from outer space and across the street: matthew lipman’s double vision

david knowles kennedy

Abstract


This review of Matthew Lipman’s autobiography, A Life Teaching Thinking, is a reflection on the themes and patterns of his extraordinarily productive career. His book begins with memories of earliest childhood and his preoccupation with the possibility of being able to fly, moves through the years in which his family struggled with the effects of the Great Depression, through his service in the military during World War II, his discovery of the joy and beauty of philosophy, his academic rise at Columbia University, his Fullbright sojourn in Paris, and his early and later career. Lipman’s educational project led in four related directions: the practice of philosophy for children, which he invented, and which presents an epistemological challenge to a second field, philosophy of education, which is as startling as was Rousseau’s two hundred years before. Third, it led to a realm of theory called philosophy of childhood, upon which the practice of philosophy for children is a kind of action-meditation, prompting adults as it does to reflect on children’s differences from and similarities to adults at the same time, and in the same discursive space. Finally, his praxis also implicitly challenged those accounts of children’s philosophies, paradigmatically represented by Piaget’s work, which represent childhood epistemology as evidence for various genetic and epigenetic stage-based theories of cognitive development. The consequence for education of this confluence was a methodology—community of inquiry—that serves as a bridge between the two most influential philosophers of education of the 20th century—John Dewey and Paulo Freire. The educational praxis that emerged from his venture, for all its apparent simplicity, operationalizes a postcolonial standpoint epistemology vis a vis childhood and children, pulls the linchpin that holds in place the school as ideological state apparatus, and empowers the elementary classroom as a primary site for democratic theory and practice. Keywords: Matthew Lipman; philosophy for children; autobiography; philosophy of childhood; philosophy of education

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childhood & philosophy Creative Commons License
e-issn 1984-5987 | p-issn 2525-5061