This one was written for Polka Theatre:
Upon being told that I'm developing a new show for Polka by working as Philosopher-in-Residence at a Wimbledon primary school, people are mostly consumed with jealousy. Either that or they think I've taken leave of my senses. They're probably both right.
Discussing complex issues with young people who aren't normally expected to think in such ways is enormously rewarding. It also has its challenges, especially with seven-year-olds, many of whom will answer questions about whether we can be sure this isn't all in fact a dream with lengthy monologues about machine guns, and ice cream, and poo. Lots of poo. Eleven-year-olds, on the other hand, frequently operate at a level of conceptual complexity that would put many professional philosophers in the shade.
The project I'm working on is called Enlightenment, which may or may not be the name of the show that results at the end of it. It began with Jon Lloyd, Polka's outgoing artistic director. Outgoing in that he's now left the organisation, not in that he's friendly - although he's friendly too. Jon saw my touring show for adult audiences, The Price of Everything. It's a mix between storytelling and a kind of joke lecture. "Do you think", Jon asked me over coffee one day, "something like that might work for children?" Never one to miss a business opportunity, and not having made any work for children for several years, I quickly answered "yes". Fortunately I then remembered an idea I'd been playing with for a while.
I've been interested in how we know the things that we know. Why do we trust the people who tell it to us? What would you do if one day your teacher started teaching things that were manifestly the product of a lunatic brain? And would you be able to tell? Professional philosophers might call this area of enquiry "epistemology". I haven't found this a helpful term with year four.
I also became interested in how children would order the world if all of these established authorities were revealed as utterly unreliable - if it became necessary to rebuild society from first principles. At this point, professional philosophers might utter the words "political philosophy" and perhaps even the phrase "Plato's Republic". I've tended to stay away from technical terms, though, because for some reason, it appears year five haven't yet read Bertrand Russell's History of Western Philosophy.
Over the next year on this blog I'll be talking about my adventures as Philosopher-in-Residence at Pelham Primary School in Wimbledon, and subsequently at Norton Primary School in Stockton-on-Tees. I'll be talking about the brilliant philosophical insights brought to me by years 3-6. And I'll be talking about how the show itself is developing.
So far, the script looks like this: