Saint-Didier primary school

Philosophy in cycle 3

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At the end of 1997, I received a letter inviting me to attend a presentation of philosophy workshops — my class was well known as one that allowed pupils to express themselves. I read the document, and was particularly struck by two points:

• the questions to be considered: What is a grown up? Why do people like making fun of others? What is the role of children in the family? I wanted to pose these questions to my pupils immediately. I told myself that the children would be lucky to be able to think about these question together, in a serious manner;

• the mute role of the teacher. A rare thing… From my schooldays, I remember that teachers talked incessantly; in my capacity as a teacher trainer, I listen to adults talking, repeating, and making comments continually. Finally, a system in which the teacher's silence was part of the goal, and which let the children talk!

A lot of teachers have reservations about the philosophy workshops because of this silence. There are several possible reasons for this. First, I think, the silence does not fit in with what they normally consider to be their role in the class. Also, they think that the children cannot communicate without them — they repeat and reformulate everything the children say and, consequently, the children do not have to make any effort to express themselves properly. Also, they are afraid that the children's conversations will degenerate due to personal or ideological clashes, a particular concern in areas where Islam is prevalent. Finally, they are afraid that the children will make outrageous remarks or convey wrong information. I think that the common factor for all these situations is fear of losing control.

Personally, I find it very satisfying when my class functions by itself, when I do not have to get involved. My role is to provide the context in which the children work. The latest educational programmes emphasise the importance of debates in the acquisition of knowledge; this is only possible if one accepts to take a back seat role as much as necessary.

I never repeat what they children say. As a result, they can communicate very well with one another.

During philosophy workshops, I make sure that I give every child an opportunity to talk. The child can accept this invitation, or decline it if he/she does not want to say anything. This also prevents the debate from being monopolised by two children who get into a heated one-to-one argument. Disagreements, which are quite normal, are handled by another device: the co-operative council; in this regard, it is noteworthy that the latest educational programmes anticipate half an hour of regulated debate every week to manage class life.

Finally, if the children say wrong things... I restrain myself from getting involved! The philosophy workshops are not the time for providing information on secularism, racism or religions. There are history and science lessons for this purpose. In any case: why rush? A well-prepared, well-researched lesson will make a better impact.


In the week following the philosophy workshop, the video is shown in a separate room. The children decide whether they want to watch the video. No one is forced to go. Sometimes, some of the pupils decide not to attend. In this case, I do not ask for reasons.

While the video is running, I write the key ideas on a large sheet. If an idea is repeated, I first underline it, then I encircle it, to show that everything is taken into consideration. I try to keep similar ideas close together on the sheet (in the example below, I give the different situations, and place them into two opposing categories). I allow myself to change the words to condense the ideas, e.g. using the words 'physical' or 'intellectual'. In this example, I also used a different colour to draw a broken line between "People always take risks" and "People do not take risks".

Here is an example of a report:

Why do people take risks?

• to learn to read

• to go far

to speak in public

• to learn

       – gymnastics

       – to cycle

       – to rollerskate

• to progress

• in board games

• to make

• to walk

• to advance in life

• to succeed

• to develop

• to assert oneself

It's about progressing.

People are attracted to risks; but this depends on the personality.

People take risks without realising.

People always take risks.


• physical

• intellectual

After the risk, you are not frightened anymore.


People do not take risks:

• because they don't want to be wrong

• because then people will ask us to take more risks

•  when they open a box of tissues

• because they are scared

• so that they will not be shouted at

I ask the pupils to look over the sheet. If they do not understand certain terms that I used, I explain them - without expressing a judgment on the ideas they express.

When everyone has finished reading the sheet, a second discussion takes place. This discussion is less structured than the previous week's discussion. Thus, I invite the children to speak in the order that they raise their hands.

Generally, the discussion starts with the children asking for explanation on the changes I made. Some pick up and continue the disagreements that they had expressed, others declare that they have changed their mind or clarify their ideas.

It takes a certain amount of time for the children to take on board other ideas. I can illustrate this with the question, What is a good pupil? At first, every child had provided a list of characteristics of a good pupil. By the end of the second session, the children had given a lot more thought, asking themselves whether these characteristics only applied to good pupils, or whether they could also be true of any pupils, or even of a poor pupil. I am quite satisfied that the children have attained this level of analysis. I do not feel the need to develop this skill further. Of course, I am always receptive to other methods, and I would readily incorporate other techniques that would benefit my pupils...

A last point: sometimes debates are not held after watching the video. This was the case for the question: Why do people take risks? I do not mind at all. The children have the right to not philosophise...

Remi Casteres


This page has been translated from French by Andreas Theodorou.




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Last Update :05/01/05