Help some budding philosophers out!

by Guest Blogger // 5 November 2012, 11:00

Schoolkids with hands raised.jpgGuest blogger Sarah Jones introduces an exciting new school project on gender. Sarah is the co-founder of the Greenwich Free School, a new secondary school in Woolwich in southeast London. She graduated with a law degree from the University of Oxford, but decided to join TeachFirst, an organisation which sends graduates into challenging, urban schools, to teach Citizenship, Politics, Sociology and Philosophy.

"Why are men and women different? That is, if they are that different really?" - Year 7 pupil, Woolwich, London

One of the many reasons I love my job is that kids are interested in pretty much everything. They're natural philosophers: they're curious, they ask fantastic questions, they desperately try to work out how the world works, and they find injustice absolutely inexplicable. As we all should.

Tragically, this natural inquisitiveness gets knocked out of many children well before they finish compulsory schooling. At my school, we are working hard to make sure we not only keep this spirit alive, but make every possible use of it: children ask questions, and we try our best to help them find answers. I teach Philosophy and Politics, right from Year 7 (11-year-olds), to help them develop their questioning skills, their reasoning and logical thinking abilities, and to expose them to some of the weirdest and most beautiful thoughts that humanity has come up with throughout the ages. You can see some of our work this term here.

Our Year 7s recently did some work in History about why the subject is relevant to us today. They had to come up with their own historical questions. The pupils had to believe that in answering these questions they would discover something that would shape the way we live today. They then voted on the most interesting questions. One class chose the above question: "Why are men and women different?" - qualifying it, as all good philosophy students should, with the follow-up: "That is, if they are that different really?" Schoolgirls with laptop.jpg

I am delighted that the class voted for this question. I am constantly both infuriated and heartbroken by the constant bombardment of images and ideas about gender that our young people receive, and am very happy that the chance to discuss this came from the kids themselves.

So here is my request, oh lovely F Word readers: how would you begin helping 11-year-olds answer this question? Are there any good resources you can recommend? Any short stories, or interesting videos, or beautiful and terrifying graphs that would be accessible to 11-year-olds? Are you a teacher who has tried and tested methods of aiding pupils' discovery? Do you work in London, and if so, would you like to come and meet the next generation of feminist-philosophers? Please get in touch with me by email!

The kids and I will be reporting back at Christmas with our conclusions. I'm not sure yet what the final piece of work will be - at the moment I'm envisioning the pupils choosing different methods to share their responses, so we might have some written work, some art, some videos etc. Whatever it is, we're hoping to publish it on the F Word, so watch this space!

Images courtesy of Sarah Jones. [Edited to add: Photographs taken by Claire Lau.]

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