Training Community of Ethical Inquiry Volunteers

Photo of student teacher trainingHSV proposed that volunteers interested in facilitating Community of Ethical Inquiry in schools should take part in the teacher-training program delivered each term by the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS).

VAPS is an association of teachers and philosophers Inspired by the What Is Philosophy for Children? (P4C) movement, VAPS promotes critical and creative thinking among young people. They believe that learning philosophy opens students’ minds to big ideas. They support teachers in fostering the intellectual and social skills that enable students to think philosophically – through training, networking and curriculum development.

VAPS considers that dialogue and discussion best support ethical exploration in the classroom – a tradition of philosophical inquiry that goes right back to Socrates. This approach has significant social benefits. By beginning to think about ethical matters together and through the give-and-take of reasoned argument, students learn properly to consider other people’s points of view and to be sincere, reasonable and respectful in dealing with their differences.

VAPS Level One training provides participants with the skills and pedagogical foundations to run their own Communities of Inquiry in three important areas:

  • Understanding ethical concepts and principles
  • The exploration of ethical issues
  • Engagement in collaborative deliberation

In exploring ethical concepts, students examine the meaning of such ideas as fairness, honesty, goodness, rights and responsibilities. Through exploring ethical issues together, students learn to examine reasons for judging conduct to be ethically right or wrong as well as better or worse; and are encouraged to think about the importance of consequences as well as of principles in everyday ethical decision-making.

In addition, students practise habits of mind, including considering different points of view, appealing to appropriate criteria in making and defending judgments, and attending to the reasoning used to argue from experience.

What Is Philosophy for Children?

The advent of Philosophy for Children (P4C) coincided with the recognition that emerged in the third quarter of the 20th century that children are capable of thinking critically and creatively, and that a major aim of education should be to help children become more reasonable – the ‘fourth R’. And as reading and writing are taught to children through the discipline of literature, why not make reasoning and judgment available to them through the discipline of philosophy? However, these benefits don’t come from learning about the history of philosophy or philosophers. Rather, as with reading, writing and arithmetic, the benefits of philosophy come through the doing-through active engagement in rigorous philosophical inquiry.

Philosophy also includes the discipline of ethics, and Philosophy for Children has proven to be an ideal program for values education. Children’s experience is replete with ethical concerns and issues, though they may be only dimly aware of this. And through television, the Internet and other media, children today are exposed to ideas and images which not so long ago would have been reserved for adults. Like adults, children often perceive the world as a jumble of alternative possibilities. Rather than dictate a set of prescribed values to children, Philosophy for Children seeks to help them strengthen their own capacity to appraise and respond to these beckoning alternatives; to self-correct their habits of thought, feeling and action through sustained ethical inquiry. Moreover, Philosophy for Children’s egalitarian nature, commitment to varying viewpoints and insistence on the inherent value of all participants helps foster empathy and pro-social behavior as an essential basis for values education.
[Montclair State University <www.montclair.edu>]

A year-long study of 1,500 primary pupils in England found that Philosophy for Children boosted their progress in school.
[Gorard et al., theconversation.com, 10 July 2015]

In Australia, Philosophy for Children promotes critical and creative thinking among students in primary and secondary schools and, less commonly, in extra-curricular contexts. Trained facilitators help groups of children to wrestle with philosophical problems and arrive at considered judgements on the basis of thoughtful dialogue and critical reflection. Rather than teaching children the philosophical canon in a didactic way, facilitators lead groups of children in semi-structured dialogue or “collaborative inquiry” that encourages children to explore the philosophical dimensions of their own experience.
[Michelle Sowey, Philosophy for Children: A reflective approach to human rights education, Right Now, July 31, 2012]

  1. Project Background
  2. Philosophy and Methodology
  3. Training Community of Ethical Inquiry Volunteers
  4. Project Pilot and Evaluation