Philosophy

18th May 2001 at 01:00
THE PHILOSOPHY CLUB: an adventure in thinking. By Roger Sutcliffe and Steve Williams. pound;39.90. NEWSWISE: thinking through the news. By Roger Sutcliffe and Steve Williams. pound;37.50. STORYWISE: thinking through stories. By Karin Murris and Joanna Haynes. pound;47.50. DialogueWorks. www.dialogueworks.co.uk

"Philosophy is an ancient subject but with a modern significance," as the authors of The Philosophy Club say. In a pluralist society where there are wide differences in belief and opinion, how can we help young people find their own path to meaning? Children have a natural thirst for ideas and discussion, but where do we find time for this in a crowded school curriculum or in a busy life? An answer is offered in The Philosophy Club.

This pack provides ways of introducing philosophy and the discussion of ideas to young people at home, school or summer school. By a "philosophy club", the authors mean a space where young people and adults can share questions, discuss ideas and find their own answers to some perennial problems of humankind. This "thinking space" is not for the aimless chat of playground, or for focused thinking on curriculum content, but is a forum which supports serious and sustained discussion on questions and issues identified by the children.

At any age, children may ask wonderful questions, such as the child who asked: "Where does time go when it is over?" The problem is that not all children ask such questions, nor do adults always find the time to respond to or cultivate the curiosity behind them. This pack is full of ideas on how to encourage questions, guide discussion and stimulate thinking, which any teacher or parent would find useful.

Some of the suggested activities, such as Question Webs or Readers' Theatre, could enrich any lesson. Included are ways of classifying questions, a short course on logic, and some starting points for discussion from the great philosophers. Among these, Confucius is quoted as saying:

"He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in danger."

There is much here to stimulate the thinking of children and adults. A pity, perhaps, that more visual material was not included as stimulus for enquiry, but a sample from the Newswise resource is included in the pack, providing further starting points for thinking about what it is to be human.

Newswise began as an internet project, offering topical news stories to develop thinking and communication skills. The authors have now produced an "almanac", including the six editions of 2000 in one volume, which is of particular valu for teaching citizenship and critical thinking with older juniors or secondary children.

One may wonder why, if it is on the internet, there is a need for this published version. The authors say it is for teachers who "have no regular access to the internet" (are there such teachers?), or who view computers "with neither confidence or enthusiasm". Perhaps another justification is to say how convenient it is to have this guide to classroom enquiry and the accompanying news stories, activities and discussion plans in one readily accessible ring binder.

The Newswise almanac features last year's stories. Does this matter? Most of the topics chosen have continuing relevance, including issues such as poverty and wealth and the environment, but they also provide models for structured questions and exercises that could be used or adapted to stimulate thinking about any news story. No wonder Newswise was recommended in the Crick report as a good resource for citizenship.

The aim of philosophy with children is to develop thinking, citizenship, and literacy. Storywise is a valuable resource that harnesses the power of stories "to open up a space for children's thinking" and develop literacy skills.

The Storywise pack comes in three parts: a teacher's guide book, a folder of ideas and photocopiable resources for use with three classic picture books, and a "web of intriguing ideas" for use with other stories, poems or pictures.

Storywise is an updated version of Karin Murris's ground-breaking Teaching Philosophy through Picture Books. The focus is on nursery and primary children, but the teacher guidance provides useful advice for setting up communities of enquiry with people of all ages.

As the authors say, the community of enquiry is a powerful method in any setting where people wish to discuss issues of importance and relevance. They argue that philosophical discussion is not a luxury but a necessity if we want children to become "deep and courageous thinkers". Forthem, philosophy is not just about, as one child put it, "getting a bigger brain", but is also about fun and sharing a sense of wonder and achievement.

They summarise research into the benefits of philosophical enquiry, but also show in practical ways how, through the use of familiar stories, children's thinking can be opened to the unfamiliar and to philosophical puzzlement - and how a literacy hour can be turned into an adventure of ideas.

Robert Fisher is professor of education at Brunel University.More on philosophy with children at www.sapere.netwww.teachingthinking.net


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