Searching for pedagogical solutions to the political polarisation and paranoia surrounding the ‘other’ that plagues our global present, I spoke to Jane Yates on 20 June 2018. In this article I reflect on her insights and the place of critical thought and empathy in education.
Jane Yates, the winner of the ‘Global Educator of the Year’ prize in 2017, considers herself to be a “subtle facilitator” of global, philosophical learning. As a teacher and now a trainer, she has worked across the United Kingdom as well as in India, Malawi and Mexico City. She follows the SAPEPE P4C methodology devised by Matthew Lipman; this mode of teaching is prevalent in approximately sixty countries worldwide. As she notes, “it is a way of providing space for children to enquire, to reflect and to think critically, creatively, collaboratively and caringly – it is very transferable.” The virtue of this framework is that it is built upon a universal and ethical idea: critical and empathetic thought. It is foremostly concerned with the process of enquiry being natural and experimental. This approach, however, conflicts with the narrow and rigid nature of testing criteria; this frustrates teachers across the world.
In practice, the P4C methodology is culturally relative. Indeed, Jane Yates spoke about the need to adapt to different cultural modes of philosophical enquiry and social interaction. While her students sat calmly in a circle in British schools, they occasionally stood up in dynamic Mexican classrooms. The P4C methodology is open to teacher flexibility – you develop it further “according to your own personality.” Interestingly, she spoke in detail about the impact this has had upon teachers, with many noting “it is just so good to think.” On a personal note she has become more confident, self-aware, enabling of others and open to the possibility of philosophical enquiry in all social spaces – “it becomes your unique self.” A thoughtful mindset redefines our mode of existence and such an approach encourages open conversation; the possibility of finding more answers increases in an environment which allows for disagreement and enables a navigation of different opinions:
“By speaking to somebody else I might learn something […] the joy of philosophy is that you are open to the idea that a child could say something with truth in it.” – Jane Yates
The P4C framework encourages both teacher and student to stop and think – this stimulates a desire to understand and hear other viewpoints. As Jane Yates summarised, it allows us to think of the pursuit for truth as a pursuit for “better understanding.” Philosophical education, therefore, is fundamentally about cultivating integrity – “having your own point of view but being empathetic to other peoples’ points of view […] questioning of yours and others lives […] striving to have some questioning influence.” Now involved with Empathy Lab, Jane Yates seeks to develop pro-social attitudes by encouraging young people to lead and find agency in projects with meaning. Praising fellow educationist Sugata Mitra who questions the idea of a four-walled classroom, Jane Yates also spoke of the need for interactive and internet-led learning to foster a sense of global citizenship. Both educators, however, warn that the great level of inequality between teacher skills in rich areas vis-à-vis poor areas is hindering ambitions to universalise ‘quality education’. Yet, a solution is possible: “if the process is there, anyone can learn.” Ultimately, Jane Yates understands her purpose to be shaped by the virtues of Socratic dialogue: “my purpose is to facilitate young people and teachers to examine their lives and to become more open minded.” She encourages the youth of today to shape careers upon principle and find inspiration by answering a soul-defining question: “What is it that makes me, me?”