Lecturer in Teacher Education and philosophy for children advocate Dr Aristidis (Harry) Galatis helps teachers interested in developing students’ critical and creative thinking competencies.
Q. Tell us about your background.
I completed a PhD in Philosophy and then a Graduate Diploma in Education (as it was then called) at the University of Melbourne. After that, I taught philosophy in secondary settings for around six years. It was a great way to encourage students to think critically and creatively, which is something I’m passionate about.
I started out guest lecturing at the Faculty of Education while I was writing a book on developing students’ critical thinking skills in the middle years. I moved on to teaching, then coordinating subjects, and eventually found my way to my current role. As Director of Professional Experience, I look after the academic component of all subjects at the Faculty of Education that have a placement or practicum experience embedded within them.
Q. Why is it important to teach philosophy in schools?
Teaching and learning are more than just the discovery of "facts" and the determination of "truths". What students do with those "facts" and "truths", whether it is problem-solving or problem-posing, is equally important and this is where critical and creative thinking comes in.
Philosophy is a great vehicle for developing critical and creative thinking. It also involves grappling with questions and themes that are inherently interesting to children, and strike at the heart of what it means to be a human being. Children, for instance, are passionate about issues of justice and fairness, of whether gods exist, and of determining "right" from "wrong" or "good" from "bad".
I think every child has a right to learn what they are doing when thinking critically or philosophically, just as they have the right to learn maths or reading (after all, we are all moral creatures). Fortunately, that’s now reflected through the inclusion of the General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum.
Q. How do teachers introduce critical thinking skills in the classroom?
I had the good fortune of moving into academia as the General Capabilities were being introduced into the national curriculum. Teachers were looking for guidance on how to teach critical and creative thinking, and I’ve been teaching into subjects with that focus ever since.
Whether it is in the Master of Education (with education professionals), or in our initial teacher education programs, much of my teaching focuses on introducing dialogic approaches in the classroom. That’s about moving away, on occasion, from one-way interactions initiated by the teacher, and recognising more interactional (less transmissional) modes of classroom talk that elicit and develop students’ critical and creative thinking. The use of questioning becomes especially important here.
Q. What’s your advice for teachers interested in introducing philosophy into their classroom?
I’m involved with the Federation Of Australasian Philosophy in Schools Association (FAPSA) and sit on the Executive Committee of the Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS), a not-for-profit that offers professional development and resources for teachers and educators. Getting involved in these or similar associations are a great option for interested teachers to explore.
I’d also encourage them to reach out to schools that have embraced whole-of-school approaches to philosophy or critical thinking. Brunswick East Primary School, Dandenong High School, and Preston High School are just some examples of the impressive work schools are already doing.
Q. What do you do in your spare time?
Exercise is important to me when I am not travelling. I’m also a bit of dog lover; I’ve got a couple of pugs.