Teaching Philosophy as Midwifery

July 25, 2018

Teaching Philosophy as Midwifery
by Rainier Ibana

In the Theatetus, Plato’s dialogue that bears the title of Socrates’ interlocutor, Socrates compared his interrogative practice to his mother’s art of midwifery. But while his mother was employed exclusively by women, he deployed his craft on anyone who was suffering from intellectual “pangs of labor.”  His task was to ease the travails of cognition and “to prove by every test whether the offspring of a young man’s thought is a false phantom or instinct with life and truth.”

In a world populated by alternative facts and post-truth claims, Socratic wisdom requires that distinctions be made between real ideas and phantoms of the imagination, warranted beliefs and hasty generalizations, valid arguments and fallacious reasoning. As Stephan Millett, one of our contributors, also puts it in his essay: . . . by learning to do philosophy together, children learn to be more  considerate and thoughtful social beings and become better thinkers across multiple disciplines and situations. They will less likely to be duped by the “alternative facts” and fallacious reasoning to be found in the new so-called “posttruth discourse” dominating social media (page 84).
This collection of essays follows Socrates’ lead by offering methods of discernment that philosophy teachers can impart to students in the various levels of the educational system. They  seek to enhance the teaching of philosophy in the new K-12 curriculum of the Department of Education and to support the curricular reforms in the teaching of Ethics initiated by the Commission on Higher Education.  
The essays do not only provide theoretical discourses about teaching.  They also demonstrate how philosophy can be taught in ways that promote critical, creative, and caring forms of thinking. They are meant to instill the value of collaboration, impart the skills that facilitate student-centered learning, and cultivate the attitude of respect for the innate desire of students to educate themselves.
Our lead article, Roque J. Ferriols’ “Teaching Philosophy in Manila,” describes a teacher as someone who can create “some environment where the students entering the environment are enabled to see things they could not see before.”  He further qualifies that “students might see things that his teacher has not seen himself. So the teacher must have the courage to learn from his students, to trust his students that they can really look, and that they can really see.” He then demonstrates how this is achieved by an intellectual exercise that unveils the shroud of concepts and beliefs that blur his students’ capacity to fully appreciate their world of living realities.
The next three articles, categorized under the heading of Philosophy for Children (P4C), articulate the historical development and theoretical foundations of this practice.   Farzaneh Shahrtash’s “Multidimensional Thinking in a Community of Inquiry vs. Critical Thinking” provides an overview of the development of the Critical Thinking Movement by tracing its origins to John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce. Through the leadership of Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp, P4C adopted and improved the promotion of critical thinking skills by introducing higher order and multidimensional forms of thinking that sharpen the students’ capacity for making better judgments.
In the next article, Zosimo Lee, who was trained in 1996 and 2000 by Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp at the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair University in New Jersey, writes about “Public Reason and a Pedagogy of Reasonableness.” Prof. Lee contends that the notion of the “Community of Inquiry” as a practice of P4C can respond to some of the concerns of John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas in enhancing deliberative and public forms of rationality.
The third article, Stephan Millett’s “Why teach philosophy in a world dominated by science?”, exhibits the many ways wherein philosophy and science teachers can collaborate in improving their students’ thinking skills. He introduces and builds on the initiatives undertaken by distinguished Australian scholars in the field of P4C.                 

The next two essays shift our attention from Philosophy for Children to Philosophy of Childhood.  After evaluating the application of cognitive psychology and other methods of learning to the educational enterprise, Christopher Joseph An recommends the implementation of interactive and joint educational practices among caregivers and their wards as more effective ways of educating children.

In the second essay, Marella Mancenido-Bolan͂os reviews Gareth Matthews’ Philosophy of the Young Child, Dialogues with Children, and Philosophy of Childhood.  Based on Matthews’  interviews and dialogues with children about such topics as ethics, art, and happiness, Bolaños concludes that children can also perform acts of philosophical reflection even at a very young age.
This volume ends with Rowena Azada-Palacio’s book review of Jana More Lone and Michael D. Burroughs Philosophy in Education: Questioning and Dialogue in Schools.  Her review is dedicated to teachers who are seeking for more resources that encourage reflective thinking among students.
These approaches to teaching remind us of Socrates’ confession in the Theatetus that his task, as midwife of cognition, is merely to facilitate the birthing of conceptions.  He laments that he was forbidden by the divinities to give birth to his own ideas in the same manner that the role of midwives in Ancient Greece was given only to those who were already past the age of childbearing.  Socrates claims that “The many admirable truths they [his dialogue partners] bring to birth have been discovered by themselves from within. But the delivery is heaven’s work and mine.”2 

He suggests that the vocation of philosophy teachers is to serve as partners in the birthing of concepts, beliefs, and theories and to assist in testing these conjectures through the many ways that they can. Socrates claims that not unlike midwives, the highest and most noble task of philosophy teachers is “to discern the real from the unreal.”3

Image may contain: 4 people

‘Kumadrona’ by Jose V. Blanco 
Photograph taken by Peter-Paul Perez Blanco. Published with permission from the Blanco Family of Painters of Angono, Rizal. 
1 “Theatetus” 150 C, Translated by G.W. Cornford in  Plato: Collected Dialogues, eds. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1982), 855. 
2 “Theatetus” 150 D, Ibid. 
3 Ibid., 150 B 

Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture