secrets and boundaries in classroom dialogues with children: from critical episode to social enquiry

joanna haynes


Events in teaching often bubble up and demand attention because they stay with us long after the moment has passed, causing us to revisit and recreate them, perhaps to ask ourselves whether we might have responded differently. Deeper reflection and wider social enquiry become possible when incidents are recorded over time. Themes are identified and form the basis of theorizing and alternative action. Themes tend to emerge from awareness of our emotional responses to events and through an investigation of the values and beliefs that have informed our reactions to them. Since I am aiming to encourage and strengthen children’s participation in the community of enquiry, a major theme in my own practice is locating barriers to my listening, obstacles that inhibit children’s involvement in philosophical dialogue, whose advocates have emphasized its democratic nature and transformative educational potential. This paper describes an experience of teaching which led me to explore taboos surrounding certain topics in primary schools. In the case reported, I suggest that the subject of ‘secrets’ alludes to wider insecurities in the social construction of intimacy in child and adult relations. These difficulties inhibit the educational process and obscure the voice of the child, even in the context of philosophical dialogue, which aims to increase children’s participation. I consider the moral panic in the UK about the safety of children and the effect on interactions in the ambiguous context of primary schools. I examine the exercise of professional judgement in respect of boundaries of private and public. Conscious of a missed opportunity, I explore secrecy, hiding, concealing and revealing and the part that these play in relationships and in the making of individual identity and the sense of self. Throughout the enquiry I seek to identify obstacles to listening that limit the potential for mutual education.


Secrets; Boundaries; Listening; Recording classes; Philosophy with children

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e-issn 1984-5987 | p-issn 2525-5061