I think, therefore I learn

IGS Philosopher in Residence Dr Britta Jensen asks students to classify and then group question cards. Suddenly there is deep thinking, and discussion flows thick and fast.

“If there were no clocks, would there still be time,” asks Lucien of Year 10.

“If it doesn’t have legs, is it still a table,” asks Parker, also of Year 10.

With a Doctorate in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology from Oxford, and accreditation from the Federation of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Associations (FAPSA), experience working with Oxford, Cambridge and Macquarie University, and training as a secondary English and French teacher in NSW, Dr Jensen’s background is ideal for IGS.

“It’s about learning how to think, not what to think,” says Dr Jensen, repeating a phrase common in philosophy education.

Through Philosophy in Schools NSW, Dr Jensen provided Philosophy for Children (p4c) training for 14 IGS staff members last year, and thereafter customised an IGS Philosophy Curriculum in preparation for the introduction of Philosophy for all Year 7 students this year, with another year group to be added each year.

“P4c methodology emphasises the Four C’s: Creative, Critical, Collaborative and Caring,” Dr Jensen said.

At IGS, Philosophy is multidisciplinary, with common threads in Personal Development Health and Physical Education (PDHPE), English, languages, History and Geography.

“Philosophy can underpin much of the other content, strengthening the critical thinking base being reinforced throughout the school,” she said.

The discipline is open to students in other years through the IGS Co-curricular Clubs program.

Meeting once a week, students explore questions central to philosophy, sorting them into recurring themes, becoming aware of the schools of ethics, aesthetics, metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and social and political philosophy.

“This is student-centred learning, central to philosophy in schools.

“We want the students to arrive at answers in collaboration with each other. It is about discussion of ideas and meaning, and learning from one another. It is about discourse and plurality. “

“Learning to disagree with others with respect is one of life’s fundamental skills.”

The Year 7 Philosophy curriculum is exploring the notion of “good”, stemming from the oft-quoted question attributed to Socrates “How are we to live?”

“This lands the first year of Philosophy squarely within the philosophical domain of ethics.

“We are working from the ego outward, toward the global, as regards what makes a good person, including Aristotle’s definitions of what makes a good deed, good choices, good friendships, good communities and more.”

IGS Philosophy classes are team-taught, with Dr Jensen mentoring other experienced IGS staff, helping build capacity.

Teachers are assisting students to refine their thinking skills within a “community of inquiry”.

Student-led discussions will unpack the great themes of literature and life, exploring what is fair, what is equality, and what it means to lead a “good life”, for example.

The course is expected to promote respectful dialogue and critical and independent thinking skills, along with ethical understanding, in line with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recommendations and the General Capabilities put forward by Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).

“According to the evidence-based research, teaching philosophy results in increased capacity for (and articulation of) metacognition and reasoning skills and provides measurable educational benefits, academically, socially and emotionally,” Dr Jensen said.


Dr Jensen’s enthusiasm for her subject is infectious.

“I love philosophy in part because the possibilities are limitless,” says Dr Jensen, her accent reflecting her Danish and American background.

“The nature of the unfolding of a particular concept depends entirely on the participants involved. There are numerous interlinked discussions that could emerge during the nature of inquiry. This is the creative part. But I also love that philosophy is rigorous. It is about sharpening one’s ability to think well – to hone precision in thought and build awareness of the differences between closely related terms, for example.

“Philosophy is about giving reasons and reasoning. It is about exploring the inferences that people naturally make every day and pausing to revisit inferences made in haste in light of new information.

“Philosophy is about being brave enough to change your mind, and in this sense it helps to promote intellectual humility.

“Philosophy is about learning together and building a respectful and collaborative atmosphere in the classroom (largely conceived) – in the classroom of life. Finally, Philosophy for Children (P4C) is student-centred. This means that students are not learning about philosophy but are doing philosophy. This method of teaching promotes equity in the sense that teacher is not all-knowing, but rather a facilitator and participant in the discourse.

“Philosophy teachers don’t have all the answers, and it is important students realise this. Using Philosophy for Children methods requires a shift of emphasis; the emphasis is on the intellectual process of inquiry rather on finding the “right answer.”