“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.” ~ Bertrand Russell
Inquiry with children, youth, and adults is a way of facilitating an open-ended, democratic dialogue around questions about life, value, meaning or anything that matters in life. In a typical Inquiry session, the role of the instructor is not to provide answers but to create a context of inquiry. Often the instructor/facilitator and the participants sit together in a circle. They read a storybook, watch a video clip, engage with a newspaper article, listen to an interview or in some other way stimulate their interest in a subject. Then the facilitator engages the participants in an open discussion in which they pose questions and explore ideas.
Developing critical, creative and caring thinking through ‘inquiry’
The aim of inquiry programs is to help us become more thoughtful, reflective, and reasonable individuals. By engaging in inquiry, we can explore an idea from different perspectives and communicate across differences. This means that while we are encouraged to understand each other and different opinions, we do not necessarily need to agree. In other words, differences in justified viewpoints can co-exist and add value in a pluralistic society. Such an inquiry helps us think more critically, imagine alternative possibilities/answers, be more creative and more considerate through understanding each other’s feelings.
An example: Philosophical Inquiry with homeschool children ages 9-12
I started the session with asking the children to close their eyes. I then quietly put an m&m on the desk in front of each of them. When they opened their eyes I pointed to the m&m and said, “Imagine scientists have invented a pill called ‘The Pill of Life’ that allows you to live forever. What would you do? Would you take it?
In a few seconds, the whole class erupted into discussion: “No, the world would be overpopulated”, “Yes, because I have time to explore everywhere and see everything”, “No, I don’t want to see the death of my family and friends—unless they take the pill, too!”, “What if we give it to animals so they won’t extinct!”, “What if we end up in jail, then we will be in jail for EVER!” … and while discussing these wonderful ideas, I encouraged them to ask further questions and engaged them into deeper thinking. One asked, “Do we age?” I found his question beautiful and important, so I asked, “Does it matter?” and continued, “Why?” Then, to get to the meaning part of life, I also asked them, “Is the length of life important?”
As a facilitator, it is important to create a warm dialogue atmosphere where children can speak without fear and listen to the ideas shared by the group. At the end of the session, the facilitator can invite the class to do some journal writing while reflecting on the discussed ideas.