Philosophy for Children: Mining for Meaning in Children's Literature
James S. Kelly, Director
NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers
Department of Philosophy
Oxford, Ohio 45056
(513) 785-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest in the Summer Institute I will be directing at the Oxford campus of Miami University June 28 Ð July 23, 2004. In what follows, I provide a brief overview of the Institute designed to anticipate questions you may have. I look forward to an inspiring, thought provoking, and fun four weeks.
My own interests in this Institute are long-standing. With the support of the Ohio Humanities Council, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, and Miami University, I have offered three very successful one-week Summer Teachers Institutes in the Humanities for area (Ohio) teachers (2000-2002). These Institutes served as pilots for the present Institute. My participation in the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children workshop (August 1999), allowed me to come to know several people associated with the IAPC and other scholars involved in teaching children critical and creative thinking attentive to humanistic issues. As a result of these experiences and my own work in the humanities, what has emerged in this NEH Institute is the marriage of the humanities and K-8 education. I seek to bring together a group of teachers eager to form a community of inquiry in which we can all explore the humanistic themes to be mined from children's stories; these are the themes, issues, and questions of central concern to children as they strive to define and live their lives and to participate fruitfully in the society.
Purpose and Scope of the Institute
Our main focus in the Institute will be on the basic humanistic categories of value, meaning, self-hood, personhood, rationality, and freedom. From these categories come the humanistic themes we will investigate. This Institute has three main educational aims for children's classrooms. (1) To demonstrate how children's literature provides models of humanistic thinking, feeling, and acting that are of great importance in preparing children to responsibly participate in the civic enterprise. (2) To examine ways in which children's literature and humanistic themes mined from it can be used to promote reasonableness, understanding, and apt judgment in children. (3) To provide a link between reasonableness and the humanistic development of children's judgment-making as they struggle to understand themselves and others, and their role in the community, the society, and the world.
In structured discussions we will reflect upon, come to understand, appreciate, and evaluate our particular educational roles as a means for promoting humanistic thinking. Through an examination of selected readings (often in discussions facilitated by the authors) we will gain an informed appreciation of why the strengthening of practical judgment, effective reasoning, and critical understanding is a worthy and vital goal for our classrooms. In theoretically integrated hands-on sessions we will also investigate how the humanities (including literature, drama, song, paintings, and poetry) can provide us with a framework for constructing classrooms in which basic questions about how human beings think and know can be considered alongside equally fundamental questions of how we ought to treat one another and the world itself.
The Institute is based on the premise that philosophical thinking, as with reading and writing, is something children and we naturally do when conditions permit. An advantage of introducing philosophical and humanistic thinking into the elementary and middle school is that this is an ideal way of having children study values, for in philosophy, conceptual analysis plays a major role, and values are, among other things, concepts of importance. The aim is not simply to study classical humanities texts but to examine the basic categories of humanistic thinking. That is, to identify, discuss, and practice unearthing the recurring topics and themes that emerge from a discerning focus on lived experience. Philosophical inquiry focuses on the larger meaning of human experience and in the Institute we will learn how to increase philosophical discussions among children on these larger issues. By practicing and evaluating the 'Community of inquiry' approach to learning, we will become more apt at promoting and integrating the humanistic themes that emerge when children, as excited inquirers, enter into dialogue with each other over issues of importance to human beings.
Over the course of the four-week Institute (June 28-July 23), we will meet Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, from 9:00-4:00, and Friday from 9:00-1:00. On days we are not having formal sessions, Institute faculty will be available to meet one-on-one (or in small groups) to help participants structure their individual projects. Morning sessions, facilitated by humanities scholars and Institute faculty, will be devoted to an inquiry into various humanistic categories. For instance, on one morning the focus may be on meaning and value, while on another it may be on self-hood, personhood, rationality, or freedom. Afternoon sessions will concentrate on strategies for successful classroom communication of these humanistic themes mined from children's literature and art. Thus one morning session may center on Aristotle's distinction between bravery and foolhardiness and be followed by afternoon sessions in which Frog and Toad (in Lopel's Frog and Toad Together) wonder about bravery and moral courage. In these afternoon sessions, we will develop various teaching strategies for explicitly raising humanistic issues in our classrooms. Throughout the Institute we will form discussion groups that explore ideas for integrating children's stories into community of inquiry discussions where children can ask and wonder about humanistic issues of concern to them as they begin to form meaningful lives.
During the first week of the Institute, our main theoretical task will be to examine the connection between rationality and freedom. We will discuss how appraisals of reasonableness might be applied to children, their beliefs, attitudes, actions, and decisions. The humanistic categories of direct concern here are rationality, personhood, agency, and freedom. Michael Pritchard will facilitate discussions at our first two morning sessions and during our working lunches. He is the Willard A. Brown Professor of Philosophy, Director of the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society, and Associate Dean of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University. His books include Reasonable Children: Moral Education and Moral Learning, On Becoming Responsible, and Philosophical Adventures with Children. He will discuss issues raised in his text, Reasonable Children: Moral Education and Moral Learning. Throughout the week we will also reflect on several children's texts, including Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Thinks You Can Think, and Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, for generating among children reflective discussions on humanistic themes. Our inquiry this week, by focusing on the degree to which young children can be aided in understanding the role of reason, will put us in a position to investigate the role of the humanities in preparing people for democracy.
During week two, discussions will center on the basic humanistic categories of value and meaning, as well as the categories of subjectivity and selfhood. Joining us this week will be Professor Gareth Matthews. He is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and writes a column on children's literature for the journal Thinking. He has written several books including The Philosophy of Childhood, Philosophy and the Young Child, Dialogues with Children, and Socratic Perplexity and the Nature of Philosophy. With guidance from Matthews, we will examine selections of his book (The Philosophy of Childhood) and discuss the ways in which the humanities involve the full range of human experience, a range that includes somatic and sensory experience, self-knowledge, and intersubjective experience. Such an understanding will enable us to back the claim that an important function of education is to present indirectly through stories, poetry, songs, art, ceremonies, rituals and practices an underlying humanistic philosophy of selfhood, society, and the world. In particular, we will examine children's poems and stories that excite in young minds perplexities that can't be assuaged merely by passing on information. Instead, these perplexities are to be worried over, worked through, discussed, reasoned out, and linked up with each other and with life; they require a humanistic approach.
Week three will develop the view, begun in
week two, that children's literature should not preach but rather present
characters in such a way that the lived experience of the characters renders
a judgment on themselves and their lives. This week Professor Claudia Mills
(Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado) will join us as we
continue our examination of the claim that narrative literature plays a crucial
role in helping children to form the compassionate imagination. Professor
Mills writes on a wide range of topics in ethical theory, social and political
philosophy, and applied ethics, as well as on philosophical issues and themes
in children's literature. She is also the author of more than 30 highly acclaimed
children's books. Her current research interests are focused on ethical issues
in children's literature and ethical issues in parenting and child rearing.
We will read some of her work concerning ethics and children's literature
and apply her insights to her own children's stories, including Standing
Up to Mr. O. An examination of short selections from Aristotle will also
lead to a discussion on habits and virtues, and a focus on Mills' "From
Obedience to Autonomy: Moral Growth in the Little House Books," will
further develop the categories of interest.
In the fourth and closing week, we will begin by generating discussion on the troubling claim that the aim of values education is to merely have students prize and freely choose their own value beliefs (the values clarification approach) without seeking justification. In our examination of this approach, we will ask whether becoming self-aware about one's own values is an end in itself and whether such an approach leads to a 'values wasteland .' Philosopher Wendy Turgeon will join us this week and facilitate sessions on the value of exploring non-linguistic avenues of artistic expression in the aesthetic education of children. She has developed, and currently teaches philosophy for children courses at St Joseph's College and SUNY-Stony Brook. She has also served as a trainer for the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children. We will read Gareth Matthews' Chapter, 'Child Art,Ó and discuss examples of children's art supplied by this week's scholars. Art historian Linnea Dietrich will talk with us about meaning in art and will develop her thesis through an examination of slides of art works, including children's art, expressive of meaning. A trip to the Miami art museum, where Bonnie Mason (Curator of Education) will provide an informative session on the educational role of the museum in children's learning, will help demonstrate ways in which the arts can be integrated into children's education.
As I have said, throughout the Institute we will develop hands-on exercises that explore methods for integrating insights gained during the Institute into actual classroom activities. These may generate teaching projects, typically lesson plans and discussion guides created by groups of two or three. In this way we will be more than observers, we will be participants who learn from each other. In addition, participants will be asked to provide a short, reflective paper explaining the importance of the humanistic content of their projects. Two Institute faculty, Joyce Corriero and Kristin Sewald, will be key resources in helping us in our transition from theory to classroom practice. Joyce, who played a crucial role in the success of the earlier Institutes, is a veteran elementary school teacher who holds a New Jersey Elementary Education Teaching Certificate K-8. Kristin, who was also invaluable in the earlier Institutes, holds a masters degree in philosophy and has trained elementary school teachers in programs designed to teach children critical listening and thinking skills by utilizing philosophical dialogues.
During the first week an entertainment committee will be formed. The committee's role will be to arrange activities that will allow us to meet informally. On selected evenings, for instance, we can gather to view and discuss selected films, or take advantage of a variety of campus and local events, or further our discussions with visiting humanities scholars, or any of a number of other opportunities. An exciting possibility may involve expanding our creative talents. What I have in mind is that we give a performance of (and perhaps 'rewrite') Sartre's play No Exit. Here we can examine Sartre's claims that life is absurd and that no values exist outside ourselves, that we are the source of all values. In doing this, we will be creatively wrestling with issues that deal with the larger meaning of human experience and hopefully having some fun. Of course many other opportunities will present themselves: picnics, golf outings, trips to Cincinnati, etc.
Housing and Locale
Oxford is a great place to be in the summer. One may wish to visit You're Fired, a paint your-own pottery studio, enjoy a movie or play, visit the state-of-the-art university recreational center, or enjoy a fine meal. On Thursday evenings there is an outdoor summer music festival that brings to the Uptown Park a variety of musical performances from jazz to zydeco. On these summer evenings the park is filled with folks of all ages, including children who love to dance under the pavilion. Oxford has eleven parks, a heated outdoor municipal swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, lighted playing fields, and the TRI recreation building housing classes for children and adults, a game area and exercise facilities (http://www.cityofoxford.org/Page.asp?NavID=585).
During the summer Oxford's charm as a small, secluded university town with great educational and recreational activities provides great advantages for people of all ages.
The Oxford campus of Miami University provides a safe and beautiful background for a summer Institute. Miami has attractive, air-conditioned, fully networked residence halls available at reasonable rates - $107/week. Towels, sheets, pillows, and blankets are included in the price. I have arranged for all participants to be housed together in the beautifully located Havighurst Hall, less than a five-minute walk to the Institute. While on campus, you can purchase meals at the university's Shriver Center or dining halls or in the many restaurants uptown, a short walk from campus. Meal plans for university dining also are available from the Office of Student Housing and Meal Plan Services, 513-529-5000. (Participants can pay cash at dining locations or go to the housing office at Shriver and purchase a meal plan: 21 meals per week = $120; 15 meals per week = $95; 10 meals per week = $70 and 7 meals per week = $50). For further details see, www.muohio.edu/conferences/.
As with all residence halls on the Miami campus, there is ample free parking, easy access to restaurants, post office, banking, a bookstore, and a state-of-the-art recreational sports facility with a 50-meter lap pool. See the web site http://www.units.muohio.edu/rsp/RSCWeb/RSC/. Special Features of the recreational sports facility include:
Miami's campus also features outdoor basketball and tennis courts, 13 miles of nature trails, a par course, and softball and soccer fields. Summer music and art festivals abound. Thus the campus provides opportunities for recreation, quiet walks, and jogging. A new 18 hole golf course, Indian Ridge Golf Club, is in close proximity and Hueston Woods State Park, located approximately six miles north of Oxford, has a lake, boating, camping, hiking, and picnicking facilities, and an 18 hole golf course. (http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/parks/parks/huestonw.htm). The Greater Cincinnati area is rich in cultural offerings, with an outstanding orchestra, theaters, museums, and a great variety of restaurants. Miami University is located thirty miles from the northern edge of Cincinnati and the downtown area is reached in fifty minutes.
Participants will have full access to King Library, including checkout privileges.
Miami's King Library (over two million volumes) houses the humanities and social science collections and is fully networked, with up to date electronic catalog features and fast regional interlibrary loan support. An outstanding feature of King library is the E.W. and Faith King Collection of Juvenile Literature with over 11,000 volumes of children's literature dating from 1536 to the present. This includes the schoolbook collection of about 5,500 volumes printed before 1901, featuring books used in educating American children and includes the most complete known collection of McGuffey Readers.
Miami's campus computer network provides Internet connection to residence halls and major academic buildings; King library has dozens of Windows and Macintosh computers for use in the library. If you bring your own computer, you will need an Ethernet card and RJ45 connector cable. In addition, many services from the four Oxford campus libraries are available over the Internet. The libraries' World Wide Web system offers a vast array of research and popular resources. For more information, see http://www.lib.muohio.edu/. Campus computers are connected to the Internet through Miami's centrally managed, multi-user computing systems. This provides access to the Web and E-mail. Network access is available from all of Miami's residence halls, computer labs, and libraries.
Stipends and Credit
NEH provides a stipend of $2800 to help defray the cost of your travel and living expenses. The first check (1/2 of the stipend) will be waiting for you when you arrive. Payment for housing is not required prior to receiving the first check. The second check comes halfway through the project. You will also receive six hours of graduate credit from Miami University; all costs and fees are waived.
How to Apply
Application information is included with this letter. Your completed application should be postmarked no later than March 1, 2004, and should be addressed as follows:
School teams of two teachers or more are encouraged to apply. Participants will be practicing K-8 teachers chosen according to NEH guidelines (enclosed), by a selection committee consisting of Professor Michael Goldman, editor of Teaching Philosophy, a local schoolteacher, and myself. Applicants are asked to submit a resume and a 1200 word essay. Perhaps the most important part of the application is the essay that must be submitted as part of the complete application. This essay should include any personal and academic information that is relevant; reasons for applying to this particular Institute; your interest, both intellectual and personal, in the topic; qualifications to do the work of the project and make a contribution to it; what you hope to accomplish by participation, including any individual research and writing projects; and the relation of the study to your teaching.
I'd be happy to answer questions about the Institute; my contact information is below. Should there be any special accommodations you may need, please let me know.
James S. Kelly,
Director, NEH Summer Institute for School Teachers
Department of Philosophy
Oxford, Ohio 45056
(513) 785-3037 or email@example.com