Catherine McAuley is a Catholic Girls High School in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, founded in 1966. It has about 1,100 students and is highly diverse ethnically and culturally, with girls from Hindu, Sikh, Islamic, Buddhist and various Orthodox and Protestant backgrounds aside from the Catholic mainstream.
Ana Gacis is a 14 Year old student studying Philosophy in the Gifted and Talented program, a group of about 15 students in the Middle School. They have been studying parts of the Pathways program 'Possible World Machine', among other things, over the last few months with their teacher and facilitator Matthew Del Nevo.
Philosophy at Catherine McAuley High, Australia
In my school, Catherine McAuley High, is incorporated an extension program without workbooks and homework, simply thinking. The test isn't included in the exam block, however from the moment the members of the community of inquiry form a circle and "philosophy" commences. What is being tested isn't our knowledge, what is challenged are our perception and accepted norms that have been embedded within us since birth.
Using the community of inquiry technique, we analyze debate and conclude, like dialogues of Socrates, questions such as "Is the past real?" derived from texts, and judge which questions are worthy of answering. For example, weighing the options between "Do we think human nature has changed over the centuries - will it ever change?" Or "Do we learn more from fiction than from reality?"
Our community of inquiry always generates an electric vibe of excitement as soon as propositions mentioned above are put to them. However, utilizing the "Koosh ball" (our facilitator Mr. Del Nevo's initiative) we adapt a rule to speak only when holding the Koosh ball, otherwise listen and respect those who possess it. The confidence and reassurance that this respect gives to members of the community permits them to openly agree or disagree with each other as equals without condemnation. The group votes as a whole on issues that have not reached a conclusion. Namely, when discussing "Is homosexuality innate, developed or both?" We concluded that there were not three categories only two, developed or born. This was reached through listening to the squoosh ball owners who stated their opinion with a substantial example. And finally voting to agree with the "opinion of the many". Consequently, we speak individually and think as a group.
During philosophy we often use the power of our reason, logic and imagination to pull apart and identify probing questions suggested in the situation. With Socrates, he asked which was more important, the opinion of the many or the opinion of the best. Whilst studying "The Possible World Machine" we derived the question mentioned earlier, is the past real? Several opinions were voiced on this issue. Our community voted that the past is real but our interpretations may differ. And since there must be something to have an interpretation of, it must be real. I wondered if these interpretations were concrete, perhaps they were just interpretations of interpretations, and nothing was real. Jenna a Yr 8 student, compared our memory to that of a jigsaw puzzle, some pieced while others are lost, to explain why some memories are definite whilst others are vague.
One session when presented with a question "Do we learn more from fiction then from the news? We immediately began to dissect the language. As a community we developed meanings for questionable words such a "fiction" and "learn." We asked whether it depended on what we want to learn, what we are more predisposed to learn, as well as wondering about the possibility that the reality of news is fiction and fiction is often based on real experiences.
When trying to answer "Do we think human nature has changed over the centuries - will it ever change?" the community of inquiry plunged into turning over the language, creating definitions, categories and clarifying meaning. However when the squoosh ball was passed to Nicole, Yr 9 student, she articulated that the latter part of the question held an element that made the answer to the question obvious and pointed out to us that it was actually quite an un-debatable question because of that. The fallacy was in the element that it was a question that contained its answer. A begging question. The question suggests human nature hasn't changed over the centuries and wonders if it ever will.
The philosophy element in my school life is essential to me. It gives the young women involved in philosophy the foundation to challenge concepts that otherwise would have just been accepted. Words like "normal", "past", "time" lead to a Pandora's Box of questions that everyday conversation doesn't permit let alone answer. What is normal? Is it simply society's perception of normal, a stereotype or ideal? Is there any specific outline that tells us how things are supposed to be? Or the latter, is the past real? Dos the past, future and present exist or is present demolished when time is like a train streaming towards us as Time as its only whistle? Whatever the question, we decide whether to answer with philosophy. Philosophy opens up a world beyond sensory perception and it is a joy to participate in it.
© Ana Gacis 2001