Providing conditions for developing a Moral Compass

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Educators are charged with the shared responsibility for helping to create individuals as moral beings, accountable for their decisions and responsible for their actions; with the ability to seek what is true and to do what is right.

If this is so, then we must ensure that learners have as much exposure to the affective as to the cognitive domain. This is especially so in the light of the rapid-fire nature of much of the entertainment, news casting and information gathering to which we are exposed.

A study, Neural Correlates of Admiration and Compassion, shows higher emotions to be as rooted in the body as primal impulses and that emotions linked to our moral sense awaken slowly in the mind.

This suggests that digital media culture may be better suited to some mental processes than others.  It’s not about the tools but how they are used. Adequate time and reflection is needed for some types of thought such as moral decision making about other people’s social and psychological situations. Admiration and compassion, recognition of virtue and another’s sorrow and joys, take much longer to process than, for example, detection of physical pain in others. Persistent emotional attention is necessary in order to respond to another’s psychological suffering.

There is an implication that fast-paced digital tools may direct heavy users away from traditional avenues for learning about human relationships and emotions, such as face-to-face social interactions or literature. Literature, after all, is subjective, or it’s nothing.

This is not to say that digital technologies do not have very significant place in education; just that their use needs to be judicious at home and at school. If things are happening too fast there is little opportunity to experience empathy for other people’s psychological states. The study found that social experience shapes interactions between the body and the mind. There are profound implications for individual and collective morality if developing minds in particular do not have opportunities to muse at a slow pace.

The study demonstrated that we use physical feelings as ‘platforms for knowing how to respond to other people’s situations’: evidence of the insight of poets and novelists that deep emotions are experienced viscerally: a ‘broken heart’ being the obvious example.

Do we always create a space for our young people to reflect in tranquillity?

 

Karen’s Spiritual Journey

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I was given the Outnumbered box set for Christmas and was enchanted and amused by every episode. I especially like 6 year old Karen’s philosophical take on life.

Socrates for 6 year olds

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Catherine McCall, featured in this clip, has been a pioneer of practical philosophy for children in the UK , having worked extensively with Matthew Lipman in the US.

I was excited about visiting the Dean Gallery ‘s Enlightenment exhibition, not least because it promised film of children philosophising. 7 to 10 year olds were asked such questions as: What is beauty?, How did the world begin?, What is nothing?, Where does the universe end?, Can science explain everything?

The clips were often charming and the children showed much depth and commitment to reflecting on fundamental questions (though there was a fair amount of chortling and even some farting when a group of boys became a little bored with a slightly ponderous peer’s examination of what he meant by the term ‘community’!)

When I have tried to create communities of inquiry using Socratic questioning to investigate ‘text’, I have always been overwhelmed by the depth of thinking that is reached even by very young children. Giving the space and opportunity to take time to ponder upon the big questions is not just rewarding in the short term. I am convinced that it makes a huge impact on learners’ understanding and enjoyment of complex ideas. I have only used printed text as the starter for discussion but clearly multi-modal approaches are equally valid.

Some of the most moving moments have come when a ‘reluctant reader’ has grasped that it is not the decoding of the text that is important but the understanding – and that they are every bit as capable of bringing powerful and personal meanings to ‘text’, and contributing to the discussion as anyone else.

Robert Fisher describes Philosophy for Children thus:

P4C can be called ‘informal philosophy’ – which is the capacity to philosophise and engage in philosophical discussion, which may include, but doesn’t depend on printed texts, and which is the informal capacity for people to engage their philosophical intelligence with questions of existential interest and importance through dialogic means.

Children are naturally philosophical and, given the opportunity, will explore concepts and ideas with enthusiasm. More experienced learners can help less experienced ones to move from the literal level of comprehension’ (understanding the words) to the critical level of analysis (analysing the story) and to understanding at the conceptual level (understanding what key concepts mean); to encourage them to ask Fat rather than Skinny questions. What a good facilitator does is to push for depth and higher order thinking by moving through a series of questions and prompts that push children from the concrete through to the abstract and conceptual.

Fisher’s words are academic, but this books are very accessible and a terrific starting point for those wishing to use Stories, Poems, Art, Games  for Thinking. We can all help children to think about their thinking – and perhaps have our own minds stretched at the same time as I did at the Dean Gallery.