SOPHIA Memories from 1996 (Courtesy of Dr. Catherine McCall)

Dr. McCall, one of the founding members of SOPHIA, recalls the SOPHIA Board Meeting in 1996 (9 years before SOPHIA Network was set up to enable individual people to join SOPHIA). “At that time SOPHIA consisted of the Board members who were all Directors of PwC Centres in Europe. And there was one Centre for each nation in Europe,” she mentions.

Here is a piece of history of SOPHIA in Dr. Catherine McCall’s own words and a short video of the News coverage of the event:

“Our 1996 SOPHIA Board Meeting held at the EPIC International Conference with the SOPHIA Board meeting held in the very grand Board Room of Glasgow University, during which we had children involved from the inception of the Conference.

We organised with a class of children for groups of 2 children to write to each Philosophy with Children European Centre Director (and Board member of SOPHIA) as ‘pen pals’ before the conference, explaining to them who they were and what we were doing with CoPI in schools.

The children came from a very deprived area of Glasgow and had never been to the West End of Glasgow where the University is, even though they lived only a couple of miles from it.

None of the children had family members who ever went to a University and the idea of going to University was completely alien to them. (Half of that class of deprived children DID go on to Higher education – the first in their families ever to do so!  and several wrote to Dr. Claire Cassidy when they were adults.)

So I wanted them to feel that Glasgow university was THEIR university. And so I organised for the children to come to Glasgow University and learn all about it, SO THAT they could be the local ‘experts’ showing the European Directors around the University.

So for the first time the whole class came to University to prepare for the Conference and their roles in looking after the adults who who be attending the conference.

The children also designed the posters and the T- shirts for the conference (you can see these in the film below), which I did again in 2006 at Strathclyde University for the 2nd EPIC International conference and SOPHIA Meeting.

The children were waiting to greet the Centre Directors as they arrived at Glasgow University, and having written to them prior to the conference, they knew a little about ‘THEIR’ adults who the children were charged with looking after.

The children then gave live demonstrations on stage for the conference with Dr. Claire Cassidy and also with Berrie Heesen.

And, the centre piece of the childrens’  involvement was for the children to FACILITATE philosophical discussions with the adults in the Hunterian Museum.

I practiced with the children before the conference, so that they would be confident in working with the adults, stressing all the time that these adults would need the children’s help.

I chose the visual stimulus of the Museum so as to help with the language barriers, as many of the Centre Directors were not fluent in English.

And here is a little news item about that Museum CoPI – it was very rare to get Philosophy into our national news in the 1990’s!

SOPHIA – New to the Field Award

We are delighted to share news of the 2020 New to the Field Award.

The SOPHIA Network is keen to support educators at all stages of their career to explore the value of philosophical enquiry in their work with children, young people or other communities of learners. Ahead of our Network Meeting in Cluj, Romania 11th – 12th July 2020, we invite colleagues that are new to philosophical enquiry, to submit an application for our New-to-the-Field Award and join us in sharing their experiences with our diverse community.

The award comprises a conference slot, bursary and mentoring opportunity and is available to applicants who may be undergraduate or postgraduate students, newly qualified teachers, early career academics or any other junior professionals who are new to philosophical enquiry. i.e. those who have done some philosophy with children (or other communities of learners) during a period no greater than two years.

  • The conference slot provides the award winner with an opportunity to share their work-in-progress with the aim of receiving supportive feedback to enhance their practice.
  • The attendance bursary is intended to help those new to the field, who do not have access to institutional financial support, to participate in our community for the first time in the hope they may decide to join us long-term. The bursary worth a total of €50 includes membership of the SOPHIA Network for one year, entry to the 2020 Network Meeting and a grant of up to €500 towards the cost of travel and accommodation.
  • The post-conference mentoring provides up to a year of online support from an experienced member of the network, focussed on helping the award winner implement the advice they received during the Network Meeting and further-develop their practice in this field.

Details of the application process can be downloaded here.

Sophia New-to-the-field Award 2020 Flyer

Note the deadline for this award is Tuesday 31st March. The deadline for regular proposals for workshops for this year’s meeting remains the same (Friday 28th February).

 

SOPHIA Network Meeting 2019 – Galway

 

SOPHIA Network meetings contribute to building a community that shares ideas, experiences, philosophy sessions and lots of laughter along the way.

Here is a short recap of the 2019 meeting that was held in Galway, Ireland.

 

Reflections on SOPHIA Network Meeting 2018 -by Jason Buckley

Despite being involved in P4C for ten years, I was a SOPHIA first-timer. I’m rather wary of going to P4C conferences, because, like Goldilocks, I am rather fussy. Often, this paper is too theoretical, and I can’t see how it will connect to my practice; and that paper is about the basics of P4C without bringing anything new, so I don’t think it will help me grow.

This Network Meeting, on the other hand, was “just right”. There were sessions that drew stimuli from unexpected sources, such as the #thuglife video series; there were demonstrations of facilitation techniques that I hadn’t experienced before, such as Peter Worley’s “hokey-kokey” method; and there were sessions exploring problems which anyone who works in this field will encounter in one form or another, but with fresh insights. We were in Hans Christian Andersen’s home city of Odense, and I particularly enjoyed Caroline Schaffalitzky’s exploration of how to use his stories or other canonical texts that every child knows, without either succumbing to the recitation of the established “moral of the story” or abandoning the text and using it for mere question generation.

The particular value of the sessions was that they were accessible to people who were new to P4C, but were original and specific enough to be of use to people like me who have been doing this for years. I was able to refresh my own practice and take away new ideas to share with the teachers I train.

Something that has become a go-to for me (partly because it works so well at deepening thinking, and partly because it such good fun) is a development a concept shared by @philozoo. At various events, their “Philonauts”, alien visitors to earth, asked children and adults to explain, “What is a human?” Since then, I’ve taken to occasionally arriving in classes as “C3327X”, a robot who understands English but has not been programmed to understand right from wrong, and needs the children’s help to learn. I’ve done facilitator-in-role stuff before, but what was new and delightful was the practice of being very obtuse, so that the children have to explain everything with meticulous accuracy, and be precise about counterexamples to their claims. For example, if they give the rule, “You must never hit someone,” we may end up exploring the exception of boxing, which does not involve boxes, and takes place in a ring, which is not round, as they have to explain, patiently, to “the robot”.

Because of the intimacy of the event, with everybody in the same room rather than having parallel sessions, we really were a community for the event, with all the practical and intellectual benefits that brings. Themes emerged and were developed, and some humorous asides took on a repeating life of their own which made for a convivial atmosphere. The breaks were as useful as the sessions, too, and I was able to forge new contacts which have already led to translations into Italian and Danish of some of my materials, and to other prospective projects.

For anyone considering contributing a paper or workshop next year, you will probably have something suitable if you find you have things to say in response to these questions:

  • What’s different about this?
  • What can be imitated or transferred into other people’s practice?
  • What questions about this approach remain to be answered?

Sessions that worked well in this meeting were:

  • Something that takes P4C and applies it in an unusual way, or in an unusual setting.
  • A twist in how to facilitate or structure an enquiry which can be demonstrated.
  • A problem you’ve come across about the practice or ethics of doing P4C, on which you have some thoughts but not necessarily a definitive solution
  • A work-in-progress for something you have been experimenting with, that seems to be working, but which it would be interesting to share and refine.
  • A technique from a “neighbouring pedagogy” that has some overlap with P4C but which can also bring something new.

 

I found myself in the final, dwindling group of “stayers-out”, gathered after dinner to enjoy a final companionable evening after a successful event. After we’d said our goodbyes until next year, as I was walking back to my hotel I passed another little knot of people about to part. I heard one say, “See you next year – or probably before. It’s a small world, the circus.”

I rather like the thought of all these eccentric chapters of human culture having their get-togethers in different cities around Europe, returning to their own countries with new enthusiasm, and knowing that next year there will be another gathering. I certainly look forward to my next SOPHIA.

Register for SOPHIA Network Meeting 2019 in Galway, Ireland 1st and 2nd June: SOPHIA 2019

Call for Proposals for 2019 meeting (deadline February 28th): Call for Workshops

 

Jason Buckley

www.thephilosophyman.com