The philosophy cafe

If each day had a word today’s would be praxis.

Following a morning at the Philosophy Cafe held at Manchester Art Gallery and an evening practicing Tai Chi, I’m using a single word to guide my reflections.

The questions given to us this morning were:

  1. Should philosophy be taught to children in primary schools?
  2. What might the advantages be?
  3. What might the disadvantages be?

After a chat over drinks in small groups we considered our questions further in gallery 6. Currently it’s exhibiting paintings, a couple of sculptures and a tartan dress representing Victorian views of Scottishness: A highland romance. The largest painting on display is by Richard Andsell, I think it’s called The Chase, although there seems to be a series of these. The one which really caught my eye was by Henry Moore, who I tend to associate more with drawings of coal miners and people sheltering in the underground, as well as his sculptures of course. Anyway, it turns out that this is a different Henry Moore. Following a discussion around how Mancunian Victorians engaged in the Scottish hunting lifestyle, bought paintings which they subsequently often bequeathed t to Manchester we entered into a full round discussion of the given questions.

I can’t really summarise the entire discussion but here are some of the main points:

  • some discussion around definitions of philosophy
  • how crowded the school curriculum already is and what will be pushed out to make room?
  • who will teach it? Will they have qualifications in philosophy?
  • children will turn off if teachers fill their heads with philosophy
  • it’s too early, perhaps it should be introduced at ages 12/13
  • there’s been some recent studies which show it has positive effects
  • if we teach children how to argue they’ll be arguing about everything
  • perhaps it should be part of the ‘friendship groups’ which happen in my children’s school. They take place at lunchtime.
  • it’s really about teaching children how to think, not necessarily about Kant
  • what about the poor parents who will need to respond to the children’s constant questioning?
  • teaching is about rote learning in order to meet set targets
  • the vocabulary already exists to approach philosophy……why?
  • it can be used to help children learn how to listen, question and learn to respect each other
  • perhaps we should be using an education system as  in America. (If you know what the USA system mentioned is please let me know).
  • rather than the theories we need to focus on practical philosophy
  • how will teachers be able to cope with the constant questioning by children?

I hope you can see why I chose praxis as my reflective word. I’m reminded of something I read in Biesta’s  ‘The beautiful risk of education,’ pages 132 on….., where he discusses Aristotle’s  2 modes of acting poeisis and praxis.  On praxis he states  “The orientation here is not toward the production of things but to bringing about goodness or human flourishing (eudomania). Praxis is about what sort of things conduce to the good life in general. It is about good action….good action itself is its end. The kind of judgement we need here is not about how things should be done; we need judgement about what is to be done.” Aristotle refers to this kind of judgement as phronesis, which is usually translated as practical wisdom.

The concluding summary of the Philosophy Cafe discussion was that if there’s a concern about including  ‘philosophy’ in a primary school curriculum we can call it ‘teaching thinking and how to be human.’ Phronesis indeed.

Perhaps we’re not teaching philosophy but doing it.

Also, take a little look at this visual reading list for aspiring teachers (powerpoint download).


And here’s a pic I took recently in a Todmorden supermarket car park, which sums up some of my thoughts today.

Values matter.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s