Over the course of the past few weeks I have been privileged enough to experience an immensely warm welcome from the people of Hawai’i. This has not just been limited to the remit of colleagues but it is embraced by most people I have come into contact with: parents, pupils, support staff, receptionists, shop keepers, waiters, virtually everybody I have come into contact with. It certainly took some getting used to in the beginning as I was not accustomed to complete ‘strangers’ instigating a genuinely meaningful conversation with me. I have been pleasantly surprised by how deeply affectionate and caring people are here. It strikes me as a cultural value that is instilled in this society and leads to the creation of a real sense of ‘community’.
I can honestly say I have had less inviting conversations with people I have known for years and years. I have been in the fortuitous position of travelling to a number of countries but never have I experienced anything quite like it. The sense of unity and ‘togetherness’ shines through and encompasses the notion of ‘ohana, the Hawaiian word for ‘family’ that extends the exclusivity of blood relatives. This results in a cultural appreciation of groups of people working together with a common bond. Nowhere is this more prevalent that the P4C family of Hawai’i! In a sense I feel like I have known these people for a lifetime. The topic of P4C has helped us bond on a profound level and in the words of Dr J we are experiencing a sense of ‘kindred spirits’. It is such a unique and life changing experience that I would go as far as to say that it does not feel like ‘work’ at all in the traditional sense of the word. It is an absolute joy to be given the precious time to immerse myself whole heartedly in P4C with a team of uniquely talented people who I connect with.
The more time I spend observing P4C and having discussions about it, the more I come to the realisation that a greater emphasis should be placed on the ‘community’ aspect of philosophical enquiry within my own practice. It is this emphasis that really sets the Hawaiian method apart from other models of P4C. This practice is much more than a rule or code of conduct, it is deeply entwined in the pedagogy of what is taking place here. During one of my treasured conversations with Dr J he said “To me philosophy means community, not the western sense of individuals contemplating and thinking. Yes, we want that aspect but it is the profound sense of children coming together collectively to think together. People that just used to be faces now become real people. The schooling agenda is so much about what adults think children and young people should be learning. If you ask the children what they want they often say it is not about ‘now’ we are always preparing for the next grade”. Which leads me to one of the other fundamental pillars of P4C Hawai’i – of not being ‘in a rush’. Great care and time is taken to ensure that pupils are not rushed through an enquiry or feel pressurised just to get things done. From many formal and informal conversations with the pupils I can verify how much they sincerely appreciate this time in an environment where they are often pressurised. Pressurised to get good grades, pressurised to sit through exams, pressurised by a heavy timetable, pressurised to identify the next steps, pressurised to perform, it is an endless cycle. What a relief it is to then be presented with an intellectually safe environment which is not rushed in any way just to discuss the things that are pertinent and imminent for them. Out of this environment is born a ‘sacred’ place where pupils truly feel safe, secure and confident to share their thoughts without being rushed. Dr J illustrated this point with a story that I found deeply moving. It is the story of a young child (aged five) who witnessed the murder of his father. What a devastating ordeal for anybody to go through let alone at such a tender age. Following this tragedy, the child was taking part in a P4C lesson. The community ball was passed around and the children voiced what they wanted to talk about. This particular child said ‘I want to talk about death’. He was not instructed or influenced in any way, it was what he genuinely wondered about and the idea of what happens after death. The class happened to vote on this particular wondering and he told the group that his Daddy had passed away and he missed him. However, he met him every night when he would fall sound asleep and meet him in the world of dreams. They would play and laugh and talk together but when he awoke, Daddy was not there and he missed that… The session went on and the children continued to talk about the subject but I will leave that particular story there for now. As I heard Dr J retelling me this story I could not help but feel a wave of emotion wash over me and then I placed myself in the position of this child. WOW! What a potentially transformative experience for this child to share something so intensely emotional and private with his peers. Without being probed or prompted to in any way. For me this story conceptualises the power of the community, the value of not being rushed and that connecting notion of ‘ohana. For me, this approach resonates the essence of why I decided to become an educator. To make a meaningful difference to the lives of children and young people.
‘We are born to unite with our fellow men, and to join in community with the human race – Cicero’