Reflections on SOPHIA & ICPIC part III

In this final post by Pieter Mostert he reflects on taxonomies, on pedagogy and on ‘philosophical experience’ and the aesthetic eye. 

What happens to notes taken during a conference? Usually very little, at least in my case. This time I decided to do it differently – after the ICPIC conference in Madrid and the Sophia Network meeting in Aveiro – and pushed myself to structure and unfold my notes into short essays, representing my ‘inner dialogues’ on a number of topics. Here is the third of 3 blogs on my reflections. You can read the first one here and the second one here.

You can find some of the presentations that were given at SOPHIA on our resources page for members.

On taxonomies

There are not many taxonomies. But there are very many lists / graphs / tables which divide a complex ‘thing’ in a number of subcategories and so on. When, for example, one looks at the structure developed by the editors of ‘Philpapers’ [https://philpapers.org/] for the more than 5,000 categories, one notices some kind of hierarchical order of areas of philosophy, themes and topics. It’s a practical tool and if the editors decide it’s time for some kind of adaptation, they implement it. The hierarchy does not pretend to tell us how philosophy ‘hangs together’.

A taxonomy, however, is only a ‘taxonomy’ if it can state the ‘nomos’, the law behind the division in ‘taxon’, roughly speaking: the categories. This I learned when I studied theoretical biology (which fortunately was still possible in the Netherlands in the seventies; soon after that it ‘died’). The perfect example of a taxonomy is Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements: within the theoretical framework of what an ‘atom’ is, it shows exactly why each element is designated a specific place. This theoretical framework is not undisputed in current science, but that’s not a reason for terminating the use of the periodic table. Linnaeus, however, made a similar attempt to design a taxonomy for all the plants and animals, a very lucid attempt, but the theoretical framework of genetics (model of DNA) has recently moved into such revolutionary technologies and applications, that a whole new perspective is emerging on the origin of and similarities among the animals and plants. In biology we are on the verge of a total revamp of Linnaeus’ taxonomy and start the design of a DNA-based taxonomy.

I’ve participated in several educational projects for designing ‘rubrics’ for assessment. I’m glad I’ve given up on that. The unsolvable problem was not the ‘breaking up’ of what teachers aimed at into categories and levels; that’s just a matter of combining sound expertise with creativity. The unsolvable problem was that there was no theoretical mode, or ‘justification’ behind the divisions we made, neither horizontal nor vertical. It all remained at a very ‘accidental’ level: accidently we arrived at certain divisions, we might as well have come to different ones. The same difficulty, I think, is endemic in lists of critical thinking skills / 21st century skills: they lack a ‘nomos’.

And how about Bloom? Indeed, Bloom’s taxonomy does not meet the main criterion of theoretical biology for a ‘thing’ to be called a taxonomy: it is uncertain and at least very implicit about the theoretical framework. In modern cognitive psychology there is a continuous stream of new attempts to come up with such a theoretical framework, all very interesting and challenging, but we’re not there yet. Bloom must wait, before we can decide whether his division deserves to be called a ‘taxonomy’.

On pedagogy

It was a surprise to me noticing during the ICPIC conference how loosely the term ‘pedagogy’ is used. In many instances I was not sure to what it referred. In Gert Biesta’s keynote address I spotted the word just a couple times, loosely used, without much emphasis. Is pedagogy the discipline that studies education? If so, does that include or exclude the study of learning? Are pedagogues the ones who promote the language of education, in contrast to those promoting the language of learning? Or does ‘pedagogy’ refer to what happens in the classroom? I did not invent these questions, I just wrote them down, having observed how the term was used (like “well, my colleague has a different pedagogy”).

We call them ‘Faculties of Education’ and some, but not all of the departments of such faculties focus on schools, teaching and learning. In Dutch, Afrikaans and German there are two words: onderwijs / Unterricht [education; focusing on what happens in and around schools] and opvoeding / Erziehung [‘raising’, like in “It takes a village to raise a child”]. Or from my own life: my boys go to school, but I ‘raise’ them; who’s doing the education?

I would say that ‘pedagogy’ is about ‘leading the young to adulthood’; there is not a big reason to divert from the original Greek word. Whether education in the stricter sense (what is done / what happens within the setting of schools) is seen as a part of pedagogy or rather as a counter part, I think is debatable (and is not of great interest to me). And whether the newspeak ‘educationalist’ is worth being used I don’t know either. A pedagogue who argues that (s)he isn’t one but rather is an educationalist, because schools are not taking their task to ‘educate’ seriously anymore – I do not think this adds much to clarify the picture.

So what is it about? I think it is about the role of the state / government in the education / pedagogy of the young ones to adulthood. Those who are inclined to radically separate the “learning done in schools” and the “education so needed”, have to answer the question how much or how little intervention / control by the state they want in schools once they have become ‘institutions of education’. Personally I must say that I am very happy that the focus of the state in all its mechanisms of control is on the learning of very specific things, in primary education mainly the competence in reading and arithmetic. I do not look forward to the day that the state decides to embrace ‘education’ in its full span and starts dictating very specific contents, approaches and assessments for the full spectrum of ‘being led into the world of adulthood’. So those who are in favour of ‘bringing back education into the schools’, should tell me what their views are on the role of the state. My facial expression is one of deep pessimism and worry.

On ‘philosophical experiences’ and the aesthetic eye

In philosophy for children we often assume that students have had certain experiences and that it is enough to refer to them in order to enable students to reflect on such experiences. Example: students can enquire what the problem is in bullying, what the relevance is of friendship, when a test is ‘fair’ or a person ‘honest’. We do not need to start with a setting in which they experience this, before the reflection takes off.

In other cases, however, it is recommended to start with ‘experiencing’ before the reflection can start. One of the areas where this is commonly done is aesthetics / reflections on art and beauty. I thought about this while spending most of my Wednesday in the Prado museum. I imagined being there with my class and how I would give them the following assignment (as I have actually done at several occasions): make small groups and go and look for beauty. Be back in half an hour and then we’ll decide to which place all of us will go to encounter beauty and start our reflection.

It is about more than just ‘having the experience’ – it is about having a common experience, common not in the sense that we all have the same experience, but that we experience the same: we were all there and witnessed what happened. As witnesses of this ‘event’ we enter the enquiry.

Such common experiences are important, maybe even crucial, when the enquiry is about a topic / issue about which opinions / world views differ strongly and maybe even in conflict with one another. I remind myself of the students who wanted to share their objections to what for them was ‘public nakedness on display’, but they only encountered criticism and unwillingness to listen and enquire. The teacher thought the topic was too sensitive and choose for something else.

I would take the class to Albrecht Dűrer’s paintings of Adam and Eve, sit on the floor and look at them. And then I would take them to a small circular space with beautiful light from the top. Against the pink coloured wall a female torso stands and nothing is there to veil her shame. From the text on the wall I learned that from the positioning of the upper arms the historians have concluded that her underarm and hands both covered her breasts and pubis, as the text says. She’s awkwardly naked, uncomfortable, and I as a viewer felt uncomfortable. I was glad nobody else was there while I ‘studied’ the torso and took a couple of pictures. Witnesses too have feelings of shame. Should the torso be on display? Or should it be ‘reconstructed’ with two prostheses first? In another case, a couple rooms further, this had been done, but that had happened a couple centuries ago, for reasons unknown. The class will have a look at that one as well. And we would talk about ‘puberty’ and how that term does not so much refer to growing up / coming of age, as to the awakening of our moral sentiments about the nakedness of our bodies.

There, in that setting, I / the facilitator believe, I have the confidence that we can make happen what will not happen in a classroom: an enquiry about nakedness, shame, pride and beauty. There, just there, because our shared experiences will lead us and help us to maintain our willingness of self-examination, as Socrates advocated.

Reflections on ICPIC & SOPHIA 2017 Part 1

On empirical questions, exposition and voting 

By Pieter Mostert

What happens to notes taken during a conference? Usually very little, at least in my case. This time I decided to do it differently – after the ICPIC conference in Madrid and the Sophia Network meeting in Aveiro – and pushed myself to structure and unfold my notes into short essays, representing my ‘inner dialogues’ on a number of topics. Here is the first of 3 blogs on my reflections.

You can find some of the presentations that were given at SOPHIA on our resources page for members.

On empirical questions

Are there empirical questions? I doubt that. I doubt whether the ‘empirical’ is in the question. It’s more likely that how we plan to deal with a certain question determines whether it is ‘empirical’. Example: there are religious communities which deal with the question whether God is good as an empirical question: can we see that God is good? There answer is: yes, because look at …. Personally, I would not consider this an empirical, but a highly philosophical question, but that’s not a dispute about the nature of the question. The question is what it is, the difference is between me and this particular religious community.

It is not necessary to draw a sharp distinction between empirical and philosophical questions / questioning. In some cases, it is evident which way to take the question (“Which way is Central Station?”), in other cases it is more of a mix, where we participants can decide which way to take the question, or how to combine both ways. There is no reason why one could deal with a particular question (like: ‘How many colours do you see here?’) only in one way, either empirical or philosophical. One can do both, in the same enquiry. And the sequence is open. It is not necessary to start empirical and then turn philosophical.

‘Empirical’ does not mean that one needs to do empirical research to answer such a question. When we do a Socratic dialogue on the question whether what X did was an act of bravery or of foolishness, we consider a large number of empirical ‘facts’. Without a thorough enquiry of ‘what actually happened’ such a dialogue would remain empty. But the empirical facts don’t decide for us, we have to do that. Example: in the case of The Netherlands, Amsterdam is considered to be the capital, but this is a title without any meaning, because the government (and the king) reside in The Hague.

Enquiring empirical questions is an established didactic method of making students aware of their knowledge, its quality, its gaps, its inconsistencies, etc. I can ask students questions like “Why is it that when it’s winter on the northern hemisphere, it’s summer on the southern one?” or “You’ve all heard about the invention of the printing press, what was actually invented?”. Such an enquiry is a critical examination of what we think we know, which – quite Socratic – may lead us to the conclusion that actually we know very little. The argument that there is only one correct answer to these questions and that that very fact makes these questions un-philosophical is short sighted, because the philosophical enquiry is not about finding “the only one correct answer”, but to assess the quality of our circumstantial knowledge (and of our knowledge in general). Empirical questions are most beneficial for such assessments.

On exposition

In Socrates’ dialogues exposition plays a major role. In some of them, like ‘Symposion’, it is the only thing that happens: seven speeches in praise of love. Nevertheless, we experience little hesitation to call this dialogue philosophical. So, exposition and enquiry are not in opposition, similar to a point I’ve made previously at several occasions, that debate and enquiry are not in opposition. In a fruitful debate both sides challenge each other and give space to be challenged – and that keeps the enquiry going.

In the German tradition of Socratic dialogues, as initiated by Leonard Nelson one of the rules is that participants are not allowed to deliver such expositions. I’ve always appreciated that rule: it encourages the participants to thinking instead of lecturing and to speak briefly, not at great length. But how about the facilitator? Should (she) refrain from exposition, from telling the participants: “now listen, I’ll explain a few things first, because I’m sure you can make great use of them in your enquiry on the question we’ve selected”. It reminds me of the day when I observed a Socratic dialogue among adults and saw + felt how the participants were struggling. The facilitator noticed the same and decided to say: “it looks like you are confusing ‘equal’ and ‘equivalent’; I recommend to use this distinction”. Within minutes the agitation reached a new height, when the participants turned to the facilitator: there was no confusion, just disagreement + such a distinction would complicate matters even more, while they were looking for an answer with some simplicity. A long tea break did help. The participants decided to return to the enquiry at the point where they left it, before the exposition by the facilitator.

One experience is no proof, but afterwards the facilitator told the participants that he had seriously underestimated the complexity of the relation and communication between facilitator and participants. It’s delicate, to say the least.

But there are more considerations a facilitator should take into account – whether it is with adults or with children – before deciding to ‘help’ the participants in their enquiry by delivering some kind of exposition.

First, teachers are tempted to overestimate the impact of their expositions, no matter how clear they are, no matter how often they have asked the students “is this clear now?”. In the language of a Bloomian taxonomist the exposition should be followed by a variety of ‘exercises’ in which the students can experiment, try and learn to apply the content of the exposition. These exercises must be carefully constructed and the teacher must give clear feedback to the students about their performance. This cannot be properly done as a part of an enquiry, because it would turn the enquiry into a teacher-led exercise. There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with a teacher-led activity within philosophy for children, but it’s simply something else.

Secondly, when the teacher takes the role of a facilitator, (s)he is not one of the participants. Should the facilitator step in at a particular moment and say ‘wait a moment, there’s an important philosophical distinction or argument that I want to explain and I think it is very relevant for what we’re enquiring now’, it’s like the referee joining the playing of the game. “No, I just want to show it to you, and then I’ll be back in my facilitator’s chair”. Well, it does not work like that. Some students will apply what has been explained to them in an incorrect way, others miss the relevance because they’re within their own thoughts and some will love it and run away with it. The facilitator will focus more on the effects of his / her intervention than on facilitating the enquiry as a whole.

As mentioned above, there are ‘teacher-led dialogues’, which serve as a tool of instruction. Whether as a teacher one feels comfortable with a questioning / dialogical style of instruction and whether students like it is something else, but it is an established way of teaching, which in no way is less efficient nor effective than ‘exposition’.

Theoretically, teacher-led dialogical instructions are quite distinct from teacher-facilitated enquiries. In the dialogical instruction the questioning is done by the teacher – in a rather primitive form this is what happens in that famous section of Plato’s “Meno”, in which the slave figures out how to double the area of a square – the students follow. In contrast, in a teacher-facilitated enquiry the students do the questioning, ideally at least. The daily reality, however, is different, I noticed, when I saw extracts from transcripts at the ICPIC conference: teachers in their role as facilitators tend to ask most of the questions, quite often guiding questions, like questions in which they draw inferences (“but does that mean …”), generalize what has been said (“so all … are …?), make implicit or incomplete arguments explicit /complete or relate them to other arguments (“… made a similar point, but …”), summarize what has been said so far, and so on. Here the distinction between facilitation and instruction blurs. Facilitation becomes an implicit and indirect way of instruction. I recommend keeping them separate: when a teacher decides to instruct, please do so but be explicit about it. Don’t hide it behind a veil of doing something else.

Thirdly, a facilitator has many opportunities to introduce philosophical concepts, distinctions and arguments without having to go into the mode of exposition, opportunities which harmonize better with the enquiry-style as practised in philosophy for children. Let me give three examples:

  • Matthew Lipman designed “Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery” (novel + manual) as a textbook, which would keep the students busy at least for a full year. Nowadays very few teachers use it this way, in the early years quite a few did. Section by section the students worked through it, in an enquiry style;
  • Pete Worley showed us in “The Philosophy Shop” how knowledge of philosophy helps to design ‘settings’ (in a narrative style) which guide the students in their philosophical enquiries. A teacher who takes the students through the Philosophy Shop day by day, at the same time takes them through philosophy, both historically and systematically;
  • Thought experiments have been used by philosophers throughout the ages, because they enable them to ‘torture’ a specific concept, argument or distinction until it collapses. Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine” is – in my words – designed to ‘torture’ the commonly accepted view that happiness is a feeling (in that sense: an experience). Thought experiments need little adaptation to make them suitable for enquiries by the students themselves.

In conclusion, for me the basic rule for a facilitator remains the following: observe the content (of the enquiry by the students) closely, but guide the students through interventions in the process (of their enquiry), not through interventions in the content.

On voting

The general problem with voting, it seems to me, is that it comes too early, in the perception of those who are going to vote. The Brexit referendum is a good example – only afterwards people started to realize things they should have considered and ‘weighed’ before they went to vote. And the Dutch – me included – who voted on March 15th are still without a coalition cabinet which takes responsibility for governing the country.

The same is true for all those enquiries in which students are asked to vote for a particular question, so that the enquiry can start. But only through participating in such an enquiry one gradually grasps a certain understanding of these questions. So how can one vote for or against a question without having explored it first? I have never understood this strategy and never applied it myself. It is my ‘ceterum censeo’ in whatever I think or say about philosophy for children: no matter what we’re discussing, I want to state that I don’t think voting is a good idea.

I had a similar experience in one of the workshops in which I had to raise or turn down my thumb in order to indicate whether I was for / against, in agreement or disagreement, in preference of A or B, etc. I felt like in a psychological test in which I have to produce judgements at a pretty high speed. It’s like Adam having to decide which animal gets which name, let’s say at the speed of 10 seconds per animal, 6 in a minute, 360 in an hour, 3000 in a day. What a job!

Such a practice of voting in an enquiry gives me the feeling that I have to dig my heels in the sand and take a firm stance. But that is not why I am in an enquiry. I am there to suspend my judgement, consider options I haven’t considered before, try out arguments or positions I have not tried out before. An enquiry is an exploration. Yes, it is more than just that, but the first part is explorative, it is a ‘lateral’ activity, as Eduard de Bono would say. It is about what we tell each other when we look at a one of those triptych paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. We point at different scenes, draw attention to some spectacular creatures, have a closer look at the faces, detect hilarious scenes, wonder about the freshness of the colours and are baffled by the contrast between the triptych and the painting which is displayed when the triptych is closed. Any judgment – thumbs up or down – would come too early. It would distract us from observing, from taking into account the multitude and diversity of what is displayed. Foster the exploration, especially when the question is controversial, like 12-year olds about “Are your parents your best friends?”.

SOPHIA Network Meeting 2017

Meeting 2017

Our next meeting will be held in Portugal on Monday July 3rd and Tuesday July 4th. There is still time to register to join us.

We have international speakers and workshop leaders running 12 workshops over the two days on the theme of ‘Questioning questioning.’ You can find out more about what will be going on here: Meeting 2017

SOPHIA will be holding our Meeting on Monday July 3rd and Tuesday July 4th 2017 at  Colégio D. José I in Aveiro, Portugal. There are direct flights, which take 1 hour 10 minutes from Madrid to Porto, and then an hour’s drive to Aveiro, or a train journey.

If you are staying in Portugal after the meeting then please consider going to the following conference in Porto on July 7th and 8th by the Episteme & Logos Association:

International Conference Philosophy for Children

Travel

You can travel by train from Oporto or Lisbon to Averio, for train times / shuttle bus see:

https://www.cp.pt/passageiros/en/

For more on getting around and to Aveiro see Lonely Planet:

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/portugal/aveiro

Uber operates in Portugal.

Accommodation

We recommend staying in the central district, and suggest booking through Booking.com. Alternatively you might want to try airbnb. There will be buses to get you from central Aveiro to the College.

4 stars hotels

  • Hotel As Américas
  • Hotel Aveiro Palace
  • Hotel Moliceiro
  • Melia Ria Hotel & Spa

3 stars hotels

  • Hotel Imperial
  • Hotel das Salinas
  • Hotel Afonso V

For some deals please download: Accommodation for SOPHIA

To see this years timetable and speakers visit our registration page please register or become a member of SOPHIA to stay up-to-date with travel and accommodation details.

 

Welcoming Talk Crete 2016

SOPHIA: opening remarks

SOPHIA Network Meeting 2nd of September, 2016, Rethymno

Meeting theme: From Ancient Greece to the Modern Curriculum, where does philosophy fit?

Welcoming address:

“Where does philosophy fit?

I’ll begin by saying: philosophy resists ‘fit’. If you look for philosophy you’ll find it where you find, among other things, aporia, confusion, difficulty, paradox. It may not ‘fit’ anywhere, but it has a role. And maybe the role is informed by its lack of ‘fit’. Philosophy is something of an unwelcome guest at a party, an awkward, difficult child in a classroom, an ugly, brutal truth at a wedding.

I prefer to talk about philosophy’s reach. In the beginning ‘philosophy’ captured all learning and included geometry, mathematics, rhetoric, cosmology, physics, metaphysics, biology and more. And though each of these subjects has become, in the classroom anyway, independent of philosophy, philosophy still secures a corner for itself in each despite attempts to shake it off. When an historian asks, ‘What exactly is an historical fact?’ or ‘What exactly is knowledge of the past?’ and ‘What is the past?’ they are asking philosophical questions. Or if a scientist asks, ‘Does the notion of ‘before time’ make sense?’ or ‘How can we represent an object such as an atom if it cannot be observed?’ and ‘Can such a representation be accurate?’ they too are asking philosophical questions. And though they may be an historian or a scientist, they are philosophising. In most if not all subjects, any student of the subject will at some point fall into a ‘philosophical hole’ that the subject has been unable to remove, fill in or cover up. So, philosophy is able to reach within all subjects though it may fit none.

And this leaves us with a question about how it’s done: should philosophy be discrete or integrated? Done in addition to everything else or done within everything else? For my part, I think there is a case for both but I don’t have time to make them here. I’ll finish with a cautionary note: my concern is that philosophy in schools is perhaps made to fit too much. By trimming it, covering its naked truth, sweetening it to better ‘fit the system’ we betray it. If we over-emphasise the collaborative aspect or its democratic allegiance, and under-emphasise its subversiveness, if we sentimentalise its power to better the world, if we reduce it to a ‘no right or wrong’ exchange of opinions, wiping away its evaluative strengths, we castrate it. We must be more careful to present philosophy to children not only as milk; philosophy sometimes has a bitter taste.

Where does philosophy fit? Perhaps its virtue lies in not fitting.”

Peter Worley, President of SOPHIA

Our resources section for 2016 will soon be filled with presentations, papers and workshops from this years presentation. You can see previous years here: SOPHIA Resources

Submit a Proposal to Host 2018 Meeting

This is the call for proposals for hosting SOPHIA Network Meeting in 2018. Deadline for proposals is noon on November 1st. Host country will be selected by the Executives and will be informed at the latest by January 3rd 2018.

Please send a completed proposal to:

President Peter Worley peter@philosophy-foundation.org

Treasurer Rob Bartels robbartels@xs4all.nl

Secretary Joos Vollebregt joosvollebregt81@gmail.com

Network Meeting Co-ordinator Emma Worley emma@philosophy-foundation.org

Proposals should follow the outline on the Proposal Form, and will be selected according to which proposal best fulfils the criteria below.

If you have any questions about the proposals or procedure, please contact emma@philosophy-foundation.org

SOPHIA Executive choose Host country/coordinator using the following criteria.

• Reliable contact (replies promptly to e-mails etc)

• Free venue

• National advertising of SOPHIA in Host country

• Should stimulate Philosophy with Children in Host country

• Should generate new members for SOPHIA

• Accessible for travel from through-out Europe

• Accommodation available near to venue

• Accommodation reasonably priced (members pay their own accommodation)

• Coffee, tea and water etc provided (not necessary to provide meals)

• Technical equipment provided (for videos power points etc.)

Please include the following information in your proposal:

1. HOST / S

2. MAIN CONTACT

3. VENUE & SUPPORT AVAILABLE

4. SUGGESTED DATES

5. PROPOSED PLAN

6. MARKETING / ADVERTISING OF MEETING WITHIN HOST COUNTRY

7. TRAVEL

8. ACCOMMODATION

9. ADDITIONAL MATERIAL / EVENT DETAILS

‘Can Children do Philosophy?’

Click  to watch  Can Children Do Philosophy?

Published on 29 Apr 2016, The Battle of Ideas video includes talks from Peter Worley, President of SOPHIA and Catherine C. McCall (former President of SOPHIA). Our aim: to answer the question with “Yes”.

“Philosophy is a venerable university subject, but until recently it was much less common in schools. The ‘Philosophy For Children’ (P4C) movement aims to help children even at primary school to think for themselves using a wide variety of materials to instigate questioning and inquiry. Critics of teaching philosophy in primary schools maintain that philosophy is not just a formal way of inquiry involving dilemmas, reasons, criteria and fallacies. It also has its own tradition, a long quest for truth about the human condition and more, which would-be philosophers must engage with. Supporters of P4C insist children do not need this body of knowledge to philosophise because philosophy teaches reasoning in a conceptual way. But in simplifying philosophy, could P4C be undermining the development of genuine autonomy and creativity?

The speakers are Dr Catherine McCall, director of EPIC (European Philosophical Inquiry Centre), Peter Worley, CEO and co-founder of The Philosophy Foundation, Adam Seldon, co-director of Lauriston Lights, an education charity, and Alka Sehgal Cuthbert, English teacher and PhD researcher in education at the University of Cambridge. The debate is chaired by Toby Marshall, FE lecturer in social theory and PhD researcher in sociology education at UCL Institute of Education.”

(description from The Battle of Ideas)

2016 Crete Workshops

Workshops and presentations at the Crete SOPHIA Network Meeting on 2nd and 3rd September

The Meeting will be held at XENIA, 16, Sofokli Venizelou str, 74100 Rethymno

P4C and Literature – Laure DucasseKambouris (France)

Improving the reading and interpretation of literary texts with Lipman’s P4C

PhiloZoo: P4C in the science curriculum – Eef Cornelissen & Jelle De Schrijver (Belgium)

In the workshop Eef & Jelle will demonstrate different activities illustrating their Philozoo-approach: turning the science class into a philosophical laboratory. We explore how P4C can contribute to the understanding of scientific concepts, how p4c allows to explore ethical scientific issues and how the philosophical dialogue can facilitate discussion about the nature of science.

Epictetus in the Classroom  – J Bladimir Garcia (USA)

In my presentation, I will elucidate how Epictetus’ philosophical ideas can enrich the classroom and outline its value to scholars of Philosophy for Children and educators who seek a deeper understanding of the teaching of philosophy during the pre-college years. Epictetus in the Classroom draws together aesthetic, intellectual, and moral dimensions to unleash a more holistic approach to teaching rooted in Stoic philosophy. In so doing, it calls attention to how teachers must broaden students’ understanding beyond the traditional memorization of facts, i.e., moving past knowledge into understanding. Throughout the presentation I will draw on aspects of my experience in the classroom to illuminate the educational values of Epictetus in the classroom.

Socrates in Prison – Dr Mary Bovill (Scotland)

Mary will present a project (Critical Dialogue & Community of Philosophical Inquiry) she has been running with prisoners and young offenders in Scotland.

Pandora’s Box – Andy West (England)

The Greeks didn’t just leave us a great legacy of philosophy, they gave us a canon of stories that also asks questions about the human condition. Pandora’s Box tells how there came to be evil in the world. Andy West will demonstrate a session – put together by he and his colleagues at The Philosophy Foundation – that you can use to help children wrestle with the question of evil.

Philosophy in the Greek Kindergarten – Dr Stelios Gadris (Greece)

Stelios works with 5 year olds, and sees that the current Greek curriculum for kindergarten allows for philosophical enquiry. He will demonstrate a session, share some insights from the classroom and discuss the links between the curriculum and philosophy.

From Anaximander to Einstein. In between science and philosophy looking for the wonder of discovering – Cristina Rossi (Italy)

What do philosophy and science have in common? What’s the meaning of having a scientific or philosophical approach to things? Does a scientific vision of the world date back to the Modern Age or to Ancient Greece? Starting from some examples taken by children and teenagers’ P4C sessions, we will explore some of the features of scientific thought.

The If Odyssey – Peter Worley (England)

Peter’s book, The If Odyssey, is based on Homer’s classic Odyssey and introduces children to Philosophy, by drawing out the intellectual puzzles that lie behind many of the episodes in Odysseus’ long voyage home after the Trojan Wars. Concepts explored include the value of happiness, just-war theory, non-existent entities, moral dilemmas, what is prophecy, the nature of love, free-will, heroism, personal identity, and more besides. Pete will run an interactive workshop around this book.

Poster Sessions

Rob Bartels: Teaching Teachers to Think

The Philosophy Foundation: TPF work and books

Lynda Dunlop

Nimet Kucuk, Lycee Sainte Pulcherie: Turkish Philosophy Café : Bringing philosophy into young people’s lives in Turkey

Our Timetable can be downloaded.

Please Register here to join us at the SOPHIA meeting

You can find out about Accommodation here.

Meeting Registration

Please register to attend the SOPHIA Network Meeting at the University of Crete in Rethymnon on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd September 2016.

This year we are working in partnership with the Department of Philosophy and Social Studies and the theme is:

FROM ANCIENT GREECE TO THE MODERN CURRICULUM: WHERE DOES PHILOSOPHY FIT?

To see the workshops and presentations on offer this year please visit our 2016 Crete Workshops page.

As usual we are keeping the price as low as we possibly can to make it easier for people to attend. The Network Meeting is only €15 for the two days – in order to attend you need to be or become a member for our minimum period of a year, this is €35.

For more on our membership rates visit our Join Sophia page.

Crete Accommodation

The University of Crete at Rethymnon (where we are holding the meeting) has a Guest House we can book. If you are interested in this please let Emma know (emma@philosophy-foundation.org). There are about 10 or 11 rooms, one of which has a wonderful view to the sea but is rather noisy). The bathroom facilities are very basic, but en suite and clean. Price 26 euros for a single, with breakfast. Double is around 35, I think, but rooms have only double beds (no twins)

Hotel Ideon is right next to the guest house, more luxurious, quite nice, with a swimming pool, on the waterfront but not on the part where you can swim. In the past Chloe, who is working with us from the University, has organized successful events combining the two venues, since that gave people a way to spend more time together (the guest house also has a lovely seminar room which anybody can use).

Prices for very few rooms that are left (no sea view, but this means they will be more quiet) is 67 for the single and 92 for the double, with a 10% discount, when you mention that you are coming for a University event: ideon@otenet.gr. Also this is right next to the old town, so people can hang out without having to use cars or buses. Public transportation to the University is very easy.

Prices in euros, provided you book directly with them (needless to say). https://www.facebook.com/ideonhotel/

There is also the option of the big hotels by the sea, the disadvantage there being that you have to use a car to go back and forth to the town.

Or you could try airbnb

Karel and the birth of Philosophy with Children

By Pieter Mostert

Karel after receiving his PhD in 1988

Karel after receiving his PhD in 1988

Karel and I met for the first time in September 1976. I was a master student in philosophy, he was one of the lecturers. One of his colleagues asked me whether I was interested in becoming his teaching assistant. There were hundreds of students in social science that had to be pushed through the obligatory philosophy course and he simply wasn’t motivated to do that any longer. I had been studying philosophy for five years and had slowly but gradually figured out what it was about. And coming from a teaching family I had an interested in teaching. So I got the job and decided that it might be useful to sign up for the course “teaching philosophy outside academia”, which was offered by Karel, as he was the only member of staff with experience in teaching philosophy outside the university (he taught philosophy in a professional programme for social work). I shared my plans and experiences. Karel’s feedback was always sharp and without any compromise, not very practical, but definitely helpful. It made me think better.

Study prize for best dissertation of the Erasmus Foundation (1989). Karel is on the right side, Pieter left of the middle; the man in the middle is Prince Bernhard, the father of Queen Beatrix.

Study prize for best dissertation of the Erasmus Foundation (1989). Karel is on the right side, Pieter left of the middle; the man in the middle is Prince Bernhard, the father of Queen Beatrix.

In 1978 I finished my studies and started teaching in several professional programmes: social work, nursing, library. In those years I looked around for different approaches and teaching methods. Karel and I met rarely. That changed in 1980, when I was appointed to a teaching position at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam similar to his at the University of Amsterdam. Early 1981 we sat together for an outline of a joint research project, which would lead to a PhD, which we finished in 1988. My first contribution to the research project was a literary review: what is going on in different countries, what is the dominant approach and what literature is available. It struck us how national traditions were: in the Netherlands philosophy was mainly taught in a ‘propaedeutic’ way, in Germany it was mainly devoted to reading selected texts from famous philosophers, in France it was devoted to essay writing, and so on.

Karel receiving his PhD in 1988

Karel receiving his PhD in 1988

From all we read two initiatives immediately stood out for us and caught our interest: it was the German tradition of ‘Socratic dialogue’, developed within the school of Leonard Nelson and the materials of Matthew Lipman and his IAPC, creating opportunities for children to engage with philosophical questions. Why?

First of all, it was both Karel’s and my personal experience that at university you may study philosophy and learn a lot about philosophy, but you learn very little about the doing of philosophy. Therefore teaching philosophy outside academia is mainly done through a simplified, watered down version of what is taught at university. Our favourite comparison was tea and teabags: when the philosophy programme at university is like the first cup of tea from a fresh tea bag, the programme outside university may be the third of fourth cup of tea from that same teabag: tasteless.

Both of us were struck, appalled by the tastelessness of philosophy programmes. And we were convinced that the only way to bring back the flavour is by practising the ‘doing’ of philosophy. For us, both the practice of the Socratic dialogue and P4C were encouraging and challenging attempts to practise the doing of philosophy.

But there was more. For me, by that time, doing philosophy should be practised in the questioning style of Socrates and Nietzsche, best summarized in the rule “before we start answering the question we should first enquire whether this is the real (philosophical) question”. For Karel what’s at stake in philosophy was slightly different. His main interest was in Chinese philosophy, not the popular westernized version from the seventies – few things could irritate him more than glorifications of eastern philosophy by reducing them to some westernized mish-mash – but careful reading of classical texts, with all the source books and commentaries on the table. Karel in his own medieval monastery cell – that is where philosophy is done and where it develops. The distance from here to philosophy for children may seem vast, but for him it wasn’t. At least, as long as philosophy for children is devoted to the same scrutiny of concepts and categories. More bluntly said: as long as teachers avoid the mistake which many people make when reading about Chinese philosophy, namely that they read their own concepts into it, whether it is the Chinese philosophical text or the children’s expressions of their thoughts.

Karel mastered the skill of introducing an example or comparison at the right moment and let this example do the work of convincing the listeners. One day, when we were discussing what P4C should be about, he said “Pieter, don’t you know Borges’ story about the classification of the emperor of China?”. No, I didn’t, and when I read the story later that week I knew why Karel was devoted to studying Chinese philosophy and to developing philosophy for children: It’s about categories, how arbitrary they are and how hesitant we should be in assuming that our categories are correct and universal, because they make sense to us [Borges’ story is called “Celestial emporium of benevolent knowledge”; I would say: obligatory reading!].

In 1990 Karel and I took the initiative to found a Dutch Centre for Philosophy for Children. Shortly after we were approached by a group of educational consultants, who were developing a school programme to address bullying at schools. They wanted to hear from us what philosophy can do to prevent bullying. Karel’s reply was as clear and without compromise as always: all we can do is facilitate conversations with children in which we explore the category of bullying and related categories. P4C was born and it immediately showed its stubborn identity.

In 2013 Karel gave his final SOPHIA talk at our meeting in Amsterdam on the theme of ‘Diversity’.


Karel van der Leeuw born 1940 deceased 2015. Much missed by the SOPHIA & P4C Community.

SOPHIA is holding an annual memorial prize for Karel, for details on how to enter to win €500 visit the Karel van der Leeuw Memorial Prize page of our website.