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Thursday, November 17, 2011

About Story Philosophy

The idea for this blog

When I was in my first year at university in the UK, I remember one of my tutors asking us whether we had any previous experience of philosophy. I mentioned I had had two years of philosophy at secondary school, like every other secondary school student in Spain at the time. 'Ah!' –he said-, 'a civilized country!'

The idea for this blog stems from a deep conviction that philosophical thought and philosophical discussion -in the broadest sense of both these concepts- form (should form?) the very basis of civilization.  

At a time where educational institutions seem to run the other way at the very mention of the word ‘philosophy’ or, if interested, often prefer calling it something else so as not to intimidate, I feel it is particularly relevant to stand up and speak out for the essential role philosophy can play in education from a very early age.

There are many ‘philosophy for children’ projects out there, some more along my line of thought than others, but all of which do something as magical as basic. They get children to look at the world they live in, to question what they see and what they are told, to question the beliefs of others and their own, to push the boundaries of conformism, to turn things upside down and look underneath them, behind them, inside them. Ultimately, they get children to develop a gaze of their own, a voice of their own, to become their own selves. Can education aspire to anything above and beyond that? And why does it aspire to so much below that?     

I would like to clarify that I firmly believe that literature should not be read for a purpose, as a means to an end. I do not believe in literature written to tell lessons or teach values. It’s boring. Very.

I do not suggest picture book reading at schools should become –exclusively- an excuse for philosophical discussion. I think children desperately need to read for the pure sake of enjoyment.  

But I do suggest that taking quality picture books children enjoy reading and encouraging them to talk about specific aspects that catch their attention and intrigue them is a great way of introducing a healthy and very useful philosophical habit. And it can be great fun!

The age range I have in mind here will vary greatly from child to child, but I’m mostly thinking of 5-10 year-olds.  

I expect readers of this blog to include primary school teachers, perhaps some parents, and picture book enthusiasts with a penchant for rigorous thinking.

I also have a blog with reviews and recordings of favourite children’s books, called We Read it Like This (wereaditlikethis.blogspot.com). If interested, please stop by and say hi.

When I was designing this blog and giving it further thought and research, I came across a wonderful project. The Teaching Children Philosophy program website (www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org) is fantastic and also has many picture book based philosophical discussions. It contains resources for educators, parents and kids and information on their Undergraduate Course taught by Tom E. Wartenberg at Mount Holyoke College. A really interesting and inspiring project. 

Note added January 19th 2012. 
Since I wrote this original introductory post, I've been in contact with Tom Wartenberg (see mention in previous paragraph) and several interesting things have happened: 

  1. Together with Mariana Zarate, a senior English Teacher Training student in Argentina interested in literary theory, philosophy and interdisciplinarity and currently writing her thesis on teaching children Philosophy through English as a foreign language, I am translating the great material on the www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org site for it to be available to Spanish speakers. Check it out.
  2. I'm adapting and contributing the material from Story Philosophy to the Book Modules on their site. 
  3. I'll be including a selection of their excellent modules on Story Philosophy to share here too. 

Read the first Story Philosophy review! The Mixed-up Chameleon, by Eric Carle

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