with the possibility to come back at the end. What she did, and during the following days, she changed, being in a more peaceful state and starting to smile. Her desire of perfection was so strong that she was totally unhappy with herself. But on the last day, it was so beautiful when she presented her creative works in front of the parents. Change, little by little. Sometimes a big step, sometimes going back, then another step, big or small. See the change in the faces, in the bodies, see the construction of the self, the growing up.
Difficulty to concentrate for some children: thinking is very demanding, what I call “painful”: Answering questions, making choices, controlling emotions… Children who are being asked to be the best, children, especially the girls, who are “never good enough”. Heavy load to carry!
During the workshops, different materials were used: questions, stories, images, paintings. As well, during the outdoor moment, the children had to do some activity or work, sometimes by pairs. One was to interview people in the street: “What is fair for you? What is unfair? Can you give a reason for it?”. Another one was to look at the people and imagine their emotion at that moment.
On the afternoon, either there was a new workshop, either it was the continuity of the one started after the morning break, usually of a duration of 70 to 90 minutes. Then, outdoor activity (unless it was done in the morning like it happened a couple of times) and snack. The last past was reserved to a creative activity based on the subject of the day: painting a “French portrait” which is an association of ideas, drawing the emotion met in one person outside, representing with clay and different material an object that has the power of making invisible, an animal that represents freedom. After a discussion about it – discussion that was continued the next morning after the meditation -, we took the last fifteen minutes for the “Monk’s exercise” that I adapted for the children: moment where they reflected about the day, what they preferred, what they learned, it was their moment where I did not ask any question.
After the children left, with the teachers assistant and observers, we all sat together and everyone gave his/her analysis of the day, their observations about the process, the children. It was very useful for me as facilitator and a good way to thank them for the “work” they had to do, which was not easy and a little bit rough sometimes. I will say a couple of words more about Anqing, the teacher assistant: she was there from the beginning to the end of the camp; she got totally engaged in what was happening, observing, taking notes, helping with the children, always with a good attitude, posed, calm, she never got irritated.
As well, with Shirley, we discussed a lot about what we were going to do, sometimes we decided not to do a workshop because we wanted to continue the one we started in order to go deeper in it. There was a collaboration that was necessary in order to make the camp working well and in a coherent way.
At the beginning of the first day
I started with an introduction: what are we going to do during this week? First, listening, not only with the ears, but also with the eyes; it’s very important. Second, like a detective, observing what’s going on. This (some sentences that I picked from Taoism), we are going to keep it all the week and have it in mind: it’s about ourselves and about the others. We are going to deal with your ideas. I am not a teacher, but I am like an orchestra chief and you are all the musicians: you play an instrument, you become the instrument – that’s a good musician – but here, it’s about thinking. And me, I will act like an orchestra chief, I won’t play an instrument, meaning that I won’t give you my ideas. Most of the time, I won’t choose someone, you will do it. Maybe someone will say, “I agree with your idea”, but sometimes he will say, “I disagree with your idea, I see a problem.” And of course, he will have to give a proof, to say what is the problem. Is it “I disagree with you because I have another idea or because I see something that is not always true in what you say, something wrong in it”. We will listen and see if it makes sense.
Suddenly, a boy raises his hand. “What’s your name?” –
He answers in English
– You don’t like to speak Chinese?
He looks at his tee shirt
– You don’t know your name? (Children start laughing).
– Look, let me teach you something: if you want to laugh, you must learn to laugh inside yourself, so you don’t bother the other.
– Leave your notebook and your pen, come back with me. What’s your name again?
– But you know your name, right?
– So, why are you looking at your name here? (He is looking at his tee-shirt) – no answer, hesitation – You have any idea?
– Do you want to know?
– To all the children: Forget about what you have in your hands. Put in on the floor. From now, you will have only one pen. I don’t want you to have many things with you. We need to concentrate, so you leave everything on the floor, you forget about things now. Thinking is slow. When we think, we enjoy. We don’t wait for results, positive, negative. Thinking won’t help you to earn a lot of money, but it will help you at least for one thing: to get freedom of the mind. So, we forget about things now, and when I speak to someone everybody listens.
– To a child: what are you doing now? – The child answers
– Fine, here it’s about being conscious.
– To the first child: do you remember our discussion?
– What was it? The boy says it.
– Do you have one idea about it that comes into your mind now? I want you to use your imagination if you don’t have any.
– No, I don’t.
– As it is the beginning, we are going to ask your friends and what I am doing with you, it’s what we will do during the week with different topics. You are ready?
– Now, you are going to ask: “who would like to help me?” For the ones who have an idea, just raise your hand. Try to imagine why someone… (I repeat what happened). Some children raise their hand.
– You choose someone (Please, keep your hands up), ask him.
– It’s ok (if the idea does not work). Who would like to try? – Pick up someone else.
– Do you think it’s an interesting idea?
– For now, you remember, you have nothing to propose. So, let’s keep it for now, let’s take another one. What do you think about his idea? Is it interesting, does it make sense to you?
– So, you take at least this idea. (The boy raises his hand). Now, you have also an idea: what is it?
– I am nervous.
– Why will you be nervous?
-I don’t know (we don’t have garbage here? Put your “I don’t know” in the garbage now). Again, try to find an idea: why will you be nervous?
. Because you ate too much at breakfast?
. Because you did not sleep well?
. Because it’s new for you to be here?
– No, I am familiar with it
Let’s ask everyone: why our friend will be nervous? Some raise their hand.
– He is afraid of being punished if he makes a mistake.
– It’s a habit for him -> (check with what is an habit: something you do regularly or something you do exceptionally? Regularly. So, if it’s a habit that means that he does it often. “I am just listening to what you say. If you say he is nervous and it’s a habit, it means that he is often nervous.) -> The child refuses.
– You see that you refuse often the idea that your friends propose to you?
– But at the same time, you have nothing to propose. Let me tell you a rule to remember for the week. First, I thank you for what happened. “When you say I don’t know because you don’t have any idea, we ask your friends to give you some ideas. But if you refuse all of them without giving any idea, there is a logical problem: so, either you can propose something, either you go with one of the propositions of your friend. Maybe you will find another idea later, but for now you take what you have.
Every day we will start with some meditation: five minutes today, and then every day I will add one more minute to arrive at ten minutes on the last day. I will put some music and will ask you just to listen and to concentrate on it. Your position: close your eyes, put your hands on your thighs and breathe. About the program, we will have one different topic per day with different workshops held by Shirley and myself. We will go outside every day for an outdoor activity, and after the afternoon break we will have creative thinking: moment where you will all be invited to draw, paint, sculpt something based on the subject of the day. We will finish by a reflection exercise. That’s for the frame of the day.
Some comments made by the observers at the end of each day
– The children can ask questions when they don’t understand.
– Pay attention to the thinking attitude. Even if it is difficult, can make happy and free.
. Crying happens sometimes, it’s fine, let it go, nothing will happen.
. Slow down: be satisfied, happy with what one has. Don’t look for perfection, it does not exist and it brings anger, resentment, all sad feelings and emotions.
– Flexibility, not follow the established program but based on what happens with the children
– Not the right answers from the teacher but based on everybody’s observation
– Very demanding for the children. They are not used to think, just to be the best at school, to obey or do what they want to.
– Observe each child very carefully. Push when it’s necessary, don’t push when it’s not: in that case, go to the group.
– During the days, the children changed their behavior, they were more willing to share their ideas, to recognize the others’ ideas and their own ideas as interesting, good, useful, like for example one girl who said “I insist: it’s my idea” (girl with a lack of self-confidence at the beginning) or like these three children who, at one moment, started discussing about the reasons they did not raise their hands and had reflection on their behavior.
– Le classroom becomes calmer. Participation in thinking is deeper. The children are more conscious about the rules and their attitude: “magical” change a. One detail about what happened one morning during a workshop: groups’ discussions were made for the first time; there was a facilitator with some specific instructions to him: responsibilities toward the group.
– For example, to ask the children to check if the task has been done or not. It’s a way of making them responsible about what happens.
– During the street interviews, the children took the task very seriously, and some of their conclusions were very relevant, well thought. A work of analysis difficult to do, and nevertheless they did it well. They had some nice, suitable remarks.
– Trust the children, respect them, and at the same time it’s very demanding.
– The children learned to control their emotions, and the importance of it in order to be able to think.
Philosophy in kindergarten
This article is the result of a project in a kindergarten school located in Paris. It was written in collaboration with one of the teachers, Anne Sade-Bayol.
For children, learning to think together is very important because it is directly related to the relationship that the human being has with the world around him and with himself. It is to see “the other” as a possible interlocutor and not as a threat.
Necessity of language as it helps to dialogue, to interact with the others, children and adults.
However, philosophical workshops are at the heart of the problematic of language, by the skills and attitudes they aim for.
Thinking allows you to be with others: the speech can take its place in a debate.
Speech is not just a tool for communicating with others, it is there to engage with others.
By working on attitudes, the child is able to find and take his place in the debate and collective work:
– put yourself in listening position.
– Dare to ask and speak
– Lift your finger so as not to cut off the words of others, so as not to prevent the other from speaking.
– Do not raise your finger when someone is talking: if someone raises his or her finger when someone speaks, ask him why he is raising his finger at that moment.
Students, even younger ones, need to understand the value of these demanding rules. It’s not just “I raise my finger to not interfere” but “I raise my finger because I grew up” “If I want to be listened to, I have to be able to listen to other “. Listening to the other allows one to learn about the other, expresses interest in one’s word, and shows respect for it. The student learns to forget himself to go to the other, to welcome his word, he learns to think with others.
The ability to listen to others is an essential attitude in kindergarten.
This allows the child to focus, to focus on what his classmates say.
Second attitude, understanding that the word makes sense “I take the floor to say something” The word is to say what we feel, give an idea, express an opinion, argue (say why) … In short, c is to think for oneself, it is the “I” who speaks.
It is to accept the other as another than me … He can think like me or differently from me, he can feel feelings, emotions, which may be different from mine. He is a mirror, he is at the same time like me and different from me.
Thought is built collectively: the speech allows you to learn with others.
A child, as soon as he can speak, is able to appropriate the object of his research, to learn and to understand with others. He is also able to analyze what he hears:
– identify the question asked by the facilitator.
– Repeat, rephrase the question and explain what we are looking for, what we are thinking about. At first, it shows that the child is there, present with others. In a second time, it shows that he understood what is asked of him.
– Answer the question asked.
– Give an idea. Spot an idea. Say a different idea. An important question to ask: “Is it the same or not the same as what your comrade has just said? “
– Listen to the other, be able to repeat what he says. To be able to say what one understood of the subject.
– To say whether we agree or disagree by giving an argument.
– To be able to say “I do not know”. Become aware of his misunderstandings, of what one cannot say, of his impossibility or of his difficulties in formulating his thought. Gradually, the “I do not know” is no longer an attitude of avoidance, it takes a real sense.
– Ask for help, because it’s becoming aware that I do not know anymore, that I did not understand. It’s working on the mistake and the difficulties. It is also going out of oneself to go towards the other.
Thought is built individually:
Realize that your word makes sense. “It allows me to think, to learn. It gives me power to understand the world around me and act on it. “
“What I say is important, it is not the other who knows for me. The word commits itself, it expresses meaning, it allows to become aware of its own content, which consciousness is the key concept of philosophical work for Plato.
To be able to say “I”…, to appropriate the “I”. The “I” allows me to become a singular subject and thinking, the “I” engages me. It is not the “I” that expresses the anecdotal “I have new shoes” but the one that allows to express a thought, an idea, an opinion…
The “I” is used both in form work (for example: listening) and in the background work (ideas).
I agree / do not agree – I know / do not know. -I think…
Example of discussion around “I agree / do not agree”:
Boy: God lied.
Isabelle: What makes you say that?
Boy: Usually, it is he who watches over the people who lie, and there he is who lies.
Isabelle: Who does not agree with Papamamadou?
Girl 1: I do not agree. It’s not true that God is lying, because it’s just a story.
Isabelle: Who has another idea?
Girl 2: the character may have been wrong.
Boy 2: Me, I agree with Papamamadou. It is God who lies in history.
From the large section, the appropriation of the I, the passage from the collective to the singular being is important. In a family of 4-5 children or more (which is very common among children of this school), say “I” shows that I exist as of right, that I am a singular being.
The challenge is to realize that my word makes sense, not only for me but also for others. Because others can express themselves about me, they can have an opinion on my subject.
To do this involves to:
– ask the floor wisely, respecting the theme of the debate, respecting the rules of speaking.
– Be able to repeat a comrade’s words before emitting a new idea.
– Understand what someone else is saying and give a reasoned opinion. To agree / disagree, not about oneself but about the other.
– Realize how difficult it is to express an idea and dare to ask for help.
This construction was developed throughout the workshops. The “I” has come almost from itself, with the singular utterance, with the “I” that engages: what I say is important, my word is taken into account, it is no longer there to say only words, but to express something, to make sense. In the first sessions, the work on form takes a long time; in the beginning, you also learn to position your body so you can think. For example, put his hands flat on his thighs to avoid playing with various objects, stand up straight to get into listening position. Little by little things are settling on their own.
The teaching material
We worked from different media.
Progress of the PS at the GS: at the beginning, it is about learning to build the thought from objects that can be touched and seen.
– “Same / Not the Same”: learning to distinguish what is similar and different.
For example, in PS / MS, take two objects (two different soft toys), ask to name them, and then ask to compare them: what is the same? What is not the same?
In GS, some formal exercises allow students to express different ideas, working on “Same / Not Like” and “Agree / Disagree”
Example of exercises:
– How is it the same and different? A policeman and a firefighter. A merchant and a thief. Play and work. Swim and walk. A white child and a black child … (To us French CE1, Sedrap, exercises created by Oscar Brenifier).
– Short stories about moral concepts: lying / truth, love / hate, obeying / disobeying … from stories of Nasruddin Hodja and M’Bolo, the African hare (“Wisdom and mischief “, Albin Michel editions). These stories are worked in two stages: first, we work the understanding: “What’s the story about? The judgment: “Which character did you prefer? “, The argumentation: Why?, the conceptualization: How is it? What is he doing? “. In a second time, one can ask more open questions where one questions more certain problems: “Should one always be nice with one’s friends? Do you always obey? Can God lie? Students must articulate their choices, argue them and compare them with those of their classmates.
– General questions: Growing up, what is it? What’s bad? Why are we eating? Where do you come from?…
This work seemed more difficult, both for the students and for us: the questions were too abstract for them, it did not really speak to them, and they could not give ideas, to argue their ideas.
For example, we worked on the concept of fear in MS. They have a representation of what it is, but they remain on their emotions, folded on themselves. The purpose of the workshop is then to put words on these emotions, to distance oneself from the feeling. It is also useful and necessary to use stories or music.
In general, it is necessary to remain simple, to make think using simple questions. You must also know how to choose the stories used. Yacouba’s album on courage, used at the end of the first trimester with the GS has proved too complicated for children, there are too many elements in this story, whereas the stories of Nasreddin, rather short and simply structured are more easily usable.
At first, what is difficult for the teacher is to move from his traditional position of “scholar” to that of facilitator. The teacher is generally very attached to the knowledge, to the mastery of the language (one of the objectives in Great Section), he is very concerned with the error. For example, in literature or mathematics, the teacher has a precise expectation, he wants correct answers. However, in the philosophical workshop, there are no good or bad answers a priori, there are answers, even if sometimes they may initially seem absurd, that the class will be invited to examine critically. This offers a freedom to the child, who will dare, at a given moment, to speak, especially because the teacher will have taken another look at him, more attentive and more generous. That’s why he will find his place in the debate.
Finally, the major differences between philosophical workshop and classical education, “school”, are as follows. The child is asked to make a judgment about his own words and those of his comrades. This implies that he is able to reformulate the discourse of the other, as well as his own speech. For this, the “same / not the same” is an essential tool because it allows to compare the two discourses, that of the comrades and his. From then on, the pupil puts himself to the test of his own thought and that of others. He considers, for a moment, the stakes and the consequences of his own speech. He learns to recognize a problem, to see it as something objective, even positive. He becomes aware of the true and false, because in this exercise he is not determined arbitrarily, but independently and autonomously. He becomes aware of his identity of being thinking: “I can think that I can think. Here we have a test of the singular being, we are in philosophical construction, we are witnessing the emergence of philosophizing.