Student workshop programs
In recent months I’ve had the joy of working with some outstanding junior high school students at Eltham College and Northcote High School. They’ve sunk their teeth into a lot of tough questions, worked together to generate a variety of inventive arguments, and helped each other to test their reasoning and weigh up their conclusions.
Thanks to the students’ high levels of engagement, I’ve successfully trialled a number of newly-created workshops on themes including the nature of happiness; the value of authenticity; the ethics of dark tourism; and the metaphysics of life extension, immortality and transhumanism.
The students also began to investigate aesthetic, ethical, political and economic questions about the art world through a series of case studies which got them thinking about issues of artistic quality, conceptualisation, craftsmanship, forgery, and celebrity. I then drew on breaking news stories to prompt an inquiry into the value and contested definition of cultural heritage.
I often say that wrestling with these sorts of issues is philosophy at its most vivid: a living, breathing practice that prompts students to question, challenge, and refine their intuitions and worldviews. Each workshop has been a journey into unchartered territory, and the young explorers have been bold and attentive!
I’ve developed a new approach to teaching argument analysis which I trialled to an enthusiastic reception, and I look forward to honing this approach in the coming year.
I was very touched by the feedback of a lead teacher at Eltham College who wrote:
"Thank you for the amazing work you have done with our students. You are an exemplary practitioner and I feel we are so lucky to have found you!"
Special thanks to Dorothy Allan and Audra Keane who went out of their way to ensure that everything was in place for our programs; to Kai Tanter, my excellent co-facilitator who helped to facilitate workshops at Northcote High; and to all the bright and engaging students we've met along the way.
I was delighted to present talks at both the Australasian (FAPSA) and Victorian (VAPS) philosophy in schools conferences in recent months. I appreciated the opportunity to meet so many kindred teachers and share ideas and inspiration.
My presentation at the Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA) conference was entitled ‘Arrested Development: Why students get stuck in mere opinion-sharing, and what we can do about it’. Its ideas are documented in the five-part blog series described below.
My presentation at the Victorian Association of Philosophy in Schools (VAPS) conference was entitled 'O Brave New World, That Has Such Puzzles In't', and it addressed the fraught relationship between science and philosophy and the value of scientific discoveries and inventions as provocations to philosophical enquiry.
If you have any enquiries about these or other presentations that I offer, please don't hesitate to contact me.
School partnership projects in the new year
I’m excited to be returning to the following schools that I've had the pleasure of working with previously:
- Birralee Primary School, where I‘ll be delivering The Philosophy Club’s two-day staff training program;
- St Aloysius College, where I’ll be running an introductory workshop series for a new cohort of students; and
- Eltham College, where I’ll be continuing the intellectual adventure with the teachers as well as with my Years 8 and 9 students, while also setting sail with novice philosophers in Years 5 – 7.
A blog series for World Philosophy Day
To commemorate World Philosophy Day, I put out a five-part series of blog posts about epistemological understanding, why it matters, and how to help students develop it:
Part (1) Epistemology needs to matter: a call to arms argues for the importance of epistemology today, as we witness the rise of authoritarian populism and a growing disregard for rationality. I explain how young people’s epistemological understanding develops, where it is tends to stall, and why this is a crucial problem for the wellbeing of our society.
Part (2) Dying goats and flying dogs: troubles with relativism explains why I’m concerned when students say things like: “It’s their truth”, “It’s right for them” and “Who am I to say what’s right and wrong?” It explores the absurdity and self-contradiction of relativism, and explains why ‘judgement’ doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
Part (3) Tolerance gone rogue: (more) troubles with relativism looks into the value of shared reasoning, the difference between tolerance and relativism, and how ‘tolerance gone rogue’ leads to hypocrisy and imperils our society’s ethical progress.
Part (4) Friendly excursions into disequilibrium argues that thinking collaboratively affords opportunities that solitary introspection doesn’t –– and it explains why I’m advocating for students to engage in dialogic argument, a very particularly beneficial kind of classroom discussion. Here I also note how attempts at dialogic argument usually fall short of the ideal.
Part (5) Beyond parallel play: three keys to dialogic argument suggests three strategies we can use to promote genuine dialogic argument and avoid falling into the trap of pseudo-argument.
More from The Philosophy Club blog
I’ve lately added some more posts to the blog, including:
A paper in the Journal of Philosophy in Schools
My academic paper Strengthening Dialogic Argument: What teachers can learn from authentic examples of student dialogue (recently published in the open access Journal of Philosophy in Schools) may interest those of you who are concerned with enhancing teacher professional learning programs.