Philosophy at home.

We don't know when the lockdown will be lifted and we all hope that for the sake of safety it won't be lifted too soon. But, luckily, I don't need to make those decisions and we all know the names of the people are paid to do so - so we can leave that up to them!

Something we can control is what we are teaching our children at home. It's something that many parents will be struggling with. There are so many variables to consider. You may have one child and so they the sole focus of your parental labour. You may have two or more, being different ages and abilities and with different likes and dislikes. This means that the rather intensive teaching that you are doing at home needs to be more individual doesn't it?

Does it?

In schools individualised learning is all the rage but it can't be as individual as it sounds...teachers aren't planning 30 different lessons on the same subject to suit their class of diverse children. And so you don't have to either. Philosophy has a universal appeal and is about thinking (see Philosophy is About Thinking: Blog Post) more than anything else! That is something that everyone does and needs to do. It is something that can be done from different angles and ages and so the perfect question or enquiry can lend itself to getting everyone in the house involved. The results of your discussions will be highly personalised even if the stimulus isn't.

In the first enquiry planned for 'At Home Philosophy' I have focused on a 'Big Question', this is what philosophy is all about. 'The Purpose of Things' is all about design and, if you want to get all KS3/4 about it, it's about Teleology. The enquiry is designed to get you thinking about the reasons behind the existence of everyday objects, both natural and (hu)man-made.

What's the Point of a Pebble?

This question aims at getting you to consider how a pebble came to be, how it came to be in your garden and why. The very notion of considering the 'why?' of a pebble might lead you to conclude that a pebble doesn't have a 'why?' because it exists and was formed over millions of years (here you could look at geology) or transported here for the sake of garden drainage (here you could look at drainage and gardening techniques). The boring little pebble can become elevated into something amazing if you ask the right questions.

All objects have been made...

Arguing about this statement will hopefully lead you to talk about how things came to be and whether you can say that a pebble was 'made' in the same way that a fork was 'made'. Thinking carefully about the purpose of the pebble doesn't mean it was designed, even if it has a function. It may be desired by gardeners to increase drainage in the soil but that doesn't mean it was designed in the same way a fork was. If we look at the world as an object is it closer in its creation to a pebble or a fork? Is there a designer?

This might lead to discussions about faith, God and the universe. It may lead to discussions about the human mind and how it mistakes something useful for something designed. Again, the range of discussion points, the off-shoots for research and project work are all there if it strikes a chord.

Superheroes only exist in stories!

In the second enquiry 'Of Superheroes and Miracles' I have planned questions that encourage thinking about the nature of superhero stories and where they come from. This is a pet project of mine and is designed to get children to explore whether there are grains of truth in myths. In Rousseau's 'Essay on the Origin of Language' he discusses the idea that the word 'giant' comes from someone seeing a person approach, being scared by them and mistaking them for a giant. This is almost comical but actually it does go some of the way to opening up this subject.

If we look at the character of Achilles it isn't too difficult to imagine that he could have been a wonderful soldier, so good that he was never hurt on the battlefield. People would quickly talk about a person like this as being invincible, even if it was simple exaggeration. Could the exaggerations be all that survives, being passed on like Ancient Greek whispers from drunken poet to drunken listener? It isn't hard to suppose that a myth might evolve out of an exaggerated tale. So is there room for real superheroes in the world? Currently, we are reassessing our view of the most important in society. At a time when most of us are working from home who do we need? Nurses, doctors, cleaners, waste disposal teams - all of these people are bunched together as 'key workers' and they are, in varying ways, risking their lives right now to look after us. Is this what it means to be a superhero?

Miraculous events

In religions and in mythological story systems we are regularly presented with miraculous events that reveal the wonder of God, gods or some other supernatural power. We are invited to consider miracles as a type of proof of the divine and discussing this is really important to Religious Education and, is a philosophical pursuit. David Hume wrote about the likelihood of miracles being true and, being a hard-line sceptic he points out that there are always other reasons for miraculous tales to be shared. In this enquiry I invite you to consider whether mythic tales of invincible soldiers and holy tales of angelic proclamations can actually be talked about in the same way. Certainly, Hume would say so but religious miracles and the truth claims that accompany them run deep in many cultures...perhaps tales of Achilles ran as deeply in the ancient world?

These are gigantic questions that encompass religion, witness statements, natural law, mythology and the origins of all the above. In philosophy lessons you often end up with more questions than you started with. This is key. This is the measure of a successful lesson. If you have opened children's minds to all sorts of possibilities and they don't know what to think then you have created in them a need to go out and find out more.

Remember that philosophy means love of wisdom, and what do we do with the things we love? We go out into the world and find them. I think philosophy at home and in the classroom can set children up as thinkers. I have often talked about teaching children for an uncertain future and we're all experiencing what that might actually be like right now. Perhaps learning from the old and thinking for the new is the best way to prepare our children for their eventual return to school and society's eventual return to normal, whatever that may be. I think philosophy can help do this.

Stay safe.

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