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Hawken Johanna (Paris/France)#

The Development of Intellectual Self-esteem and Legitimacy: a Foundation for the Conquest of Philosophical Audacity by Enlightened Children#

An enlightened mind isn’t an overcharged intelligence bearing a vast quantity of knowledge, but an independent mind capable of a analyzing the world in a clairvoyant manner. This Kantian definition is assorted with an injunction: “Sapere aude!”, according to which every individual must have the courage to think for oneself, and cease, thereby, to be a minor. Therefore, a child can, paradoxically, emancipate himself from his status by acquiring intellectual autonomy: in this regard, the practice of philosophy can be crucial. But although Kant declares the importance of being an independent thinker, he doesn’t detail the method to effect this transformation. One of the major obstacles to the construction of an enlightened subject is the fear and incapacity of embracing one’s own intellectual autonomy. The pedagogical question becomes the following: how can philosophy guide children towards intellectual audacity and independence? What educational tools can we use to facilitate the emergence of the independent mind? Three didactic strategies have appeared pertinent during my experimental research as a facilitator of philosophical communities of inquiry in educational, social and cultural structures in the French town of Romainville (east of Paris).

The first didactic tool might seem inconsequential but is actually very effective: employing the empowering acts of language, such as playing with Socratic irony (“I only know that I know nothing”), communicating the presumption of equal intelligence and revealing the transfer of responsibility regarding the discovery of ideas. This educational lever is of a discursive nature - as it consists in symbolic declarations incorporated in verbal teaching practices - but it has major effects on children’s perception of self as a valuable thinker and researcher.

Secondly, the philosophy workshop can create opportunities for what I call “cognitive successes”: expressing questions in a way that federates a common search, formulating hypotheses to which everyone adheres, creating a pivotal moment in the discussion based on a determinant argument. All of these achievements experienced by the children can enhance their intellectual self-esteem, allowing them to develop conceptual audacity.

Thirdly, in order to have the courage to use critical thinking, I have created a game to dedramatize it, called “Critical mind, in guard!”. Every child has two cards, one indicating “I agree because…” and the other “I don’t agree because…”. Given a philosophical question, a first student expresses his idea, then the facilitator says “Critical mind, in guard” and the other participants raise on of their cards to explain their point of view. By playing down the act of criticism, while creating a habit of employing it, children cease to be intimidated by the act of taking position, and start to be accustomed to submitting every idea to the screen of their own mind. In a word, the didactic challenge is to create a path that children can borrow in order to embrace their intellectual audacity, and accomplish thereby the first step towards intellectual autonomy. We can’t just order them to have the courage to think: we must create the educational environment conductive to the feeling of legitimacy necessary to becoming an enlightened and autonomous thinker.