Updated: Jun 11, 2021
Where did the impulse to philosophise with children came from? What inspired you to create the ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ method?
Many impulses contributed to this, but two of them seem particularly important to me. I run philosophy classes in various external faculties, i.e. for people who were not necessarily interested in philosophy. Of course, this did not prevent me from believing that they could be charmed by philosophy. I started the classes with the reading of selected philosophical metaphors. Students read the texts but did not know what to do with what they had just read - how to understand it, what to relate to it, how to talk about it, etc. In other words, although they read the pearls of philosophy, it did not result in a lively discussion in the classroom. I suggested that they start drawing their understanding of texts and in this way, we would be able to take as a point of discussion their understanding of texts preserved in pictures. The idea partially worked. I say 'partially' because we ran into barriers - students who thought they couldn't draw were reluctant to get involved. It didn't matter if they could draw or not. It was not about that, but in the subjective opinion of the participants, it was an insurmountable barrier.
And then you've brought bricks to the class?
That's right. It turned out that all barriers were released. First of all, blocks were associated with fun and the students stopped being stressed. Secondly, the blocks made it possible to eliminate the differences between more and less artistically gifted people. In this way, boring philosophy classes have turned into the laughter of young people who enjoy their ingenuity and incessant chatter about what they have just read and created.
But you talk about students, adults, who can discipline themselves and even with toys in hand, they do not forget that they are in the class. How did this idea worked in primary and secondary schools? Do children, immersed in play, actually learn something about philosophy?
The meeting with Magdalena Bereska, a wonderful person and teacher, was an important second impulse here. When Magda saw me at work for the first time, she immediately said that it was a great idea for teaching philosophy not only at university but in just any school. And so, from word to the action, a week after our meeting, we organised the first classes at Magda's school. The idea turned out to be hit in the bull's eye and since then, since 2004, I have been developing the ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ method.
When I listen to you, it sounds to me like that creating a new methodology or any other thing, is very simple. Is it really so?
You also need an element of faith, an inner conviction that what you do is important and necessary. As a student, I had reading difficulties. Instead of helping me learn, the class teacher told me to read aloud in front of the whole class, even though she knew that I couldn't do it. In this way, it discouraged me from reading and studying for years. This was also reflected in this method - in such a way that the ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ classes help more withdrawn students to find their place within the group, help them learn to read, but most of all they give courage and make them strong. For me, therefore, it is not only learning philosophy but also helping those who have been thrown into a cave, imprisoned and struggling in it.
ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ are classes with a mission?
ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ method is like a Cambell’s myth, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, Morpheus, Albus Dumbledore - someone who comes to help, gives courage, but does not take the student out of the confrontation with the world. During the ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ class, the child (play) meets the adult (philosophical text). This collision throws a spark, gives the pupil the Prometheus torch, the sword of Skywalker. The mentor equips the learner with what is necessary to walk the path but does not walk that way for the learner. ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ is education towards independence.
What you're describing looks more like a movie script than a lesson script. What happens during ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ class?
It really is. The ΛΕΓΩ-ΛΟΓΟΣ method is nothing more than a path through Plato's cave and thus contains in the monomyth, the nucleus of every good novel or movie, every journey that makes a child an adult, an ordinary person a superhero. The formula of the classes is very simple. The classes last 90 minutes and consist of two equal parts: in the first, the participants read the text and try to present their interpretation of the text read in a spatial form using plastic materials; in the second part of the course, participants present their works one by one and through a discussion try to find out the arguments for individual interpretations. A group of ten people takes part in the classes. Each of them occupies a separate stand, next to which there is, for example, a set of blocks (or, for example, clay). Participants receive the text that is the topic of the lesson. The participants' task is to read the text on their own (silently), and then represent it in the form of a construction made with the materials provided (ie Lego blocks), just as each of them understood it.
Is that's all?
This is just the beginning. Suddenly it turns out that although everyone had the same text, the same building blocks, everyone understood and built it differently. This astonishes many participants. The same astonishment, according to Plato and Aristotle, is the beginning of philosophising. It is also Campbell's call to adventure: Alice is surprised that the rabbit speaks with a human voice and runs after him to understand it - the student is surprised that her friend thinks differently and follows his or her voice. This is how the journey of students for the Golden Fleece begins, for the light that will allow them to leave the cave, leave the classroom, go outside, and thus see the world from a different perspective. And to see is to know.
Is this approach to education different to the average approach to learning in schools?
I will refer to the situation in Poland. Let's start with the fact that although 30 years have passed since the social change, we still have not developed an idea for a Polish school. Questions about middle school etc. are secondary. First, we should create the philosophy of the school. To do that we need to answer a question of who the man who passes through the education system is to become. Only then can we discuss how we want to achieve the set goals. And what do we do? We did not even see the effects of one educational reform, and we want to reform it again. Under these circumstances, no matter what method we choose, it will always deviate from official education, since official education itself is inconsistent.
And what does it look like in a broader perspective, e.g. in Europe?
It seems to me that education in Europe is the result of the force of habit, not always aware of its ancient roots and, above all, the goals of the ancient paideia. It is different in different countries, but it is generally hard to resist the impression that the most important moment of a person's life, which falls in the period of early childhood education, is the most neglected one. It is presumed that children's education should be "childish", “infantile" because we deal with small children. It all seems to say “we'll start taking them seriously when they grow up.". But taking them seriously then depends on how seriously we take our children now. But what does it mean to take them seriously? For example, let them make mistakes, fail. For only the one who fails can learn to get up - that is, to deal with life independently.
Neurodidactics show that today we teach people against their natural, evolutionally conditioned predispositions. What was education like in ancient times? What guided the philosophers who undertook the teaching of younger generations?
Following Seneca’s thought, it should be said that the philosopher was not only a person who indicated the right way of life but also followed it (the example of Rousseau, who so ostentatiously departed from this principle is significant). The man of antiquity gained knowledge not only to have it but above all so that he could grow because of it. He did not learn something to pass the test on the next day. Life is the test. Cicero compares learning philosophy to cultivating a field and says that the philosopher sows and the seeds of philosophy grow in the soul and bear fruits only in due time. What are we doing today? Today we teach, tomorrow we test. Where is space for the knowledge to blossom in a young person? My aunt Lila, a Polish teacher language teacher in a secondary school, once told me: "Jarek, how could I teach these children Macbeth, since only now, at 50 years old, I begin to understand something about his work?"
Our education is content-oriented, but technological progress offers instant access to knowledge that you can learn in any lesson. What and how should the school teach?
Original encyclopaedic education aimed to educate, "mould" people. Imagine that a person is a piece of unformed clay, and each teacher moulds this clay so that it eventually becomes a ball, and therefore a perfect shape. Once set in motion, a perfectly formed ball will roll through life on its own. If we do not form the ball perfectly, it will stop on its edges and will need to be "pushed" through life. This is the original meaning of the word encyclopedia (en kyklos [circle] paideia [instruction] - teaching in a circle). Sometimes we say Why did I learn this or that? - precisely, to be transformed into independence. However, shaping takes place through experience, and not through the so-called objective testing. The test is experiencing stress, and not experiencing the knowledge that the test is supposed to verify. And it is this humanistic and human element that we have lost, and this is what we should bet on at school. Society, in general, is angry at juvenile offenders, etc. So why are we not teaching them
Some people think that it is too early to philosophise with children at a young age, that you can not discuss such serious topics with children as death, old age, etc.
What children want to talk about does not depend on the whims of this or that minister.
Children experience life not only at school: the death of a grandfather or grandmother, an accident, etc. Death is part of life and you cannot pretend that it does not exist. The same mistake was made by Siddhartha Gautama's father, who imprisoned his son in a palace away from old age and suffering - a bit as if he thought that if the son did not see death, he won’t be disturbed by it. Until finally the son one day left the palace (as the slave leaves the Platonic cave) and saw that the world is outside the palace too (outside the cave, outside the school) and this made him a Buddha. And this is the model of education in question, training towards the light, towards enlightenment, towards self-reliance. It is impossible to remain silent about life, it is impossible to remain silent about difficult topics. You can try and postpone reading difficult books and studying difficult topics, but it won't stop anything. Plato or Mark Aurelius can be read at any age, but how will these books affect you when you are 18 and how when you will be 80?
You've mentioned a mentor earlier. One recent American research proves that the type of person/teacher the children are exposed to has a decisive influence on their interest in learning a certain subject and learning in general. A mentor who allows them to make mistakes, be themselves, stimulates curiosity about the world, etc., contributes to their development.
It is kind of obvious. This is exactly the mentor character that Campbell describes. He is a teacher and guide who is already known in archaic communities. Our search for standardized education and objectification led to the elimination of the teacher as a personality from school - for this, there is less and less space at school. And it is these personalities that give students wings. Looking for objectification in the school, we fell into the objectification trap. But it is not only a matter of how we are treating teachers, but also the attitude of the parents. The parent is taking the child to school like a broken car. He comes to pick them up in the evening and expects the mechanic/teacher to fix everything. And it doesn't work that way. Raising a child is a process, it takes time and care - just like growing a fruit.