Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What moves us to act in defiance of our reason?

I was in a fourth grade class today and they were having an inquiry concerning some recent developments during recess. Apparently, the teacher took away every sort of ball that is typically used on the playground (soccer balls, footballs, baseballs, kickballs, etc). I recall something similar happening to me in elementary school and I remember it being the worst punishment ever! However, what was different from my experience is that the teacher did not tell them the reasons the athletic balls were no longer available to them. Rather, she asked them to provide the reasons.

Hands immediately shot to the ceiling and students began sharing their perspectives with their peers. The students (29 in all) patiently listened to each other and waited for the “community ball” to come their way so they could also offer reasons for their punishment or build off of the ideas of others. Their keen awareness of the situation exposed their inability to follow the rules of the playground, which is what ultimately caused them to lose these privileges; they were slide tackling each other while playing soccer, playing tackle football, punting the ball over the fence when they lost, arguing about the rules, picking on each other, and not sharing with their classmates. In short, the games were causing them to turn into animals.

The depth of their insights surprised the teacher and me because many of their perspectives were not apparent to the adults in the room. The students quickly identified a laundry list of their inappropriate actions, but it occurred to me that this reflective awareness was not translating into informing their recess actions. I asked the students, “if we know that we should not be doing these things and treating each other this way on the playground, then what are the reasons we are still doing it?” Again, their hands pointed to the sky and what followed were a number of reasons to explain (and, in some instances, justify) their actions:
·      They choose not to do the right thing in order to get attention, even if it is negative attention.
·      Competition brings out the worst in them.
·      They get too caught up in the games they are playing.
·      “We don’t always think about our actions.”
·      When someone cheats, it causes a chain reaction of bad actions.

At this point, there were only a few minutes left of class, so we were not able to hear all of their ideas (they also began exploring the purpose of recess). If we had more time, this inquiry would have undoubtedly moved into looking beyond the playground and examining why we do things that we know are not right or that we know are bad for us?

This is why the activity of doing philosophy is so powerful; it provides people, especially children, with the tools, the confidence, and opportunities to dive into the examination of their own experiences. That being said, what are the reasons we continue to do things that we know are not “right”? What moves us to act in defiance of our reason?

I am not sure if my explanations will be as honest as these fourth graders, but I do know I am inspired anytime I am around a room full of thinkers, even if recess is the pressing philosophical dilemma of the day. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

End of Term Update: Where Have We Gone?

As Hawaii’s public schools finish the last few days of the first term, I thought it would be the right time to pause and reflect on the philosophical activities students and teachers are engaging in during the school day. I have spent the better part of the past three school years as Kailua High School’s Philosopher in Residence, which means I traded in my own classroom and high school English courses to work alongside nearly 40 teachers who aim to implement (or experiment with) philosophical inquiry into the courses that they teach. I have participated with teachers and students in inquiries from pretty much every subject area on campus (Social Studies, Language Arts, Math, Foreign Languages, Special Education, Art, Health, ROTC, and the Sciences).

I find the willingness of these teachers and students to be revolutionary, which is the reason I wanted to devote this post to simply reflect and share many of the students' questions that have been (and in many cases are still being) explored in Hawaii’s public schools. I see it to be a progress report of sorts.

This term students have created and engaged in meaningful philosophical inquiries concerning the following questions (this list is by no means exhaustive or thematically organized. The intention is to provide a “greatest hits” of the term).

   Where do our thoughts go after we die? Especially if we do not write them down.
   What makes something a “fact”? Is this different than “hard data”?
   What does it mean to “accept” somebody?
   Why would we be willing to destroy nature if we appreciate its beauty?
   What makes a hypothetical example not a “real” example?
   Is it true that in order to see things clearer, you need to go through a bad experience?
   If the definition of immaturity is the inability to think on one’s own, according to Kant, and if no idea is ever original, are we forever immature?
   What makes something art? Is the artist the same thing as the art?
   Is it possible to truly see “things as they are” without interpretation?
   Can we ever say that we “are” somebody? Aren't we always in the process of “becoming”?
   What if your “chosen” path is not your “intended” path?
   What are the reasons some things look better in your head than on paper?
   Can I assume as technology and people's needs of consumption keep increasing, no matter what we do, the environment will continue to decrease?
   What are the reasons enough is never enough? Is satisfaction just an illusion?
   What are the reasons we let fear triumph over all other feelings?
   Can I assume younger drug users get the idea that drugs are “ok” or “fun” from celebrities or media?
   Who deserves a chance to live?
   If there is conflict, then will humans seek peace? Likewise, if there is peace, will humans seek conflict?
   Is there an importance or necessity to waiting? Do humans innately understand this importance?
   In order to be a terrorist, is it necessary to physically harm someone?
   Is there always a value to a variable that makes a statement true?

The questions by themselves are inspiring, but they do not paint the whole picture. The ensuing inquiries are what truly detail the importance of the activity of philosophy. My intention this term is to blog more often and use this space to share the questions and philosophical thoughts of Hawaii’s students in hopes of engaging a larger audience in meaningful philosophical inquiry. As I stated in my first post, I am not entirely sure how to accomplish this objective, but I do know we are all hungry for what the activity of philosophy has to offer. I cannot imagine what our world would look like if the schooling experience provided children the opportunity and skills needed to sit and rigorously inquire into and discuss meaningful topics, such as the ones listed above, with their peers.