People are much to blame to represent philosophy to children for a thing of so difficult access, and with such a frowning, grim, and formidable aspect. Who is it that has disguised it thus, with this false, pale, and ghostly countenance? There is nothing more airy, more gay, more frolic, and I had like to have said, more wanton. She preaches nothing but feasting and jollity; a melancholic anxious look shows that she does not inhabit there. (Montaigne - about the education of children).
Philosophy with Children is about collaboratively inquiring into all sorts of life-related questions, and learning how to think for oneself along the way. This is a widely undervalued discipline in most primary schools but certainly not an unimportant one.
It has therefore become my ambition to restore philosophy's reputation as the driving force of education. After all, philosophy teaches us how to live! It does so by showing that life is more complex than one might think; quite often there is not one simple answer to a philosophical question. Because of the inherently unsure and complex nature of life, there might not even be an answer at all. The great thing is, however, that this is nothing to worry about. All it calls for is a flexible mind, the ability to arrive at sound (moral) judgements and the strength to adapt to given situations. These are all things one learns by practising philosophy and precisely this is the 'feasting and jollity' philosophy preaches.
Currently, I'm writing on the role of listening for my PhD thesis. As a philosophy teacher in the Netherlands I have been working with children and adolescents for the past four years, facilitating philosophical dialogues and teaching theory in the field of ethics, aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and more. Based on my experience, one of the patterns that I became increasingly aware of whilst working with children, was not so much their ability to speak but much more their struggle to actually listen to each other.
Listening to the teacher is difficult as well, but different; a teacher can use his/her position as a figure of authority and more or less 'force' the students to listen, but this does not make them automatically listen to each other as well, nor does it necessarily make them experience the benefits of truly listening. This is most prominently the case during a philosophical dialogue where the conversation can only become philosophical once the students collaborate - and thus listen to each other - in their search for meaning and truth. In other words, it seems very relevant for both children as participants of the philosophical dialogue in schools, and teachers as facilitators of the philosophical dialogue, to learn more about the meaning of listening and the possibilities for improving it.
In my PhD project I therefore suggest to thoroughly study the role of listening as a philosophical virtue, before designing a model for the improvement of listening as a multidisciplinary skill. Because of the suggested effects of music from research in music psychology and cognition, and the prominent role listening plays in the perception and creation of music, I propose to look deeper into the meaning of listening in that particular area as well. Be sure to look out for updates on this project via my twitter account.