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Alumna Story: Teaching Philosophy

Rhea Kuthoore, a ASP 2019 graduate, shares her experience from her first year after graduation.

Office of PR & Communications

6 September, 2020 | 15 min read

What can one do with an Advanced Major in Philosophy? If you have ever attended one of the Philosophy Expos, you know that you can do perhaps not ANYthing, but MANY very different things. We will occasionally share reports that reach us from former students. Today, we feature a story brought to us by Rhea Narayan Kuthoore, who completed her ASP in 2019 with an Advanced Major in Philosophy. Rhea has since joined Sholai School (you can see a video about the school here) as a teacher. Here is Rhea’s story:

“I was introduced to philosophy by Prof Saran in my first term at Ashoka. The class was Mind and Behaviour. What began as a compulsory course that had an intimidating-looking course pack, ended up being one of the most significant experiences in my life so far. For the first time in the course of my education, I began walking out of class with more questions than I had come in with. Intellectually, I was moved to inquire, in a systematic and reasonable manner, about aspects of myself and the world around me that I had taken for granted thus far. Emotionally, I was excited about what I was thinking and learnt to be more open-minded about the varying perspectives. I grew from the uncertainty that is crucial to thinking again

Through the years, the variety of courses at Ashoka allowed for a more nuanced and critical dialogue between faculty and students. All the faculty in our department were extremely caring, approachable and inspiring (by virtue of their wisdom and choice to teach at a young University in Haryana). For that very reason, I stayed back to explore a capstone thesis in the 4th year at Ashoka. My advisor was Prof Dixon. He was extremely patient and supportive. While I began the academic year pondering about several aspects relating to time travel, I concluded with a thesis on the metaphysical conception of coincidence. I put forth an account of coincidence that emphasises its agent- and context-specificity. 

The relevance of a philosophical self, i.e. a self that engages with the abstract and unsettled questions that govern our everyday life and choices, dawned upon me by the end of my second year at Ashoka because of how I had perceived my own transitions. Due to my simultaneous interest in education, I started to read about children and began to realise that they are natural philosophers until their questions are ignored or shut down. I wished to create a space in children’s lives where in they could freely wonder, inquire and have a dialogue. 

After my graduation, my budding dream led me to the alternative school, Sholai, which is nestled within the forests of Palani Hills and is based on Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s philosophy. Here, along with children from different age groups, I began our journey of doing philosophy. With a lot of guidance from the existing material on doing philosophy with children (that commenced with the efforts of Matthew Lipman), I worked toward contextualising content for the children at Sholai school. Although this year has been fraught with many ups and downs, I am glad to have been a witness to all the benefits of doing philosophy with children. Hopefully, one day, children too will change the discipline of philosophy in the way in which philosophy changes each of us.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti, we add, was an Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher. He was born 1895 in what is today Andhra Pradesh and died in 1986 in Ojai, California (USA). Krishnamurti was a radical thinker who tried to argue against lofty ideals and philosophical and spiritual dogma, promoted self-critical attention to the present, and founded various schools in India and abroad. Some of his many books are:    

  • Freedom from the Known (1969)
  • Beginnings of Learning (1975)
  • The Flame of Attention (1984)
Jiddu Krishnamurti (source: https://www.dailyexcelsior.com/krishnamurti-on-education/)

What is it like to do philosophy with children, we wondered?  

“Doing philosophy with children is about being co-inquirers about the fundamental open-ended questions that are part of all our lives. It is focused on the children and the questions that are shaping their lives in the moment. 

The pillars of doing philosophy with children are inquiry and dialogue. In our process of inquiry, we try to be critical (challenge assumptions and think about thinking), creative (to wonder and question freely), caring (respecting others views, listening keenly, being patient, open and vulnerable), collaborative (not merely swapping opinions but constructing views together). In our dialogue, we try to be reflective (have well-reasoned positions, to understand other perspectives and revise our positions). What this means for me is that I try to provide a safe space, where I am not in a rush, in order to promote wonder, reflection and evaluation and restraint myself from interjecting with answers.” 

Teaching Tools

What kinds of activities do you engage in with the children?

“In our interactions, we have read the book ‘Hitler’s daughter’, and discussed various questions that arise from the book. Other times, we watched movies such as ‘The Arrival’ or ‘Your Name’ that opened up conversations about language and identity. During the pandemic, we read about a court case that dealt with free will and wondered about René  Magritte’s painting ‘Clairvoyance’. With the younger children, we were reading Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery before we broke off for the lockdown. With some of the senior children, we have even delved into Gettier problems and ‘What is it like to be a bat?’ by Nagel. With all the age groups though, we begin by doing some games and activities on validity and soundness and try to keep our learning from it an important aspect for our other interactions too.” 

What was a memorable teaching moment for you? 

“In my time with children, I have encountered many instances of them being profound in their thinking. One such case was when we were discussing bullying. A seven-year-old thought out loud, ‘if we do not speak out when someone else gets bullied, it would lead to a world war!’ When a child employs such thinking, I try to step in to draw attention to how and why the child has reasoned his/her claim. So, in this case, I pointed out how he had thought about how something might be wrong or worthy of not doing because it may cause other people to do it too and finally cause harm to many.” 

Thank you, Rhea, for sharing your experiences and for giving us an insight into the beautiful work you do with these children!  

Study at Ashoka

Study at Ashoka