28 באוקטובר 2011

LIBERATION OF THE CHILD’S MIND THROUGH PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN

ניקול דקוסטרה (בתמונה) היא המתרגמת מאנגלית לצרפתית של ספריו של פרופ' מתיו ליפמן שעוסקים בפילוסופיה עם ילדים. המאמר שלה הוצג בכנס "ילדות ודמוקרטיה" מטעם האגודה האוסטרית לפילוסופיה עם ילדים (ACPC) באוקטובר 2011
Nicole Decostre is the translator of Prof. Matthew Lipman's books into French. Her article was presented at the ACPC conference (Graz, Austria, October 2011)



LIBERATION OF THE CHILD’S MIND
THROUGH PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN


 By Nicole Decostre

Pressure of the family
In the presence of adults, particularly a parent, the child is usually like a believer in the presence of deities. They seem to him to be omniscient, almighty, and totally respectable. Who would dare to disobey, to doubt what they say? Who would dare not to imitate their behavior? A complete and blind love, the other face of complete dependence, generally overhangs all their feelings, all their ideas, all situations and even all experiences. It is the domination of the Absolute. They look like dogs submitting to their master; it is the very nature of totalitarianism.
Conscious of that status and enforced by it, too many parents reign like absolute rulers: they take all the decisions during the two or three first years, those years which will for ever have an enormous influence on the child’s personality. Of course, some of them are generous, open, clever. But if it is not the case, what can we hope for the autonomy of the person? How can you become a person if you live under dictatorship, or if you feel abandoned?
I must add that most of the parents – maybe well-intentioned – consider it is their right to impose their beliefs, convictions, prejudices, traditions. The more the community life is primitive and precarious, the more the constraint will be rigid and the more the possible punishment will be severe. How is it possible in those conditions to be able to have the temerity to try to leave those roots? Would it even be possible?
It is the beginning of an horrible and various succession of attacks against the most elementary human rights: integrity of the body, personal choice of life, choice of marriage, choice of religion – or of irreligion – capability to change, to evolve and so on. The most terrible is the cultural imprisonment, if we can speak of culture when we speak about a ghetto of prejudices, of stiff customs and traditions, and of intellectual misery.
Many of the children in the world grow up in such a dictatorial environment. It is not astonishing to see waves of fanaticism, of social and even familial atrocities, of the impossibility to think well and to live a true citizenship. Not the citizenship of the institutions, nor that of the right to vote which is only formal, but a citizenship which is instructed, chosen, resulting from a true dialogue and of the relativity of values following the circumstances, open to a possible evolution.
Even considerate or thoughtful parents are rarely conscious that their beliefs and values are having a detrimental effect on their child’s future personality. The ideal condition would be that they themselves have fully conscience how high are the stakes of a democratic education, as it happens in Matthew Lipman’s works, particularily in Lisa, Ethical Inquiry that I just translated into French. This would enable them to expand the intellectual and cultural horizon of the children, by varying the ideas and the people, by diversifying the experiences of life, by permitting different authorities to confront themselves, by challenging a multiculturalism and, most of all, by installing a true and permanent dialogue with their children, like in Lipman’s Philosophical Community of Inquiry, which is at the center of his conception of education.
Courageous parents are required to face a child’s provoking and challenging questions. This is what Lipman has understood very well. It is the base and the originality of his program. Adults need to get rid of their feeling of superiority, and vanity. Their desire to always be right must be challenged too. They also need to curtail feeling of being the strongest through the law of strong.
Such stupid egocentrism can be highly destructive; it can lead to atrocities of which we have enough contemporary examples. Some people act in the name of the Absolute, without any critical thinking. Their convictions are not respectable.
By definition, the Absolute is never questioned. A child educated with such a conception will never acquire nuanced thinking, evolutionary thinking, nor an ethics which empathies with others, nor will they learn to accept responsibility for their actions. This means clearly that one of the fundamental pillars of democracy is absent. It is here that the early application of Lipman’s philosophical program as soon as possible can save that situation. I must add that his program is not so easy to apply: people need to understand his ideas as well as the content of his program. The persons who want to apply it have to be professionally trained. Furthermore, they must be prepared to battle against many difficulties and obstacles.
Resistance prepares to autonomy
It is urgent to organize for the youngest children a true resistance against that Absolute. The ability to resist is indeed necessary at the very beginning of a community life and, of course, a family life.
Some strong-minded children demonstrate an astonishing capability to resist, a remarkable temerity and perseverance to run the gauntlet of the diktats of their parents. But most often, they are broken, sometimes violently. They also can become dangerous rebels, dramatically anti-social. Conversely, they can be tied by emotional blackmail or by rewarded conformism.
A reason is that the first dogma of education is obedience, which, traditionally, is unconditional. Obedience should be accepted, resulting of a true dialogue. This implies that the authorities (parents, teachers…) renounce to their absolute power and accept to consider the children’s reasons. The result would be that the children’s reasonability together with their affectivity would be enforced, while the adults would give nuances to their opinions, their judgments and their demands.
If they have been given the opportunity to test their reasoning with the adults, the children are supposedly more able to find their place in the group of pairs, while keeping their independence as well as their own personality. And so, the “Philosophical Community of Inquiry” is already prepared!
For the greatest social and political benefit, those children will never become the slaves of any group, as is usually the case. It is indeed highly difficult to resist the intimidations of peer group pressure, which can be violent and destructive. Remember that in History, exclusion has always been a punishment to fear.
For the adolescents, the pressure of conformism can be devastating. The most stupid and harmful behaviors, the most "à la mode" ones, can lead to innumerable errors, sometimes fatal as we can see every day by world events.
So, the problem is to learn to evaluate critically the authority, whatever it is (religious or political). To dare to criticize it, even to try to destroy it if it is abusive, to accept it only if it has been decided and built in common, should be a shared goal. Is that not the whole story of Democracy, a construction patiently built together and willingly shared? This is of course not possible if the dictatorship is already established.
The problem of truth
To the revealed or imposed Truth, Matthew Lipman opposes, through the "Philosophical Community of Inquiry", a truth to build together, always provisional, always perfectible, as consensual as possible. He brings about the acceptation of the incomplete, of the never totally attained.
Compared to traditional mentalities, and to political or religious pretentions, Lipman’s program represents a real intellectual revolution, which constitutes a fundamental pillar of a living Democracy. That innovative effort, comparable to that of the ethics in science (remember John Dewey), makes it necessary to break up with fatalism or with laziness of the mind delighting in the mass conformism or in inaction.
It is why it is fundamental to develop - at the same time- the autonomy of conscience, a healthy wonder for the world and for mankind, a self-confidence encouraging adventure and discovery. These conditions will create a reasonable self-esteem, which, at its turn, is the condition for a socio-cultural and personal balance, necessary to establish an effective solidarity.
Active and responsible individualism is the opposite of a socially destructive individualism, which merely encourages the mentality of the "mouton de Panurge" following the herd, safety in numbers. By committing themselves to autonomous thinking, the children become architects of a world where the truth, patiently elaborated, will be able to battle against dissembling and of intellectual manipulations: publicity, propaganda, taboos, ukases or non thoughtful and arbitrarily imposed traditions.
A true liberation of the mind is impossible without that unfinished search for truth and without a never attained approach of the world and of the truth.
Construction of a democratic mind
Nothing is given to Humanity. Everything that has been constructed has to be preserved, cared for, improved. This is still more the case concerning democracy, because it is an anti-natural invention, because it is not spontaneous in the individual or social behavior. Its ethical values are real creations of human conscience.
Let us take some examples: one of the basis of democracy is the concept of equality, which is not found in nature where the first law is that of the jungle: « Eat or be eaten ». The texts published thanks to a humanist philosophy claim that all people are born with the same rights. But they don’t seem to be equal in health, in strength, in life expectancy, in beauty, all of which are very unequally distributed. If that natural injustice has been somewhat corrected, it is thanks to the conscience.
It is the same concerning the idea of individual freedom. That idea too is a human invention, a rather fanciful one. « I refuse to believe in freedom (…) »[1], declared Einstein as a disciple of Schopenhauer. Nevertheless, some of it can be embodied in some concrete and precious forms, having to be built and constantly defended (freedom of speech, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and of association, and so on). The idea of solidarity has been considerably polished, since some animal essays, till it was written in the institutions of the democratic countries.
A considerable educative effort is necessary to install and to enforce democracy. The French philosopher Francis Jeanson has spoken of “citoyennisation"[2]. The will has to be encouraged, states Descartes, and even the "good will" pointed out by Kant. The creative and caring thinking, that Lipman wishes to build, is also very necessary. 
The whole philosophical program of Matthew Lipman tends to promote a democratic mind, a mind that is active and responsible. He wants that mind to be constantly enriched. It can seem a question of common sense. « But the common sense is constantly corrupted and the responsible are: school, media, business world, world of politics » says Einstein.[3] The fundamental and founder critique made by Lipman is not far…  The scientist also writes: « Without moral culture, no chance for humanity. »[4] Lisa, Ethical Inquiry, among others, tends to demonstrate it.
Like John Dewey, Einstein only considers as scientists « people whose mind appears as really scientific ».[5] Likewise, Lipman considers only as democrats those who prove their mind is really democratic. It is why he cared so much in Mark, Social Inquiry to pursue the tricks, to show the difficulties, to encourage a persevering and constructive effort. The reason is that he is truly conscious of the originality, but also of the fragility, of the democratic project. Moreover, he is aware of the vital and urgent necessity to guarantee that dignity and fundamental human rights are the basis of fulfillment and peace.
The educational enterprise discovers then its profound and true sense, far from the pedagogical acrobatics as well as from encyclopedism. Teachers and students alike feel that as a release, the former by the pleasure to awake the minds, and the latter by the discovery of the joy to learn and to know and by the growing up of their self-esteem. This self-esteem is one of the pillars of a real citizenship, a guarantee for a democratic life.




[1] Albert Einstein, Comment je vois le monde, Ed. Le Monde Flammarion, p. 17.
[2] Francis Jeanson, "Pour une dialectisation du local et du mondial", Le Passant ordinaire, septembre 2001-octobre 2001.
[3] Einstein, op. cit., pp. 20-21.
[4] Id., p. 35.
[5] Id., p. 239.

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