An occasional newsletter from The Philosophy Club
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Dear friends,

As 2016 draws to a close and we reflect on the turbulence and strife we've seen this year on the international stage, many of us here in Australia are experiencing conflicting feelings. There's gratitude, because – being half a world away from political instability – we can turn our attention to holiday plans and other distractions. Yet at the same time, there's a nagging anxiety about what the future will bring.

If you're not as carefree as usual for this time of year – if humanitarian crises, environmental uncertainty, corruption and ineffectual global leadership have cast a shadow over your summer wind-down – you're certainly not alone. But nor are you helpless. Even by simply valuing open-mindedness, critical analysis, respectful dialogue, and ethical decision-making, you are helping to shape a better world. A world in which striving for independent and judicious thinking is the norm. A world in which differences are resolved peacefully. A world in which leaders are held to account. A world in which people recognise a plurality of well-reasoned, evidence-based perspectives on the big questions that confront us.

A lot has been written about our 'post-truth society'. One thing is clear: the ability to think philosophically is now more important than ever. As Ireland's President Michael D. Higgins
 said recently:

The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world... The emergence of those digital echo-chambers in which people are not allowing themselves, their beliefs, or indeed their prejudice to be challenged, has become a matter for considerable discussion... It is so important, then, that our children... be encouraged to think critically rather than merely reproduce the information pushed towards them by proliferating media sources. It is so important, too, that they learn to articulate their thoughts and provide justifications for them, and that they find ways of disagreeing without resorting to violence... I believe that those virtues of reflection, of critical reasoning and of ethical enquiry are ones that have gained renewed urgency in the present moment, as humanity is faced with unprecedented challenges of a global kind."


In this final newsletter of 2016, we bring you updates on our work, and we thank you for your support of our organisation's mission.

   "Philosophy is USEFUL!" ... Preshil teachers respond to our PD program
   Preschool Philosophy takes off at the Flemington Childcare Co-op
   What's new on the blog?
   Philosophy at the Royal Children's Hospital: "making sense of the world and our place in it"
   Thinking together at the Think West Festival

"Philosophy is USEFUL!" ... Preshil teachers respond to our PD program

Teachers at Preshil (an independent progressive school in Melbourne's east) recently completed our two-day professional development program. All the school's primary teachers took part, together with some specialist teachers from the high school.

It was an enriching experience for everyone involved, and we're buoyed by the strongly positive feedback we received. We asked participants to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of the program on a five-point scale, and we're proud to have received an average rating of 4.8 out of 5 ("highly satisfied") for the program overall, as well as for specific aspects like quality of material, quality of presentation, and relevance to teachers' classroom practice.

The teachers were enthusiastic about the prospect of integrating philosophical enquiry with the International Baccalaureate's PYP (Primary Years Program). They also expressed appreciation for the many carefully-chosen examples of dialogue from real-life student discussions, an element that we believe sets our PD program apart. By quoting from discussions we've facilitated among children, we vividly demonstrate how teachers can help their students to cultivate the specific philosophical skills we teach.

Teachers particularly appreciated our guidance on posing big questions; applying interdisciplinary tools for promoting deep, deliberative and metacognitive thinking; and fostering group discussion that maintains focus without sacrificing openness.

We've been greatly encouraged by the teachers' generous comments about our PD program as a whole:

  • "I feel like my philosophy barometer has been switched on and I'm excited about finding powerful stimuli and questions to put into practice the learning from these two days."
  • "The program was well-presented, with great handout notes as well. I think that the way in which you approached philosophy as a whole and then breaking it up into the foundational skills and practical teaching applications makes it valuable and do-able!"
  • "It was wonderful to see the range of resources that you willingly shared with us."
  • "Great introduction to philosophy teaching and guiding children through the philosophical maze."
  • "Slides, clips, audio, all really thoughtful."
  • "Wonderful example of great team teaching."
  • "Bamboozled... in a good way."
  • "This is a great way to learn alongside our students."
  • "Philosophy is USEFUL!"
  • "More please."

Thanks again to Preshil's leadership team for inviting us to help them pursue the vision of an intellectually rigorous and philosophically rich school environment. We look forward to collaborating further with Preshil in 2017.

Preschool Philosophy takes off at the Flemington Childcare Co-op

Our early experiments in preschool philosophy have been embraced by a local kindergarten!

Over the past six weeks, a small group of eager kids at Melbourne’s Flemington Childcare Co-op have been enjoying thoughtful and impassioned discussions, as well as philosophically-themed art-making and games.

In weekly philosophy sessions, four- and five-year-olds are learning how to think deeply about big questions, how to articulate their thoughts more clearly, and how to challenge and refine their own thinking. They’re also learning how to think together, by building on each other’s ideas and disagreeing respectfully. These valuable life skills are helping the children develop more confidence in the validity of their beliefs, while remaining free to change their minds whenever they so choose.

       Examples of the visual stimuli we use in our workshops

Over the weeks, despite occasional lapses into simple contradiction (“’Tis so!” “’Tis not!”), the children have begun to express themselves in more reasoned ways, increasingly coming out with phrases like “I agree with you because…”

I’ve also noticed them shift away from addressing me (the facilitator) alone, towards engaging each other in dialogue. In the coming weeks, I’ll be encouraging each of the children to focus on improving the relevance of their contributions and developing greater consistency in their viewpoints.

All things considered, it’s been a very promising start! Many thanks to Daniela Kavoukas, Chris Tan and other educators at the Flemington Childcare Co-op for supporting The Philosophy Club’s first foray into preschool philosophy.

       Illustration by Aliki

What's new on the blog?

Our new blog post, Starting them young, describes our preschool philosophy sessions in more detail. Check it out for a week-by-week overview of questions that we explored together, plus illustrations and quotes from the kids' discussions.

It's been a wonderful challenge to get children engaged with sophisticated philosophical concepts like paradox, subjectivity, ontology and the indeterminacy of translation –– all in language accessible to 5-year-olds!  

Recognising children's love of animals, many of our activities have revolved around animal behaviour, interspecies communication, zoology and cryptozoology.

And every activity -– whether it be launching a space capsule; inventing a chimera; spotting camouflage; putting yourself in a diorama, or encountering an alien –– has been closely linked with philosophical questions on our chosen themes, helping kids to make cognitive links between concrete and abstract domains.

       Spot the camouflage!

Philosophy at the Royal Children's Hospital: "making sense of the world and our place in it"

As mentioned in our previous newsletter, we're delighted to be planting the seeds of a future partnership with the Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute. Following our orientation workshop for teachers, the RCH Education Institute published a blog story: 'Philosophy for kids'. It describes one of the philosophical activities we devised, and includes quotes from interviews with RCH staff about the prospect of students doing philosophy as part of their ongoing learning while in hospital. Check it out!

       A 'concept game' devised by The Philosophy Club

Thinking together at the Think West Festival

Last month, The Philosophy Club presented two workshops for children in Melbourne at Think West 2016, a community festival dedicated to the exploration of philosophy and culture.

Our first workshop – "Lucky?" – got 8- and 9-year olds pondering concepts of fortune, chance, fate, coincidence, destiny, probability and miracles. We used diverse audio-visual narratives to prompt the discussion of questions like: What makes someone lucky? Can you choose to feel lucky? Would you rather live in a predictable world, or in a world of chance? And what kind of world do we live in?

Our second workshop – "Where's My Jetpack?" – got a mixed group of 6 – 12 year olds thinking about human perfectibility, utopias and dystopias. We used stories, video clips, group-devised theatre and imagined cartographies to delve deep into challenging questions such as: Could we ever achieve a perfect world, and what would it look like? How might our society evolve in the distant future? And how might we adapt to extreme environmental conditions?

As part of this workshop, I related Peter Worley's philosophical short story about a magician who decided to create a perfect person. The magician reasoned that a perfect person would set an example for others, inspiring a worldwide movement of self-improvement, and that this would engender a perfect world. We asked the children: "Do you think that a perfect person really would bring about a perfect world?" Here's how they responded:

     - [Child] If some people were perfect, I reckon other people would be envious, because the perfect people have things that the others couldn’t dream of having, like otherworldy qualities.
       - [Facilitator] And what consequences would flow from that?
       - [Child] Maybe there’d be even more differences between the perfect and the imperfect. The 'haves' and the 'have-nots'.
       - [Facilitator] If we were in a homogeneous world where everybody’s the same, could that be a perfect world?
       - [Child] No. If they all had the same abilities there’d be no one to aspire to. No one to look up to, and no one to bring you hope, and sort of trying to be that person and therefore pushing yourself even further.
       - [Child] I just gave myself an idea: We might all say the same things. We might all have the same opinions.
       - [Child] If we all had the same thoughts, then we’d all agree on things. There would be no war.
       - [Child] Having different opinions is good, but at the same time you’ve got to agree on something in the end.
       - [Child] If we all had the same thoughts, there’d be no philosophy, because if you get [the answer] right the first time, you couldn’t challenge it.
       - [Facilitator] There’d be no disagreements, or expressions of a different point of view. There’d be no point having a workshop like this, that’s for sure!  Everybody would arrive with the same beliefs, and no capacity to think beyond those beliefs. That would be pretty limiting, wouldn’t it?

Thank you for reading this newsletter and supporting our work. Let's redouble our efforts in the new year to create the world we want for our children.

If you have friends who'd like to receive future newsletters, please invite them to subscribe here.

We look forward to building fruitful new partnerships and launching new projects in 2017. Please get in touch if you'd like to partner with us.

Best wishes for a rewarding new year,

Michelle and David

Michelle Sowey and David Urbinder
The Philosophy Club
Mobile (Australia): 0400 420 241



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Michelle Sowey · 46 Bennett St, · Alphington, VIC 3078 · Australia

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