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How Delphi was born: My journey with Philosophy for Children

David Whitney, by Rosie Coulson.
Me, by Rosie.

Hi everybody,

It’s been so exciting over the last couple of weeks watching people starting to download Delphi the Philosopher. It’s perhaps worth emphasising that we’re not a big educational publisher or company – just two normal(ish) full-time primary teachers who wanted to share our story and experiences with you. We really hope this is just the beginning. It certainly feels like we’re just getting started!

Anyway, I thought now would be a good time to share a little of the history behind Delphi Philosophy and how it came to be. Forgive me, but I’m going to go back to the real beginning.

Around fifteen years ago, I was at Lancaster University and had just enrolled onto a marketing course. I took philosophy as well, as a minor, out of pure curiosity. I had never studied the subject before but had recently discovered it through a series of mind-blowing books I had read that summer; not least Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, which changed my life (and I know I’m not the only one). I changed my degree to philosophy after two weeks, after we had a lecture on marketing ethics and it became apparent that there weren’t any.

Fast forward three years or so. I’m now at Warwick University doing a Masters and spending my days reading Nietzsche before Keith Ansell-Pearson’s formidable four hour evening seminars. My tiny bedroom in a tiny house, which I’m sharing with four other people, is covered in notes and scattered books. Occasionally I escape for a walk to let my brain cool down enough for Also Sprach Zarathustra to make sense. Surprisingly, it did. What was intriguing me most though was my unit on the philosophy and sociology of education. I learned about citizenship education, issues around inclusion, hidden curriculum and sex education. I wondered if I could teach one day and decided – no way. It was clearly far too complicated and difficult a job.

Anyone remember us?

Two years later. After a bit of travelling, I somehow found myself working for the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency on curriculum and assessment materials. On the day I got the job, David Cameron appeared on BBC Breakfast and announced they would be closing it. We carried on working anyway. The curriculum was cancelled, the assessment materials were published and then unpublished, but I learned a lot. I got to work with some of the finest minds in curriculum and assessment and I stayed until the bitter end to get every scrap of experience I could out of it. When we finally closed, a department of over a hundred had become just the boss and me. It was quite a story. But perhaps one for another time. Suffice to say, I realised two things during my time there: Firstly, primary schools are some of the most remarkable places in the world. Secondly, other people thought I should teach in them.

Another three years on, and it’s 2013 and I’ve completed a PGCE at Warwick and got my first job in a Year 4 class in a city primary school. I’d survived the NQT year and life at school was settling down enough for me to finally go and ask to try something new. I told my headteacher about philosophy for children – about how it could help develop learning and communication skills, about how it might improve reasoning and oracy skills. I was asked some very good questions: what are the children actually learning? What skills specifically are they developing? I started to think about it, and I was given my chance, and was to trial a 12 week scheme with my class and see what happened.

A robot teacher, made by the children
A robot me, created by the children during a philosophy lesson.

All of this led to a pivotal moment – sitting my class down one September afternoon, and placing an empty chair in front of them. I had Peter Worley’s remarkable book The If Machine in my hand, and we were doing the first enquiry from it. It was without question, the most memorable lesson I have ever taught. Bringing children, who had never done anything like this before, to philosophy was a revelation. Children came out with ideas I didn’t think possible. The style of questioning felt joyful. The atmosphere in the classroom was electric. It’s safe to say it was a hit. I overheard children still talking about it two years later.