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Philosophising on the theme of discrimination

In our day-to-day lives and in our conversations with people, we often use concepts that we consider self-evident, but whose exact meaning we do not actually know. During philosophising, we search for the meaning of those concepts. By asking questions of your students, you start looking for the bases of judgements on opinions from which you formulate those questions.

We want to start by dispelling one major prejudice, namely that philosophising would be something for ASO pupils, on the contrary: spontaneity from BSO pupils led to at least equally profound conversations. Philosophising is first and foremost not about language, but presupposes spontaneity, reactions, openness, respect and interest in each other. Pupils get the feeling that their opinions matter, that they are being listened to, that they are allowed to make up their own minds when faced with stimulating dilemmas, for example. This initial feeling helps them to actively participate and fully engage in a conversation.

The arrangement of a philosophical conversation takes place in a circle: students and teacher (as discussion leader) are thus equal.

Philosophising, however, is more than a 'nice conversation', it wants to dig deeper into judgements and opinions about certain things. It is therefore important to structure the conversation according to several big questions. Students must learn to look creatively at the world and at themselves.

When am I at home anywhere (Citizenship and society)?

Does my origin determine what I think and feel? (citizenship and society)

Can young people change society? (Citizenship and society)

Where does racism come from? (Citizenship and society)

Is it your own fault if you are poor? (Citizenship and society)

Is the world one big village? (citizenship and society, spatial awareness)

Are cultural differences an enrichment or a limitation? (citizenship and society)

Is there freedom without borders? (citizenship and society, ethics)

Is an ideal society possible? (citizenship and society, ethics)

These are examples of philosophical starter questions where there is no immediate expectation of an answer. The emphasis is less on 'the answer' and more on the thoughtful exploration of that question. The questions can on the one hand come from the students themselves (to let them make this choice themselves), but can also be suggested by the teacher (if there is a lesser response from the students)

Philosophising : not necessarily asking abstract questions, but arriving together with your pupils at a structured conversation about social issues such as justice and living together. It is an experiential and process-oriented form of work, where pupils have to think about themselves, their position in the world and their relationship to other people.

This reflection is always done using an accessible stimulus (an image, a film clip, or an interesting anecdote) from which to philosophise further.

In a philosophical class discussion, the teacher does not 'teach' himself, but follows up the conversation as a discussion leader on the sidelines. He challenges the students themselves to think critically and ask questions independently. Enthusiasm and bitterness.

The movement we follow here is: 1) from concrete to abstract 2) from anecdotal to contemplative 3) from guiding to independent

Pupils learn not only to formulate but also to substantiate their opinions, engaging in meaningful dialogue with others.

Also for the teacher

Philosophising can also be a way for the teacher to deal with polarising statements in the classroom. As a philosophical discussion leader, the teacher learns to distance himself or herself from certain prejudices. While philosophising, you really learn to fathom what a pupil means by a specific, sometimes provocative statement (cf. what do you mean by... , etc.).

The feeling of being useless and inferior disappears for that group of pupils. It has also been shown that pupils become more listening and show less aggressive behaviour.

Appendix: philosophical conversation roadmap

(Source: Kristof Van Rossem,


K. Van Rossem

1. Find one central question that participants would like an answer to. Make sure the question is :

  1. Briefly worded (maximum 8 words)

  2. Authentic is : you really have this question, you want an answer to this!

  3. Clear is

  4. Returns answers that are neither right nor wrong but which you find out by pure thinking (i.e. not : "how many colours does an iguana have?" but "can you understand an animal?". In this example, "what is the social responsibility of the business manager?")

  5. It offers the opportunity to relate one's own experience here.

  6. Formulated in such a way that anyone reading this question (even without their own experience in doing so) will find it understandable.

You can let them formulate this question themselves possibly using an impulse or an exercise. You can also present them with a number of starting questions. See for example the list under 'material' on the homepage of

2. Ask participants about

  1. a recent experience

  2. from our own source (experienced by ourselves)

  3. in which there is a moment when they said or did something. Ask for a vivid moment with a concrete action (i.e. not a thought or consideration)

  4. where they have a view that fits this question.

Depending on the time available, take the first best story that comes along, or have several told and choose the one that is most appropriate. The exemplar tells the story in the most concrete terms possible.

3. The participants ask clarification questions until the 'movie' in which the story takes place is each as clear as possible and with all relevant details in mind. At this stage, participants should only ask factual questions, i.e. no questions about considerations, motivations why someone did something, etc. Moreover, these questions should be relevant questions relating to the moment when this action occurred.

4. You ask for a view (core assertion) from the narrator and any arguments he/she has for it. You write this down on the board and you literally follow the narrator's words. Even if you think 'this is not an argument', you write down everything that comes after the 'because'.

Example : "When I hired that employee yesterday, I took my social responsibility as a company manager because :

  • "He's long-term unemployed, that's how he's 'off the streets'

  • I am setting an example for other business leaders with this"

5. You now ask each participant to do the same and write down an answer to that question in terms of the example with their own accompanying arguments. It may be that they agree with the narrator, it may be that they don't. Make sure that the wording remains about this specific case, in concrete terms. If necessary, provide the following format to force participants to stick to the factual : "when X did Y, it was Z (not Z) because...."

Eg : Opinion 1 : "When Jan hired that employee, he did not take his social responsibility because

  • He thought he was good enough and is only recruiting in function of the company

  • The employee does not need any special help"

6. (for large groups) First, have the participants compare the different answers and arguments with each other by having them exchanged in pairs or threes. Make sure the views and arguments are understood and can be repeated before critiquing them.

You can use the following diagram in a classroom context to give some structure to this conversation. You have the student write down :

These are my neighbour's arguments :.....................

I think these are good arguments : ...................

These are reasons why I think these are good arguments :.................

I don't think these are good arguments : ................................

These are reasons why I don't think this is a good argument : ...............

7. (for smaller groups) Hang the views and arguments side by side on flipcharts on the board. Hang them next to the narrator's view.

8. Now discuss the differences in views and arguments in plenary. As facilitator, from the moment these views and arguments are discussed in group, make the socratic movements (asserting, explaining, concretising, listening, questioning) over and over again. Follow the course of the conversation how it occurs spontaneously and, where necessary, ask the question needed for that movement at that moment (see training and see article 'socratic deliberation').

9. Together with the group, formulate an evaluation of the conversation

You can focus here on the form of the conversation/the competences learned. To do this, refer to the socratic competence list and have them tick e.g. some competences they feel they have used.

You can also focus on the content of the conversation. Some questions you can ask participants about this :

  • What new perspectives have you heard on your own argument?

  • In this group, who made you think/question your views and why?

  • Now what is your answer to the starting question?

  • What new question do you think needs to be answered now?

K. Van Rossem

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