Thursday 09 Feb 2023

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Becoming Child, Becoming Teacher

By Karen Taylor, PhD., Director of Education and of the Institute of Learning and Teaching, 
Ecole Internationale de Genève

In November two colleagues for whom I have deep respect, Patrick Alexander and Jacques-Olivier Perche, published an article in Medium about teachers’ intellectual wellbeing which they define as “the positive sense of self derived from an authentic engagement with the ethical, theoretical, and practical challenges of one’s professional domain.” As they note, there is a lot of talk these days about wellbeing but not so much about intellectual wellbeing and yet this is key if we wish to support teachers in finding “a deeper, more profound connection with a sense of professional identity that is both practically and ethically grounded.” Drawing in part from the work of Simone de Beauvoir, their article explores the notion of authenticity, “to be active and authentic in one’s reflections on the self-in-the world.” Needless to say, the philosophical grounding of their argument is substantial and, to my mind, a much-needed contribution to the current discourse on education, its purpose, and our professional identity as educators. 

About the same time as this article was published I was writing a blog about my excitement that the course “Emerging Ethical Minds” was soon to begin. There is a connection between the two… One common thread is the importance of philosophical thinking about who we are, what we do, and why. 

Emerging Ethical Minds is a professional learning course offered through the Ecolint Institute that draws from the Philosophy for/with Children (P4wC) method developed by Mathew Lipman and Margaret Sharp (as participants we become a Community of Philosophical Inquiry) in order to explore the nature of childhood. It also borrows from Philocreation, an approach within the P4wC movement developed by Brila, a Canadian educational charity specialising in philosophical dialogue and creative experimentation to foster responsible autonomy in youth and communities. Many Ecolint classrooms from preschool onwards use Philocreation workshops as part of their philosophy courses.

In our first session we spent considerable time playing with different conceptions of childhood - brainstorming, clarifying, modifying and questioning them. I am not certain that we came to a fully shared understanding but we will get there… or not. What is important is the process of reflection, the collective inquiry, the acceptance of ambiguity and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a shared space in which we are able to explore preconceived notions about children and their capacity for creative, philosophical and ethical thinking. 

In our preparation for this week’s session we had the opportunity to listen to a podcast with David Kennedy. Personally, I absolutely revelled in his reflections on childhood and the significant questions his work raises: 

Is childhood both a biological state and a state of mind?
What are the consequences of engaging in “adultism” (e.g. thinking about adulthood as the human norm)?
What is the relationship between the real and the imaginary, the objective and the subjective, in the mind and experience of a child?
Is there an impulse to children’s thinking that could guide adults toward a more ethical relationship with the natural world? 
In other words, does childhood serve as a legitimate form of knowledge that we should take seriously?

In a number of his writings, Kennedy refers to Gilles Deleuze’s notion of “becoming child,” a conception of childhood as an open, fluid and creative space of transformation. Engaging with colleagues in this course is not only about understanding “becoming child” but also, I believe, about being and “becoming teacher,” about engaging in the kind of intellectual wellbeing that Alexander and Perche described.