Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Philosophy and Drama.

A fascinating lecture this evening at university by Peter Worley who runs The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to introducing primary school children to philosophy, with remarkable results.

His method, as common to many pedagogic models of early year training relies on a practical and playful exploration of ideas based on the children's experience and understanding rather than asking them to learn 'knowledge' or a 'history of ideas.' In this respect it mirrors the ongoing debate amongst drama teachers. Do we prioritise letting children explore imaginative worlds of structured play or do we focus on exposing them to tradition and technique?

Peter was very clear that at A-level the focus seems to be on testing short term memory with questions such as 'Explain and illustrate two criticisms of idealism' which although interesting enough as a research topic, rewards those able to regurgitate others ideas rather than form their own. Does this form of training encourage emerging philosophers?

Instead he proffered a different way called the Sibelius Model which suggests that the present accepted tradition for teaching philosophy (and I would argue many other subjects) at Higher Education can be compared to the repetitive musical form of Beethoven's Fifth symphony. Dun Dun Dun DAH!!!

An alternative to this might be to consider the rhythm of our lecturer/ student exchanges and attempt to develop, as Sibelius did, a symphonic form where unrelated fragments of idea, conversation and thought meander and interplay, allowing the more familiar themes of the discussion or argument to be changed by either or both parties. Hard to assess, but incredibly liberating to our thought process.

The difference between these two pedagogic forms, Peter suggested, was that in the authoritarian Beethoven analogy the main themes have already been worked out whereas the melodic nature of the Sibelius allows us to work towards discovering and reinventing these themes. It's a braver form of engagement, partly because the results are so inconclusive and unpredictable.

In all of this I was struck by how good directors work with actors. In their discussions, dialogues, intuitive guidance and occasional expert support they work for all the world in this symphonic way. By contrast poor directors enter the room already knowing what they want to get out of the actor and determined to force him or her into delivering it. I left wondering whether we can find a way to bring this kind of poetry into our assessment led culture?

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