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Bioethics Education547

Philosophy For Children: A Model for A Bioethics Community of Inquiry

- Leonardo de Castro, Ph.D. .

Secretary, International Association of Bioethics; University of the Philippines, PHILIPPINES

Email: decastro@skyinet.net

1. Introduction

Bioethics requires a democratic approach to education.  Education in bioethics means more than merely providing information. If it is to be meaningful, it should make available – to the widest possible audience – a forum for community debate and discussion.  Such a forum should facilitate a social process of ‘reflective conversation’, meaning a process by which a community discovers and continually evaluates the things that are done within society and checks how they fit with that society’s core values (de Castro, 2000).  

The processes of self-discovery and self-evaluation are extremely important in contemporary society because contemporary questions about biotechnology are actually questions about what we are and what we want to make of ourselves. In this presentation, I explore the concept of a “community of inquiry” as a model for bioethics learning.  The community of inquiry is a central feature of doing philosophy with children.  

In the first part, I review what philosophers doing philosophy with children regard as the central features of their discipline.  In the second part, I provide a short narrative as an example of how accepted pedagogy in doing philosophy with children can be applied to bioethics.  Finally, I outline a few lessons that bioethics education can learn from philosophy for children.  

2. Philosophy for Children

As we go through this first part, the challenge for each one of us is to examine how far these observations apply to bioethics not only for children, but also for adults.  

Natural curiosity develops inquiry

Learning is something natural for all children.  Children are naturally curious.  A philosophical community of inquiry exploits that natural curiosity to raise questions and issues.   

Differences among the participants enrich the process of learning

Learning is different for each individual child.  The uniqueness of each child's experience enriches the totality of perspectives in philosophical discussions.

The ideal philosophical community is one in which all of the differences among the participants - age, level of education, perspective, sex, race, family background, ethnicity, etc. - serve to enrich the inquiry and not to divide the participants along various hierarchical lines.” (Lone, 2001)

The teacher does not direct students

Each child contributes something essential to the classroom. All children have unique ideas and interests that motivate them to seek answers to their questions.  The role of the teacher is to guide students in this process rather than to direct them.

The capacity to change one's mind

Philosophy for children helps students and teachers appreciate the mystery of unsettled questions. Before the start of classes, the teacher does not know how the discussion will go.  She does not seek to control the conclusion.  Against this background, criticizing one's own views and changing one's mind appears to be a natural part of the process of philosophical thinking: "Gradually the children will come to discover inconsistencies in their own thinking . . . They (will) learn to cooperate by building on one another's ideas, by questioning each others' underlying assumptions, by suggesting alternatives when some find themselves blocked and frustrated, and by listening carefully and respectfully to the ways in which other people express how things appear to them" (Lipman, 1984).

. pp. 547-550 in Macer, DRJ., ed., "Challenges for Bioethics from Asia" (Eubios Ethics Institute, 2004).

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