I met with Beate Borresen, Associate Professor, Faculty of Education at the Oslo and Akershus University College and a prominent advocate for philosophical inquiry with children. She had been referred through contacts both in Norway and Sweden and the several hours we spent together focussed my thinking on the connection between philosophical practice and teacher training.
Although many teachers been trained in P4C in Norway both by Beate and visiting experts including James Nottingham and Sara Stanley from the UK and Oscar Brenifier from France, Beate found difficulty finding practitioners to demonstrate philosophy in action.
She commented on the disconnect between the theory, the training and the implementation in the schools and suggested the following reasons for this:
- Many theorists used ‘many sweet words’ promoting the ‘why do’ philosophy with children but had little or no connection to the ‘how to’.
- Teachers found it difficult to conduct philosophical inquiry because they themselves were not critical thinkers. Part of this reason was that the teaching profession no longer attracted intellectuals
- The emphasis on outcomes including PISA testings created the perception in teachers that they had ‘no time for philosophy’.
- A positive attitude of the Head of the school was crucial to the adoption of philosophy in schools.
Beate preferred to refer to philosophy in schools as ‘structured talk’ and she shared teaching materials and lessons plans she was developing to support teachers who wanted to implement inquiry in the classroom. Like Sara Stanley she road tested ideas and was inspired by the conversations she had with her grandchildren. Do I see a trend emerging for grandparents?
I was particularly interested her reasons for printing logbooks (8,000) to be used in schools. These were similar in concept to those I had seen with Sara Stanley (although much more expensive) and would be provided to every child to document in some form the discussions held. Beate felt that if teachers used these logbooks in conjunction with the teaching notes, it would not only encourage children’s critical thinking but also develop teacher’s critical thinking skills and in some ways overcome ‘the difficulty’ referred to above.
I reflected on how fortunate we were in Australia where many of the philosophy trainers were practicing teachers and particularly how fortunate I had been to have a committed Principal, Michael Jones, at Bondi (point 4) who valued and promoted critical thinking for all students and made the pathway for me to introduce it at Bondi possible.