Reflections on philosophy education and the climate crisis
Blog post: 'Wake Up!'
Wake Up! is my blog post reflecting on the duty of philosophy educators to communicate the urgency of change and to contribute to climate action in four key areas: listening to young people; fostering critical thinking; fostering ethical thinking; and building a culture of collaborative dialogue. This post marks the beginning of my journey to better understand the fragility of life on our planet, the threat to our civilisation posed by human-induced climate breakdown, and my own personal and professional responsibility to respond. Read more.
STOP PRESS! Next weekend's philosophical activities at the Spring Rebellion for climate action
Building on the momentum of the global School Strike for Climate, citizens around Australia and across the world will be joining Extinction Rebellion's Spring Rebellion, beginning 7th October, to demand government action on the climate and ecological crisis.
In Melbourne, throughout the week following the Opening Ceremony, there will be plenty of courageous nonviolent civil disobedience, peacefully disrupting city life to raise awareness of the existential threat we face. But there will also be lots of ways for people to be involved without risking arrest; and plenty of space for creativity, reflection, conversation and community-building. 'Base Camp' in Carlton Gardens will be home to festive activities for all ages. The Family Camp will be hosting a broad program of activities for children throughout the week.
The Philosophy Club supports Extinction Rebellion and we are proud to be taking part in the Spring Rebellion in the following ways.
Environmental Philosophy workshops for children and teenagers
We're presenting free Environmental Philosophy workshops for kids and teens at the Spring Rebellion on the weekend of 12 & 13 October. Bookings are not required. All children (aged 5+) and teenagers are welcome! These small-group workshops are an opportunity for young people to think with others about their place in the natural world, consider their beliefs and values, and explore intriguing questions – all in a festive atmosphere and with an emphasis on independent thinking and collaborative dialogue.
Details – Saturday workshops
Location: Carlton Gardens, Melbourne – Family Camp area
Date: Sat 12 October
Start time: 11am
Finish time: 12 noon (for young children) or 12:45 (for older children and teenagers)
Details – Sunday workshops
Location: Carlton Gardens, Melbourne - Family Camp area
Date: Sun 13 October
Start time: 11am
Finish time: 12 noon
Children's Assembly on climate and ecological issues
We are facilitating a Children's Assembly at the Spring Rebellion on Saturday 12 October, and we invite children (aged 8 – 12) to join us and take part. The Children's Assembly is a process of participatory democracy in which all participants' voices are heard and valued equally. Here, children will deliberate together to make decisions on a range of climate and ecological issues of current relevance to the Victorian Government. The Children's Assembly draws on elements of collaborative philosophical enquiry while promoting democratic decision-making on topical local issues.
Details – Children's Assembly
Location: Carlton Gardens, Melbourne - Family Camp area
Date: Sat 12 October
Start time: 2:00pm
Finish time: 3:30pm
Bookings are not required – just bring your kids along!
Philosophical Enquiries for adults
Grown-ups don't have to miss out! We've shared our Environmental Philosophy workshop materials with Extinction Rebellion's Regenerative Culture team, who will be running some small-group Philosophical Enquiries for adults on Friday 11 & Saturday 12 October, facilitated by professional philosophers.
Details – Adults' Philosophical Enquiries
Location: Carlton Gardens, Melbourne – Regenerative Culture area
Dates: Choose your preferred date (or come on both days):
- Fri 11 October
- Sat 12 October
Times: Choose between the morning or afternoon sessions (or attend both, if you like):
- Morning session: 10:00am – 11:45am
- Afternoon session: 3:00pm – 4:45pm
Bookings are not required. Just show up!
Community Philosophy and the Climate Crisis
My colleague Grace Lockrobin of Thinking Space (UK) and I have together convened 'Community Philosophy and the Climate Crisis', an international group of philosophical enquiry practitioners. This group currently has a membership of 75 practitioners and is open to anyone in philosophy and education who wishes to use their professional skills, platform and networks to address the climate and ecological emergency in whatever way they see fit. We work in a mutually supportive, experimental and non-authoritarian fashion, sharing news of our efforts when we believe this will encourage or equip others to initiate similar work in their context. We intend to maintain focus on the ways that we can use our philosophical practice to enable the communities with whom we work, our colleagues and ourselves to:
(1) Use the truth about the climate and ecological emergency as a springboard for investigating values and other relevant philosophical issues
(2) Take action guided by our strengthened values and enriched understanding, and
(3) Participate in democratic conversations with friends, peers, neighbours and fellow citizens so that our careful thinking can translate into social and political change.
Young Environmental Philosophers
I've set up the facebook page Young Environmental Philosophers – Melbourne for teenagers concerned about climate and environmental justice, for their families, and for anyone who advocates for young people's thinking about contemporary issues. On that page, I've been sharing my considered reflections on some of the philosophical ideas emerging from recent news on the climate and ecological crisis. My purpose is to help young people think more critically, independently and collaboratively about some philosophical questions we rarely stop to ask – questions whose answers might inform their own environmental beliefs and actions.
Philosopher-in-Residence program at Hillbrook (Brisbane)
I was utterly buoyed by the experience of philosophising with the students, teachers and parents at Hillbrook Anglican School over three jam-packed days in May. I’d like to express my appreciation to everyone in the school community who helped make this Philosopher-in-Residence program such a unique experience.
Over the course of eleven collaborative inquiries, we dug deep into a diversity of questions like 'Why should we value fairness?', 'How long should we live?', 'Is dark tourism unethical?', and 'Would brain-to-brain interfacing change your identity?'
My compliments to the 280 students who worked patiently and supportively with their peers, and who impressed me with their ideas, their collaborative thinking, their self-discipline, and their courage in expressing and examining diverse views. Kudos also to the philosophy teachers whose acuity and wisdom came through clearly during our PD session – and hats off to the brave parents who joined us in a warm-hearted, provocative evening of philosophy (with a drop of wine to get things started!)
I’d like to acknowledge Stephanie Munday-Lake’s ambitious vision and ongoing support for the Philosopher-in-Residence program (now in its fourth year). Special thanks also to Lynne Hinton for her hospitality and organisational efforts, as well as to the specialist philosophy teachers and other staff who have worked tirelessly to develop a strong culture of thinking at Hillbrook.
'Spectacular', 'terrific', and 'thrilled' are among the descriptions I heard from staff and students as the program drew to a close. Thank you for the extraordinary opportunity to be your Philosopher-in-Residence for 2019. It was a privilege and a pleasure.
Preshil Philosophy Conference
In July, alongside an impressive line-up of invited guests, we ran workshops for scores of senior high school students and teachers at the 2019 Preshil Philosophy Conference. I would like to thank our seven excellent discussion facilitators, and the conference co-ordinator, Lenny Robinson, for her tireless efforts. The event was later described by Principal Marilyn Smith as "as exhilarating and challenging experience". The her article Philosophy as a Call to Action, she offered an evocative account of the conference:
"...the State Library was once again enlivened by the buzz of young philosophers as they engaged with an outstanding line up of speakers and with each other in ‘Communities of Inquiry’, facilitated by The Philosophy Club. The themes of ‘Future Thinking’ and ‘Transhumanism’ were taken up in a number of scenarios and led to some troubling aspects of our society which remain covert and shrouded in comfortable assumptions...
We believe the world needs creative thinkers – people willing to challenge convention and to do things differently, to think critically and to make ethical judgements. Particularly now, as we face a rapidly changing global landscape, it’s imperative our children grow up with a curiosity about the world and have an appetite for independent learning and true moral agency. Mindless compliance, conformity and passive obedience are no longer useful tools for learning, or for citizenship...
Be curious; ask questions; demand explanations; make a contribution. This advice is a very powerful echo of the Preshil approach to learning for both children and adults; advice ever more crucial as technology takes us all into ever more seductive and unchartered ethical landscapes."
School programs (Melbourne)
In recent months The Philosophy Club has had a busy schedule of engagements at several schools in Melbourne, including a fruitful and rewarding two-day staff training program at Birralee Primary School. I've continued to build on The Philosophy Club's cherished work with junior high school students at Eltham College (with special thanks to Curriculum Director Dorothy Allan), St Aloysius College, and Northcote High School. Many of my students have proven themselves to be curious, bold, creative and razor-sharp thinkers! I've also taken the opportunity to design and test a number of newly workshops on diverse themes, exploring topics and questions we hadn't previously tackled, as outlined below.
Time Warp: How do time travel paradox scenarios violate the ordinary relationship between cause and effect? How are contradictions, causal loops, indiscernible origins, or alternate timelines involved in particular time travel scenarios?
Is Seeing Believing? Can we trust our senses? If we can’t trust our senses, how can we trust scientific observation and experiment? If our perceptual reality differs from objective reality, how can we know whether objective reality exists, or what it is really like? When our sense perceptions and our reasoning lead us to conflicting beliefs, which should we trust? What role does hypothesis-testing play in science? Can science be demarcated from pseudo-science?
So Entitled! Which human characteristics entitle us to human rights? Of these characteristics, which ones are shared by other animals? Should those animals therefore be awarded the same rights? If there is a difference of degree (i.e. humans possess the characteristic to a greater degree than other animals do) should that matter to the entitlement to rights? Should we grant personhood to non-human species? Where do rights come from? Is it contradictory to suppose that rights are both inherent and negotiated by international communities?
Whose Body? An enquiry into organ donation. What are your obligations to your family? How much discomfort and risk should be tolerated for the sake of saving someone else’s life? Is it okay for parents to decide what’s best for their children, without seeking the children’s informed consent? At what age should a child be allowed to have control over his/her own body? If you don’t own your body, what do you own? Could there be anything more ‘yours’ than your body? Should the law be changed to recognise that your body parts are legally your possessions?
Keeping Score: Is China’s social credit system fair? Is it ethical for a government to surveil its citizen? Does surveillance necessarily silence dissent? Does privacy matter, and if so, why? And how should it be weighed up against other priorities? Do Western cultures place too much emphasis on individual rights and freedoms at the cost of community values?
The Real-Life Truman Show: If allowing dementia patients to continue believing falsehoods promotes their emotional wellbeing, is this a sufficient reason to sacrifice the norm of truth-telling? How do differing models of dementia care respectively impact on patients’ dignity, epistemic autonomy, wellbeing and freedom?
The Camera Never Lies: Was it unreasonable for mid-19th century Americans to believe that ‘spirit photographers’ really captured ghosts in their photographs? Is reasonableness immutable, or does it change over time? How should we respond to the existence of ‘deepfake’ videos? Should we stop trusting what we see and hear on the news? Can there be truth in fiction? What is meant by ‘emotional truth’? Can emotional appeals be ethical?
Why Act Now? What are the most important reasons for taking action on the climate and ecological crisis? What do we owe to future generations? How are compassion, justice and moral integrity related?
What's new on The Philosophy Club blog?
'Doing Without Socrates'
The blog post Doing Without Socrates is my critique of The Victorian Department of Education's webpage on Socratic discussions, which I regard as a travesty of the spirit of Socratic dialogue, and a missed opportunity for supporting genuine critical thinking in schools. I quote the Department's example of a Socratic discussion among Years 5/6 students, and I share a response document detailing what I would think, say and do if I were facilitating that particular discussion. I hope this document will offer novice facilitators and interested onlookers a useful insight into the sorts of strategies I routinely employ in my own classrooms. Read more.