Our method - Philosophical Enquiry or PhiE - combines a community of enquiry approach with an introduction of academic philosophy and teaching whilst, at the same time, maintaining an accessible level of philosophy for the children. At the heart of our work is a commitment to teaching children how to philosophise: to give them the tools to develop a 'dialogue in one voice'. That is to be able to reflect upon and critically evaluate their own, as well as other people's, thoughts and ideas.
We do this by setting the philosophical arena around which discussions and dialogue take place, we then guide and facilitate the dialogue with teaching strategies that develop philosophical tools and ideas, such as logic; argumentation; falsification; necessary and sufficient conditions; abstract thinking etc. We preserve the autonomy of the children through the use of dialectic and through a process of ‘Emergent Questions’ which come from the children during discussions.
Michael Hand, reader in philosophy at the Institute of Education, and editor of ‘Philosophy in Schools’ has said that there have been 2 models of doing philosophy in schools and neither was adequate. The first is, what he calls, the 'Great Books Model’: the study of classical texts, and the other is the 'Circle Time Model’, where the children generate their own questions and the teacher becomes a co-enquirer. He has called our method the ‘Third Way’: “It draws on the strengths of the other two models. Children do not study philosophical texts, but they encounter key ideas, arguments and puzzles from the canon of Western philosophy: the Ship of Theseus and the Ring of Gyges, Locke’s ‘voluntary prisoner’ and Mill’s ‘satisfied pig’, the Rawlsian ‘veil of ignorance’ and the Turing Test of artificial intelligence. Children are not left to pursue their own questions without direction, but there is a strong emphasis on exploratory discussion and dialogue…[the PhiE Model is] a significant contribution to educational theory.”
It is the job of our specialist philosophy teachers to identify and draw out from the children philosophical material, and to encourage them to adopt a philosophical attitude. Our aim is to cultivate the habit of thinking and we do not believe that this will come about simply by giving them the opportunity to think. Like anything else it needs to be learnt. So the facilitation should include teaching and guidance. Philosophy is not something that can be learnt by being told a list of propositional facts about what it is, it is best learnt by modelling. In other words, the children will learn how to do philosophy best by seeing it done well on a regular basis by a skilled philosophy teacher.
We envision a future where many, if not all, schools in the UK have a resident philosopher: a specialist philosophy teacher who works closely with the school to provide philosophy sessions for the children and training for the teachers in areas such as questioning, thinking and discourse skills.