Classroom philosophers make the best citizens

21st February 2003 at 00:00
IN the face of global challenges there can be no more important aim for education than to help young people to engage in thoughtful discussion of the problems and issues that face us in our public and private lives.

There is no better means of training pupils in thoughtful discussion than through a "community of enquiry", which is the method developed through research in 30 countries in ways of teaching "philosophy for children".

Philosophy for or with children is about training the mind - through philosophising, not just informing the mind, about the great philosophers and their systems of thought. It is about enabling children to do what Socrates was doing in the marketplace in Athens. It is not about courses of study in the systems of great thinkers. It is about philosophy in action, dealing with everyday issues and problems in a serious, systematic and sustained way.

For teachers it is a means for raising standards, particularly in literacy.

The foundations of literacy are laid through speaking and listening. Recent research has shown that in more than 90 per cent of literacy hour lessons at key stage 1, the children responded to questions in three words or fewer. Without high-quality interaction between teacher and pupil - typical of a "philosophy for children" approach - we will not develop the literate, active and engaged citizens of the future.

It is no wonder that literacy targets are not being achieved, nor will they be achieved, if teachers rely on the literacy strategy alone. Unless value is added to the literacy hour through the development of critical thinking, inference and deduction, then pupils' development will be limited to mechanical reading skills. Those schools who use my "Stories for Thinking" programme, which uses stories as prompts to engage children in serious, systematic discussion, report significant improvements in KS2 results.

However, there is no quick fix. While progress will be achieved, it is likely to be gradual but significant.

Professor Robert Fisher, of Brunel University, is the author of "Stories for Thinking". For more information see www.teachingthinking.net

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