【Philosopher Café】Participation, Understanding, Practice, and Development of Life Education Teachers from Central Taiwan

【Reported by Shihting Huang】The “Advanced Studies in Life Education in Central Taiwan﹘Philosopher Cafe,” co-sponsored by Life Education Center of the Ministry of Education, and the School of Life and Values, Dharma Drum College, was held on the 9th September 2011 in Bao Yun Branch Monastery of Dharma Drum Mountain in Taichung.

The Philosopher Cafe led by Professor Aries Ku has been held in the Chan Cafe, the Learning Commons and the library in Degui Academy to facilitate discussions among participants in an open, relaxed, comfortable, and undisturbed environment. Different from the previous locations, Bao Yun Branch Monastery features a Chinese-style garden with verdant and luxuriant trees and flowers and ponds of lotus and duckweed. The conversations among participants took place in the company of water, clouds and grass.

Professor Ku first introduced the origin, ideology, and modes of operation of philosopher cafes in the West and shared how another event of the same series was conducted in August at Degui Academy in Taipei. Then, the second session of discussions proceeded from brainstorming, describing issues that concerned the participating teachers to focusing on certain topics.

Although the topics that the participating teachers cared about seem to be diverse, they were all related to life education classroom. For example, are there any specific methods to teach “personality integration and spiritual development”? Is it possible for teachers to exchange their experience through discussions?

A teacher mentioned that one of her students suffered from brain cancer and only had six months to live. The student still managed to go to school every day despite the discomfort caused by the anti-cancer drugs. The teacher was deeply touched by the student and developed complex emotions towards death. The issue was far more complicated than any other matters and the teacher would like to discuss the issue of death.

Another issue brought up by many senior high school teachers was courtship among high school students. Although sentiment and lust are common issues, the process and consequences should not to be dealt with casually. The recent popular movie “You Are the Apple of My Eye” made matters even worse. In addition to subjects of sex, marriage, and ethics, are there other ways to help children go through their physical and mental turmoil?

After a thorough discussion by the participating teachers, they decided to focus on the issues of sentiment and lust and defer the matter of death to the next meetings.

Most teachers agreed that love goes beyond sentiment and lust. Interpersonal relationship is also an important topic for children to learn. Teachers should be open, fair, and objective, care about the students at all time and make themselves as someone the students would consult to. Besides guiding students to explore the issues of sentiment and lust, teachers can also explain the physical and mental reactions from health science perspective, and guide them with proper conduct and responsibility. In such case, teachers will be able to help their students to explore problems and seek solutions.

Through short philosophical-style conversations, teachers learned how to incorporate the style into life education classroom. Teachers also learned to become a leader in rational thinking and provoke students’ thinking toward more possibilities in their lives.

Professor Ku promised to include practices of leading philosopher cafe talks in future workshops so teachers can bring back to their classrooms and stimulate the students’ thinking and reflection. Once this becomes a habit, students will learn to deal with their problems with more flexibility and come up with better solutions.