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The Project: Principles and Philosophy

Today we find many projects and approaches that seek to address questions of ethics, values, democracy, citizenship, and philosophy with children and young people. The Enquiring Classroom is part of this field of creative and engaging approaches to pedagogy that seeks to put the voices of children and young people at the heart of their practice. But it also differs from these projects in a number of ways. Our ethic, philosophy and our approach to pedagogy is explicitly pluralistic. It is committed to connecting discussions of philosophical concepts and values with lived experiences and values, tapping into the existential concerns of children and young people whilst also inviting conversations about the  political question of, at a minimum, how can we bear to put up with one another?, and at a maximum, how can we live well together? 

The Enquiring Classroom doesn't just focus on outcomes, skills, and competences but tries to create the conditions for existential shifts, for reflection, for experimentation, for sense and meaning-making, for dialogue, for criticality, and for a desire to understand more deeply the human condition and our relation to the natural world. We work with the imagination and with reason and try to create the conditions for different kinds of experience and knowledge in educational situations in a way that is inclusive.

We are aware of the arguments against approaches that mobilise philosophical enquiry and explorations of ethics, religions, beliefs and values in classrooms and other educational contexts. We know some of the pitfalls that can arise when approaching complex questions that go to the heart of individual and collective identities, for example, in particular if deploying didactic, information-based or moralising approaches that fail to connect with the lives and concerns of children and young people. This is why we focus on creating the conditions for conversations and for explorations and for enquiry by building communities that demand self reflection, criticality, the ability to give reasons, the capacity to use the imagination, and that foster a sense of interest and curiosity in the world and in others.

If we genuinely wish to find ways of talking about those questions, ideas, concepts, and events that often create polarisation or disagreement, it is essential that we create the conditions in classrooms and schools that foster a sense of responsibility in speaking, an ability to listen, the capacity to think and offer reasons, that cultivate a sense of reverence for the learning of humankind, and that we train the imagination to go visiting, as political theorist Hannah Arendt once said. Educational spaces are ideal spaces in this regard as they allow us to temporarily suspend the cares and concerns of the world in order to understand together more deeply the subjects of our study, permitting us the intimate distance that will enable us to figure out what matters to us, and what we value as individuals, as a collective and as a community, rather than retreating to crude forms of relativism that close us off from one another and imprison us in our own monologues. So in this way it is the space of the classroom that allows us to relate to one another and to our subject matter in a different way permitting of dialogue, contemplation, expression, and a deeper understanding of the stories of our world, past and present.

We think it's important to develop a sense of creative curiosity, wonder, intellectual humility and understanding in children and young people, and that we need to not only focus on the future in an ever-changing world but to remind ourselves of the rich stories of humankind and the natural history of our earth and of our universe. It is this historical sensibility and sense of perspective that we also hope to cultivate through the exercise of the imagination, philosophical enquiry, and exploration of beliefs and values.

We do this by placing pluralism at the heart of our project through the development of an experimental set of creative methodologies that will give teachers and educators the skills, imagination and ideas to engage children and young people in conversations that matter in our time.

The Enquiring Classroom works with educators, sharing ideas, knowledge and practices in peer groups, in order to develop a skillset that can help to create an environment that will allow for the careful and sensitive exploration of ideas, questions and values that matter to teachers and students. The aim is not to propose a single approach to navigate complex questions but to work with multiple approaches that are attuned to the different rhythms and experiences of classroom life.  Research shows that it is important that children and young people be given opportunities to discuss and critically examine such issues in safe contexts with trusted facilitators in order to foster critical thinking skills and the capacity for ethical imagination. This is most effective when questions, concerns, and issues are generated by the students themselves. 

By developing communities of enquiry in classrooms and educational spaces and by fostering communities of enquiry and practice amongst diverse groups of educators, this enables us to learn from one another and to build knowledge, ideas, and strategies whilst being able to discuss the difficult situations that sometimes arise in educational settings

The project is running a series of training schools and summer schools in order to develop peer networks that support knowledge exchange. It will develop a training manual that is informed by a process of co-enquiry and co-reflection, and by testing and exploring the key methodologies in communities of enquiry. 

Disclaimer: This project has been funded with support from the European Commission under the Erasmus+ programme. The website reflects the views only of the authors and the commission cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained within.

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