This is part three in a series of blog posts written by some of our undergraduate students doing P4C in local pre-college classrooms. Read the introduction by Dr. Claire Katz here.
I am a Junior Philosophy major and as many know in my field you either go to Law School after you graduate or you continue in your field to ultimately become a professor. These are the two main routes available, so having this opportunity actually opened more doors of opportunity for me. I never imagined saying I would want to be a philosophy teacher for children when I grow up. I always had artistic goals and I went into this major in hopes of there being encouragement for imagination for my artwork.
My initial thoughts were filled with excitement when I first step foot at Harmony Science Academy. I was not expecting to actually want to end up teaching as my professional career afterwards. I went ahead and explored teaching 1st, 7th, and 8th grade to see the difference in age levels and each of them had many things to offer. For example, my first experience teaching was with the 8th graders. We decided to go with the Ship of Theseus lesson plan and facilitate a discussion in small groups where we all had a chance to talk. Breaking into small groups was my favorite part because it gave everyone in the group a chance to talk and the quiet ones always seem to have the most to say. In my first small group, we discussed which ship was the ship of Theseus and I was stunned to have everyone agree with one student. The student appeared to be the voice of the classroom and I could see the fear of the other students if they disagreed with her. At that moment I did not know what to do but to disagree with her myself in order to keep the discussion going to see if she could knock my argument down and she put on a good fight. She remained firm with her position even after going back into our big circle. It was nice to see her thinking for herself, but it was also interesting to see how other students from other small groups were able to discuss against her in a respectful manner.
My last encounter with the 8th graders melted my heart. They loved the reality scavenger lesson. I was stunned at how informed the students were on current events and how well they applied the lesson to the real world. I had a great-engaged conversation with my group and when we were all done I had my group ask me many questions about philosophy and why I choose it as my career path. I shared my educational experience with them and tried to advice them on what to look forward to in High School. Many of the students felt nervous about their transition from a K-8 school to a High School, so I tried to guide their experience based on what they shared with me that they wanted to do with their future. Overall, the students loved that they were provided with a safe space to talk about topics they normally would keep to themselves. Many of my students shared with me that they think about metaphysical topics all the time before they go to bed, but never really discuss their nightly thoughts with others. Therefore, they assured me that they enjoyed this experience for that purpose.
The 7th and 8th grade seem to be very similar in their responses to the discussions we held, so I am going to move on to my 1st grade experience. I actually really liked facilitating the 1st grade discussion because I was able to facilitate a whole classroom at once rather than just a few 7th and 8th graders in a small circle. It was a privilege to have conducted a lesson plan on my own for the first time as an undergraduate student. The first lesson I taught my 1st graders was one based on a mixture of metaphysics and aesthetics where we explored reality as our focal topic. I read to the book Harold and the Purple Crayon to them and had them draw with their own magical purple crayon after. I had to constantly shift mentalities from thinking like a child to adolescence in order to not lose that connection with the children. I had to put myself in their spot and picture how 1st grade Yesenia would like to learn philosophy. Like many kids at this age, they are filled with energy, so I figured facilitating a discussion while conducting an activity would be beneficial for my students that cannot sit still. I gained respect from them as well as acceptance for trying to stick to a more progressive style of teaching and actually listening to my students’ request and the type of activities they like to do in order for them to learn.
My final lesson with the children was based on aesthetics since they loved to draw. I conducted an art contest for them and had them define what a contest, art, and beauty was. I gave each of them a minute to draw whatever they wanted on one huge piece of paper, which the whole class shared to draw on. They were very involved and engaged as they watched each of their classmates go up to add to the big classroom masterpiece. Once everyone had a chance to contribute, I let them discuss who won the art contest based on the definitions they used to define art and how one should judge its beauty. I had many different reasons on which they thought should win the art contest. They agreed that Roan had the best artwork because it was done the quickest and most realistic. From there our discussion went into the type of art chosen in the art gallery and how it is chosen. The winner, Roan, actually mentioned that everyone’s art was beautiful as a few philosophers might argue. After the discussion, the kids decided they wanted to hang their artwork in the classroom like in the art galleries since they ended up agreeing with Roan that all their art submissions very beautiful.
Overall, this was an amazing experience. My favorite lessons had to be with my 1st graders. I felt closer to them perhaps because of the similar imagination as an artist. I enjoyed giving them all a safe place to let their imagination loose and for them to be able to make sense of it aesthetically. It was heartbreaking to say goodbye to my 1st graders, but also heartwarming to have been given drawings from my students with words of appreciation. I learned many new ways to conduct activities based on the children’s feedback towards the end. This experience has really changed my career choice to wanting to specialize in being perhaps an art teacher for 1st graders where I can continue to facilitate philosophical discussions while creating beautiful artwork with my class.
I would like to thank Dr. Katz for being there along the way guiding us and supporting us all through this journey. I feel blessed to have run into this opportunity and I plan to continue working the next two semesters with the 1st graders again to clean up my teaching methods and help facilitate more fun engaging discussions.