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For some years now Year 11 and 12 Hale students have been quietly visiting our Junior School to run Philosophical Community of Inquiries with students in Years 1-5. In 2009 I was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship and among other things I visited Mt Hollyoke College in Massachusetts where Professor Tom Wartenberg introduced me to this exciting program he was using with his Seniors. They used picture books to introduce childen to all sorts of interesting philosophical issues and questions and importantly he was teaching the older students how to conduct a philosophical Community of Inquiry. I had the pleasure of watching his students as they guided the children at an nearby underfunded primary school through lifes big questions. At the first school I visited the children there exploring the book “Morris the Moose”, and drew from it all sorts of fascinating epistemological questions such as “What’s wrong with Morris’ reasoning?” and “Is there more to knowledge than having reasons for a belief?” I visited another school later and watched his Senior students helping Year 3 students to appreciate the picture book “Emily’s Art”, discussing deep questions in Aesthetics such as “What are some things that you consider to be art?” & “Does art have to be man-made?” His students were inspiring and the childrens insights and enthusiasm inffectious. I determined on my return to Hale to implement a similar program.
A Philosophical Community of Inquiry is a pedagogical approach used throughout Hale school. This approach fosters a sense of community through communication, friendship, care, compassion, cooperation, acceptance, belonging and sharing. A philosophical Community of Inquiry promotes an understanding of values and inquiry based learning. In the search for meaning students are encouraged to dialogue about key common contestable issues and concepts developing an understanding of these matters for themselves. Students are exposed to ethical reasoning of different perspectives and different points of view. Philosophical Communities of Inquiry have inspired and undergirded the Hale School Philosothon, which is now replicated around Australia and in other countries.
In our Junior School the Year 12s are helping the Years 4 and 5 students explore metaphysical using the book “Let’s do Nothing!”. The book traces humorous but self-revelatory attempts of two young children as they attempt to do nothing, nothing at all. All sorts of interesting questions arise from the story which the children seem naturally to want to explore. “Is it possible to do ‘nothing’?”, “Can you think about ‘nothing’?” and “Is it different than not thinking? How? Why?” Another benefit of this program is the way in which the older boys find in themselves latent skills while others develop skills in dealing with young children as they explore questions of meaning and purpose. The program has been quite low key in the life of the school and yet I suggest it is one of the most valuable things we do because young men and young boys are grappling together to deal with life’s enduring questions. Such questions are all too often the domain of the lonesome learner. Surely some would look on at this process and question the educational value, to them the exercise is futile and equivalent to ‘doing nothing’ but when you see first-hand the way in which the young children’s eyes light up and you watch the gentle guidance of our young men then you too will be convinced of its value.
Head of Philosophy and Ethics
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