Commentary on 'Inquiry is no mere conversation'

Journal of Philosophy in Schools 2 (1):71-91 (2015)
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There is a long standing controversy in education as to whether education ought to be teacher- or student- centered. Interestingly, this controversy parallels the parent- vs. child-centered theoretical swings with regard to good parenting. One obvious difference between the two poles is the mode of communication. “Authoritarian” teaching and parenting strategies focus on the need of those who have much to learn to “do as they are told,” i.e. the authority talks, the child listens. “Non-authoritarian” strategies are anchored in the assumption that youngsters ought to be encouraged to develop their natural interests and talents and hence that it is important to allow the children to do the talking and that adults listen. Both strategies seemed flawed due to the absence of the inherent wisdom of its opposing view. This chasm can be overcome. The Community of Inquiry, a pedagogical method used in Philosophy for Children, demands a method of communication which is able to bridge this gap. A Community of Inquiry is neither teacher-centered and controlled nor student-centered and controlled, but centered on and controlled by the demands of truth. Truth is absolutely essential to this method; it is only because of progress toward truth that participants are ultimately convinced of the fruitfulness of the process. Truth, however, is a hard taskmaster; it places severe restrictions on participants and puts exacting demands on the facilitator. These inherent restrictions and demands are too often underplayed, overlooked and sometimes seemingly overtly denied by those who, quite correctly emphasize that ultimately this method depends on maintenance and enhancement of student autonomy. This underrating of the role of the facilitator has led to a severe undervaluing of this otherwise brilliant pedagogical method, but worse, it has left novice teacher/facilitators ill prepared to utilize this method successfully.

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Susan Gardner
Capilano University


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