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Opening of the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennial in Riyadh


Philosophy for kids is essential for personal growth, expert says at conference in Riyadh

RIYAD: An expert speaker at the Riyadh Philosophy Conference believes that philosophizing with children is essential for their personal growth as people and as individuals in society, and for adults to perhaps see different perspectives on their belief systems.

Christopher Phillips, American author and educator, is a man on a mission: to open the world to the idea of ​​learning from children. He is known to have started the Socrates Café, philosophical discussion meetings held in places such as cafes, schools, retirement homes and churches. It was also the title of the first in a series of philosophical books he wrote, which also includes children’s books “The Philosophers’ Club” and “This Ann’s Day of Why”.

The Kingdom’s first international philosophy conference was held this week at the King Fahad National Library in Riyadh. The three-day event, which kicked off on December 8, is hosted by the Saudi Literature, Editing and Translation Commission of the Ministry of Culture. Attendees included experts in philosophy and its theories and people interested in its modern applications around the world.

The event was aimed at an audience with diverse interests, backgrounds and academic and professional backgrounds. The objectives of the conference, which is expected to be an annual event, include discussions on the latest developments in philosophy and its contemporary applications.

Phillips began his speech at the event using the well-known example of a partially filled glass and the question of whether it is half empty or half full.

“Why does it have to be one or the other?” ” He asked. “Why not both or why not neither?” Or what is on the surface of the water in the glass: is it air or water?

These are some of the answers to the question kids have asked Phillips over the years, which he says opened his mind to a whole new way of looking at things.

Phillips told Arab News everyone should look at the world through a child’s lens, with a curious curiosity open to all possibilities of truth, rather than entering into intellectual exchanges and discussions with rigid presuppositions. He calls this an “openist” or “openness”.

According to Opennist philosophy, anything can be challenged, but not in a way that seems hostile. On the contrary, it should open perceptions of aspects of life to whole new avenues of understanding previously thoughtless. That’s the beauty of the dialogue and the interweaving of different cultural and ideological backgrounds, he says, and a big part of it is conversing philosophically with children about the “whys” of life.

Phillips, who studied for his bachelor’s degree in the United States, has three master’s degrees in natural sciences with a specialization in DNA science and a doctorate in communication, for which he wrote a thesis on the Socratic method of inquiry.

“I like academia,” he said. “My complaint is that we don’t inspire lifelong learners, that we make lessons intimidating. We can often tend to yearn for a child’s desire to learn more about chemistry, physics, and biology, which are the building blocks of so much.

“People who take an English course instead of being inspired to write their own work are criticized for grammar; it’s all about grammar. When I was a reading teacher in Maine, I used to say to my kids, “Don’t worry about the grammar, just tell the story. We’ll take care of the grammar later.

Phillips said when he was working on his first book it was the same approach his publisher took with him. It made him feel like he had the freedom, creativity and imagination to think and write, he explained, which made his work much more insightful and meaningful. The writing shouldn’t be about the details from the start, he said, it should be about the big picture – with the details sorted out later.

“We have all these people teaching us the little, most microscopic things, without giving us a sense of the possibilities and the big picture,” Phillips said. “So what I do is give workshops in schools to teachers. I teach them to come up with fundamental questions of a timeless nature, related to their discipline, which they feel perplexed about and which they can learn about with the children.

“It’s a very rigorous and difficult exercise, but then it improves their relationship with their students. The idea is to fall in love with disciplines, to realize that there are no clear boundaries between art and science; that perhaps the whole idea is to live a life of poetic science, of poetic sensibility.

Phillips said his methods were well received and very successful in the schools he introduced to them. Some teachers told him that their students are now more engaged in learning because they have a better understanding of what it means to learn on their own. Rather than imposing lessons on them, it now feels like a moral and personal duty that contributes to their growth as individuals in society.

Teach them the “why”, not the “what” as Phillips puts it.

“A teacher will kind of say, ‘Chris, what did you do to that kid? Suddenly she wants to learn? I said, ‘Yes, because now she sees a reason to develop her reading, her writing, her arithmetic, because it helps her in her arsenal of introductory philosophical thought to provide evidence for these various disciplines. ‘ “

In addition to philosophizing with children, Phillips also has discussions with inmates and terminally ill people.

“I go to prisons: maximum security, minimum security,” he said. “There are some wise people in there who have done some really reckless things. But how many of us can look at ourselves in the mirror and say, with honesty, that we don’t have it ourselves, perhaps to a lesser degree.

“The deepest part of my outreach activities in our non-profit organization, SocratesCafe.com, is with terminally ill children and adults. During the pandemic, they were cut even further. A lot of them, their loved ones are dead, you know, deprived of families, and yet they have so much wisdom to share.

“And so with the time they have left, it’s so important to create a space where they can philosophize and get out of all the other things that are going on in their life.”

Phillips started Socrates Cafe in 1996, and there are now around 500 cafes that meet regularly around the world, including eight in Saudi Arabia.

In a Socrates Café, people from different backgrounds come together and exchange philosophical perspectives based on their experiences, using a version of the Socratic Method developed by Phillips. Its foundation lies in the idea of ​​offering a Socratic dialogue to anyone who wishes to become a more empathetic, objectively critical and creative philosophical scholar.

“The Socratic inquiry is akin to the scientific method; it was no accident that I studied the natural sciences, ”explained Phillips. “It’s about posing or hypothesizing a point of view, whether ethical or scientific, then testing it, seeing if it leads to what you thought and if it doesn’t. the case, then you readjust, you revisit, you go out.

“This area of ​​ethical moral research, for me, is completely intertwined with the sciences; it is about cultivating a social conscience.