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.

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

Peter Worley TEDx Talks

How To Be A Rebel

TEDx KCS June 2014 – click here to view on YouTube

 

Plato Not Playdoh

TEDx Goodenough College May 2014, click here to view on YouTube

 

Using Poetry for Philosophical Enquiries

By Peter Worley

When National Poetry Day and World Poetry Day come around each year I like to use poetry for all my philosophy sessions where possible. I usually write some more Thoughtings and a blog. This year I have got a little over-excited about poetry. Because I love it! So this is the second blog on poetry which follows on from my previous blog post ‘Why Poetry? Because it is like the TARDIS…’

Something similar to what follows can be found in the appendices at the back of Thoughtings together with a sample lesson plan around one particular Thoughting. The poems in that collection have been written specifically to do philosophy with, however philosophy can also be done with many other poems not written to do philosophy. With that in mind, I’ve put this together for anyone who wishes to start using poetry as a starting stimulus for doing philosophy but who lacks the confidence (or a procedure) to do so. This is only a guideline so the word to bear in mind is ‘variation’ – play around with this structure to best fit your aims, your class or group and your poem. All the poems mentioned here can be found by following the links in my previous blog ‘Why Poetry?…’

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