2014 Victorian Primary School Philosothon

On Friday 20th June, 120 young creative minds from 12 primary schools excitedly gathered in small groups around works of art throughout National Gallery of Victoria International as part of the 2014 Victorian Primary School Philosothon.

This NGV Schools and Victorian Association of Philosophy in Schools (VAPS) initiative began in 2012. Growing in popularity, this year the event drew 12 schools from a variety of regions and demographics including inner and outer Melbourne – some of which had never visited the NGV before.

The students from each school were divided into 12 groups to join like-minded students from other schools in three half hour ‘Community of Inquiry’ sessions inspired by selected works of art.

The Community of Inquiry model is designed to generate philosophical dialogue in a respectful and cooperative collective inquiry.  Students exchange information, connect thoughts and apply new ideas.  They communicate and collaborate openly and without fear, guided by the facilitator who directs and focuses the discussion without controlling or predetermining any outcome.

The NGV is a unique environment for holding the Victorian Primary School Philosothon. Historical and contemporary works of art, including portraits, narrative paintings and non-representational works provide rich stimulus for dialogue.

Of particular interest to students were contemporary works such as Duck-rabbit problem, 1999, by Kathy Temin, You started it…I finish it, 2013, by Paola Pivi, and Untitled, 2003 by Lee Bul.

Ten students from Eltham College participated for the first time this year. Teacher Catherine Howard said, “It was a spectacularly successful day. My ten students were all year 4s and as such were among the youngest there, yet at no point were they overwhelmed. They participated strongly, felt good about their involvement, and enjoyed meeting and working with students from other schools.”

First time observer and facilitator Merren Ricketson said The students moved from the observational to the personal to the universal, demonstrating such maturity of thought and expression. For me the best comment, whispered shyly, was “I’ve always wanted to come in here!”

This year an important follow up to the Community of Inquiry sessions were the feedback sessions where groups gathered with other groups, in various rooms at NGV International. Here they listened to each other reflect on the different groups’ ideas, collaboration and thinking.  Lloyd Street Primary School teacher Deb Reys said “the summaries in the theatre were terrific and reinforce the value of the activity.”

This NGV program was the first of its kind to occur in Australia. Since its inauguration, NGV Schools staff have lent advice to others interested in holding a Philosothon in an art gallery setting. This resulted in a similar Primary School Philosothon being held at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in 2013.

Fittingly, each year at the end of the NGV program many teachers take their students to have their photograph taken with The Thinker, 1884, by Auguste Rodin.  An image of this sculpture, which has become synonymous with philosophy, features on the medals the students receive to honour their participation in the program.