Thursday 03 Nov 2022

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Children as Emerging Ethical Minds

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

I have a vivid memory of sitting for hours in a restaurant in Geneva with Natalie M. Fletcher, who has been working with Ecolint for several years training teachers in the pedagogy of Philosophy for Children. We had pushed aside our plates and were both talking excitedly and scribbling notes as we spoke about how we wanted to develop a professional learning module that would call into question some of the assumptions adults may make about the nature of childhood and the capacity of children to engage in ethical thinking. We renewed that conversation with the same passion each time Natalie returned to Geneva. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we have finally brought those initial ideas to fruition in “Emerging Ethical Minds: Shifting our Conceptions of Childhood”.

Natalie is a philosopher and I am a historian so we brought different disciplinary perspectives to shared principles about education for social justice and inclusion. Yet for both of us it is essential that educators reflect purposefully on the dynamics of child-adult relationships so as to allow children the fullest possible expression of their understanding of the world, of the nature of community, of what is just and what is not.

One might argue that it is surprisingly difficult to precisely define childhood. In many respects, the notion of childhood is fluid: dependent on time, place, gender and class, and so much more. Even within a given society, the understanding of what it means to be a child may change over time. In the twentieth century, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child determined universal rights based on a particular conception of childhood. A child, while requiring “special care and assistance…, should be fully prepared to live an individual life… and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”

The current discourse on education reflects the spirit of the UNCRC and contemporary educators promote critical thinking, creativity, autonomy and agency (which I think of in terms of the capacity to exercise one’s faculties of reason and judgement) as essential to a quality learning environment. But what does that really mean in terms of our conceptualization of childhood? Do we view children in terms of cognitive and developmental stages of becoming? Are we limited in our understanding of the capacity of children for empathetic, ethical, and rational thinking because we secretly still think of them as deficient adults? Do we see children as they are? Or through the lens of our adult selves? Do we interact with children in such a way as to recognize them as rights-bearing individuals as claimed in the UNCRC? 

One of the things that Natalie always emphasises is the importance of seeing children not as adults in the making, but as autonomous agents of change in their own right. This is a powerful statement and it is what lies at the heart of the module “Emerging Ethical Minds”. 

If our questions inspire you to join us, find out more and register by December 15th, 2022.