Roger Sutcliffe Aug

My name is Roger Sutcliffe, and I have been a Philosophy for Children (P4C) educator in the UK for over 25 years, having been a primary and then secondary teacher for 20 years before that. I now offer consultancy, courses and coaching internationally.

My original aim for this site was to increase interest in philosophical inquiry in IB schools. But the vision quickly extended to include any school – indeed any teacher – interested in Inquiry-based Learning. Finally, I realised I wanted to promote not just philosophical inquiry but the wider concept and even richer practice of philosophical teaching-and-learning.

PLEASE do not be put off by the word ‘philosophical’! This is not about some ‘new age’ philosophy. On the contrary, it is inspired by the time-honoured, practical, wisdom of Socrates and Aristotle, as well as by the ‘Community of Inquiry’ pedagogy of P4C, conceived by Matthew Lipman and Ann Sharp in New Jersey in the 1970s, and now being practised and developed in every continent.

Nor is it about the specialist practice of teaching philosophy. Philosophical teaching, as I conceive it, is a way of teaching that is open to all teachers, whatever their subject and whatever the age of their students. It is more about how you teach than what you teach.

It weaves together 6 strands of good teaching and learning, whose DNA, so to speak, can be traced to ancient Greek philosophy, but whose expression is cutting-edge practice.

The prime strand is, indeed, the development of inquiry skills – essential for the gaining of knowledge and growth of understanding and good judgement in 21st century classrooms. There is still no better model for this than Socratic questioning – a gift for students as well as teachers.

The next four strands also echo Socratic practice, encouraging:

  • the promotion of dialogue – to stimulate and discipline the quest for understanding;
  • a focus on concept-constuction – to develop the tools and approaches that widen and deepen learning;
  • the use of reason – to develop critical skills that build confidence in one’s learning;
  • the practice of reflection – which is essential for intellectual – and emotional – development.

I dare say the best schools and teachers do already encourage these strands, but I am proposing that they be encouraged more explicitly and emphatically – and be acknowledged as fundamentally philosophical and interdependent.

The 6th and final strand owes more to Aristotle than to Socrates. Both thought that philosophy and education should nurture good habits of living as well as learning, but it was Aristotle who provided the first systematic account in the West of ‘moral’ (or ‘character’) virtues and ‘intellectual’ (or ‘cognitive’) virtues.

My own account sub-divides ‘moral’ virtues into ‘personal’ (more precisely, intra-personal) and ‘social’ (inter-personal’) ones.

I also sometimes talk of personal, social and intellectual qualities (PSIQs) rather than virtues, because ‘virtues’ has negative connotations for some people (though its original Latin meaning – ‘strengths’ – is surely positive).

I label this strand ‘Virtues-valuing’ (or sometimes, ‘Valuing virtues’), because I regard the development of personal, social and intellectual virtues as the ultimate, or perhaps I should say fundamental, aim for all teachers / teaching.

N.B. This is not to undervalue knowledge as a teaching / curriculum objective. On the contrary, it is to assert the value of cultivating the intellectual virtue that used to be called ‘thirst for knowledge’ – without which students can be ‘taken to water’ but will not drink. But, of course, there are many other virtues – personal (e.g. conscientiousness), social (e.g. communicativeness) and intellectual (e.g. comprehensiveness) – that make for better learning, and my point is that a greater emphasis on these would give students a better foundation for life as well as for their studies.

Together, these 6 strands form a simple but powerful model for teacher and learner self-development and self-monitoring in the 21st century.

If you like what you have read, I hope you will feel inspired to visit other tabs on this site. I also invite you to register an interest (via a short email to rogersutcliffe@outlook.com) in receiving the occasional update from me, and possibly joining a fledgling ‘philosophical teaching’ movement – which I hope may become a voice for reason in the sometimes overly politicised educational debate.

Copyright © 2017, Roger Sutcliffe, All rights reserved