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Reading Philosophically in a Community of Enquiry: Challenging Developmentality with Oram and Kitamura’s Angry Arthur

Abstract

Meanings in a picturebook are constructed in the space between words, images and reader. Contemporary picturebooks are ideal vehicles for a deep reading of, and philosophical engagement with, texts that move beyond literary and literacy knowledge. Philosophy with picturebooks also offers an alternative to personal responses to these texts that are individual, subjective and anecdotal. The use of these works of art for teaching demands an epistemological reorientation with ethical and political implications. First, it is argued how picturebooks’ ambiguity and complexity demand the ‘community of enquiry’ pedagogy that positions its participants (including young children) as able meaning-makers and problem-posers. Secondly, it is shown how philosophical knowledge changes the questions lecturers, teachers and primary children ask and how these can disrupt naturalised psychological discourses about child and childhood. The argument is supported by showing how the picturebook Angry Arthur by Oram and Kitamura can be used in teacher education to teach key theoretical distinctions in the philosophy of emotions and how these ideas challenge the still current discourse of developmentality through deep readings that are also literal and not symbolic or figurative as often assumed. Angry Arthur is therefore suggested as a useful text in teacher education especially in combination with the community of enquiry pedagogy.

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Notes

  1. Knowledge about literature as a narrative form includes a sense of story, plot, themes and language.

  2. Second-order questions invite people to interrogate the validity of the assumptions that are implicit in the first-order question. What is involved in moving from first-order questions to second-order questions is explored later in the paper.

  3. Elsewhere, I report on my collaborative, practitioner action research with a teacher educator colleague (Murris, 2009; Haynes and Murris, 2010, 2012). Our research began from what had caught our attention and what had been troublesome in more than two decades of particular experiences working with children of all ages and in different settings, as well as several years of training sessions with students and teachers, mainly in the UK and in South Africa. We collected critical episodes and series of incidents taken together, which made it possible to identify recurring themes. These themes include the difficulty especially in practice for teachers to make a distinction between using literature for deep reading and reading for personal purposes, to distinguish between philosophical and psychological/psychoanalytical readings of texts, and the challenge for teachers to embrace uncertainty and the unexpected when using a pedagogy that includes primary school children as problem-posers as well as problem-solvers when they explore the meaning of selected picturebooks collaboratively. One element we focused on was the idea that deep readings of texts are symbolic readings and literal meanings often disappoint teachers as being “less mature” readings.

  4. This is, for example, the case when approaches to picturebooks are called “philosophical” when picturebooks are used that focus on obvious philosophical topics such as life and death, or good and evil; e.g. Costello (2011) and Maagero and Ostbye (2012).

  5. Some fifty years ago, and inspired by the philosophies of Plato, Peirce and Dewey, Matthew Lipman pioneered the teaching of philosophy to children. He speculated that early intervention would tap into children’s original curiosity, sense of wonder and enthusiasm for intellectual enquiry, and strengthen their philosophical thinking. In collaboration with colleagues at the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) at Montclair State University (USA), he developed the Philosophy for Children (P4C) Program. The community of enquiry pedagogy is the pedagogy used in P4C.

  6. The community of enquiry is not a stable concept, and theories and practices have shifted with the so-called “second-generation” P4C-representatives (Vansieleghem and Kennedy, 2011, p. 172). This includes my pioneering work with picturebooks (Murris, 1992), which challenges Lipman’s explicit rejection of the use of children’s literature for the teaching of philosophy (Haynes and Murris, 2012, chaps. 3 and 4).

  7. The questioning and democratic nature of the community of enquiry pedagogy can be demanding and unsettling for teachers as it requires a different relationship to truth and meaning, which has implications for pedagogy. Facilitating enquiries is theoretically complex and requires much practice, initially supported by specially written material and special teacher education. For practical and theoretical guidance using picturebooks, see Murris and Haynes (2002, 2011), Haynes (2008) and Haynes and Murris (2012).

  8. The notion of “process-centred” renders the “child/student-centred” versus “teacher/lecturer-centred” dichotomy as redundant and irrelevant. In a community of enquiry the space for learning is well structured and carefully prepared, but the teacher/lecturer is genuinely interested about the meaning students bring to a text and is as perplexed as the student when giving them greater control over the content of a lesson.

  9. For a similar analysis of the concept “love” with the help of a picturebook, see Murris (2009).

  10. Ideally with groups not larger than 30 student teachers, although half that size is ideal.

  11. It may be claimed that my position is contradictory, but note the important difference between the thinking moves involved in generalising and essentialising. Generalising is inductive. For example, my concern about the use of Angry Arthur in education is based on decades of empirical research on the use of picturebooks philosophically (Murris, 1997; Haynes and Murris, 2012)—also in the context of preventing reading problems from developing with Year 1 Welsh pupils in a project involving sixteen primary schools (see Dyfed County Council, 1994). These research findings have enabled some more general conclusions to be drawn about how picturebooks are often used in literacy instruction. See also footnote 2. In contrast, essentialising is deductive. The thinking process starts with attributing a particular essence to something (e.g. child) and then finds instances that illustrate this essence (e.g. that a child cannot distinguish between reality and fiction).

  12. A popular approach to reading texts in education is using psychological and psychoanalytical insights. But this often leaves no room for sincere ambiguity and uncertainty when reading texts. Of on-going concern in my writings is the question of how the remarkably resilient and dominant discourse of “developmentality” can block a more authentic way of listening to children. For a detailed discussion about two examples of this by well-known researchers in the field of children’s literature, see Haynes and Murris (2012, pp. 43, 45, 108–109).

  13. Abstract concepts express ideas (e.g. person) as opposed to concrete concepts that stand for things in the world, such as chairs or stones.

  14. Van Manen and Levering (1996, pp. 139–140) argue that childhood becomes defined in terms of what must be hidden from children, and the leaving of childhood is about gradual or brutal initiation into secrets of the adult world. Jacqueline Rose (1993) argues that the very existence of children’s sexual abuse by adults has a conceptual cost. Historically, the idea of childhood innocence constitutes a “wedge,” a conceptual boundary between child and adult. The child has been desexualised and the ideal of their “innocence” perpetuated. There is no language available to talk about child sexual abuse and childhood sexuality at the very same time. These ideas are explored further in Haynes and Murris (2012).

  15. This review has been copied from http://content.definedlearning.com/espresso/modules//////e2_book_reviews/2_sc_highfi3_angrya2.html (accessed 12 June 2011).

  16. For example, Bennett (1984) writes that the book “does owe something to Sendak (1963) but this book has an originality of its own and its potential for helping children to come to terms with their emotions is immense” (my emphasis).

  17. Implicit in the question of whether Arthur has behavioural problems is that anger is bad and negative, and that therefore intervention is desirable. With medical interventions currently in vogue in education, it would be tempting to diagnose Arthur possibly with ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and prescribe a regular dose of Ritalin in order to control his moods and to help regulate his behaviour. In the US 10 % of all children are labelled “hyperactive” and 10–12 % of all boys are on Ritalin. Such interventions might be well-intentioned, but the reductionist philosophy of mind it expresses is individualistic and morally questionable in the way it constructs a particular kind of self-identity. It assumes a split between self and emotion, crystallised in the modern construct of the self as individualistic, secular, rational, scientific, as being a “self-controlled social actor whose selfhood ha[s] been freed of emotion” (Kristjansson, 2010, p. 70).

  18. See my earlier comments about the humanist tendencies to essentialise children.

  19. The nature of such speculative readings is often misunderstood as, for example, by Arizpe, when she critiques our “‘adult’ debatable claim” in Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2012) that “a dog character in a particular picturebook symbolises a typical normative Enlightenment view of what a philosopher should be like.” She asks: “Does this not reflect an interpretation about what this book is about and might this interpretation not influence teacher mediation of the book?” (Arizpe, 2012, p. 499). Arizpe’s critique would have been relevant if we had used our interpretation prescriptively in a classroom community of enquiry, but we merely offered ways in which a picturebook could be used in teacher education to illustrate complex ideas and theories, as I try to do here with Angry Arthur. As a lecturer one can use one’s own interpretations to provoke enquiries in the university seminar room; for example, “developmentality” in the context of emotional development. However, this should be clearly distinguished from expressing one’s interpretation of a text with children in a community of enquiry, although one’s own philosophical readings will inevitably involve the open-ended (second order) questions one asks a teacher. Philosophical readings are often confused with “reading for personal purposes” as pedagogy is often “invisible” when enquiries are facilitated well. When unfamiliar with the theory, the practice does not necessarily show how facilitators follow students’ interests and at the very same time push for depth through using their own philosophical knowledge in the questions they ask.

  20. After all, Arthur is ordered to suddenly go to bed and abandon the fun, seemingly without any prior warning. His mother might not care about westerns; moreover she is not engrossed herself in this particular programme. How angry would Arthur’s mother herself get if something went wrong with things not under her control: a sudden setback at work, an email miscommunication, or the death of a loved one?

  21. My argument for greater social justice in educational practices is meant to persuade teachers to work more democratically when making meaning out of contemporary picturebooks. The force of my epistemological, moral and political argument is situated in the philosophical consistency between the complexity and ambiguity of such works of art (that is, what is “the” meaning contained within them) and who the legitimate readers are (that is, who is in the best position to claim truth-value). Democracy in the classroom implies some kind of academic freedom, space for authentic play with ideas and the right to be listened to and to be taken seriously as a thinker.

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful for the reviewers of this journal for their support in improving the quality of this paper. I would also like to express my gratitude to Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura and also Andersen Press for their permission to reproduce the three illustrations from Angry Arthur (1993).

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Correspondence to Karin Murris.

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Dr. Karin Murris is Associate Professor at the School of Education, University of Cape Town, South Africa. Trained under Professor Matthew Lipman, she pioneered the use of picturebooks for the teaching of philosophy and helped to set up the professional development courses in philosophy with children in Britain and SA. As co-director of consultancy Dialogueworks she has worked as an integrity consultant and philosophy with children senior trainer with children and adults in schools, businesses, and universities for over 20 years. She is the author of Teaching Philosophy with Picturebooks (1992), and with Joanna Haynes Storywise: Thinking through Stories (2002, 2010) and Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2012). Her research interests include early literacy, philosophy of education, children’s literature (picturebooks), childhood, and professional dilemmas and ethics in education.

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Murris, K. Reading Philosophically in a Community of Enquiry: Challenging Developmentality with Oram and Kitamura’s Angry Arthur . Child Lit Educ 45, 145–165 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10583-013-9205-8

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Keywords

  • Community of enquiry
  • Philosophy with children
  • Teacher education
  • Developmentality
  • Emotional literacy
  • Angry Arthur