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Epistemological and Educational Presuppositions of P4C:
from Critical Dialogue to Dialogical Critical Thinking

1

2 Dr. Marie-France DANIEL

3 Professor, Université de Montréal

4 Associate researcher, Centre de recherche et d’intervention sur la réussite scolaire (CRIRES)

(Published in Gifted Education International, vol. 22, issues 2 & 3, 2007)

In Quebec as in other parts ofthe world, education is becoming increasingly problematic, in that the 21st century will likely be shaped by three major trends: globalization, the explosion of knowledge and accelerated development of technologies, and the increasing complexity of life within our societies[1]. In future, schools must ensure a form of education that enables young people to successfully face these new challenges.In a recent report, the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, set up by the UNESCO, maintains that the development of critical thinking in youngsters has become essential in order to foster their “true comprehension of events, instead of developing a simplified view of the information linked to these events”[2]. Furthermore, the Commission strongly suggests that cooperationamong youngsters be valued, thus making it known that critical thinking should not be taught as a competitive rhetoric, but rather as a means to grow with the help of peers. In other words, critical thinking should transcend simple cognitive development, and seek to integrate the global development process of the person.

The Commission’s report falls within a perspective of educationalmethods linked to constructivist theses, the objectives of which concern the complexity required in youngsters’ thinking in order to achieve significant knowledge production. Thus, it is in line with the primary goal of the Philosophy for Children approach, put forward by American philosopher Matthew Lipman.

We begin by outlining these constructivist theses and, in doing so, propose threeconstructivist postulates on which the Philosophy for Children (P4C) approach is based. Then we present P4C and its links to the development of critical thinking. Next, we posit a developmental process of dialogical critical thinking arising from the results of our research in Australia, Mexico and Quebec among pupils 10 to 12 years of age. Finally we highlight difficulties with the implementation of, andlimits to, this approach.

5 1. Three Postulates Arising from Constructivist Theses [3]

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We must first note that theories of a constructivist nature are not a matter of pedagogy, but rather of epistemology, that is, they attempt to explain what we know and how we know it[4]. Constructivism thus favours epistemological principles, which have been adopted and applied in the field ofeducation.

7

Among constructivist postulates, we consider three, which were also noted in the works of John Dewey[5], a pragmatic education philosopher, and which we find implicit in the works of Matthew Lipman[6]. The first postulate concerns the constructed nature of knowledge; the second, its viable nature; the third, its social nature.

The first postulate, concerning the constructednature of knowledge, presupposes that knowledge is not an objective reality that is predetermined in a way independent of the subject, but rather a construction of the subject-in-search-of-knowledge[7]. In other words, reality exists only in the subject and according to the subject; it must be constructed, not discovered; it thus places the subject in a position of active research (actor) rather thanpassive absorption (receptor). In education, there are three consequences to the application of this postulate: pupil responsibility, pupil involvement in the collective process of knowledge production, and thus the development of self-esteem.

The second postulate emphasizes the viable nature of knowledge; it thus confronts the notion of “truth”. Indeed, according to the pragmatists and...
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