A Social Constructivist Approach to Teaching High School Philosophy

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Arthur Millman


Genuine democracy implies a responsibility for that democracy to educate its participants to be able to think to the best of their ability about complex, controversial issues and concepts. Teaching philosophy to public high school students (who are already or are about to become participants in this democracy) in an approach consistent with social constructivist pedagogy is one compelling way that this issue can be approached. Such a methodology would place an emphasis on dialogue, inquiry, and community, as well as on real-world, contextual learning. The social constructivist approach, grounded in the psychological work of Lev Vygotsky (1999), views knowledge as something that is constructed by the learner through the process of reconceptualization. As the learner is exposed to new information, it either confirms or conflicts with previously held conceptions. The goal of the educator is to provide opportunities for this type of knowledge construction. This can be accomplished by focusing on dialogue in the classroom. Dialogue encourages the social interaction or “discourse” that is necessary for this process. However, dialogue in this case is taken to be a particular type of inquiry as detailed by Matthew Lipman (1991). Dialogue, according to Lipman, consists of a “community of inquiry” where the participants are engaged in trying to gain a greater understanding about something problematical. Aside from this conception of community as the “community of inquiry,” community also plays another prominent role. In order to provide the relevance necessary for student engagement, social constructivist theory emphasizes the utilization of contextual, “real-world” problems. The students’ community becomes the context in which they learn and engage with philosophical problems. Connection to the students’ community and therefore to themselves provides the relevance necessary for engagement. However, proper attention must also be given to both the traditional problems of philosophy as well as the discipline’s textual history. A social constructivist approach to teaching high school philosophy must emphasize the use of dialogue (as a type of inquiry) in the classroom as well as contextually relevant problems. Community, in terms of both the “community of inquiry” and also the greater community of which the learner is a part, must act as the foundation for classroom dialogue and learning. Community, therefore, provides the context by which students learn as well as the mode in which they learn. Also provided is a classroom example that demonstrates how to transform these theories into practice. In this exercise issues surrounding human cloning are utilized in order to introduce issues of identity.


Contact cct@umb.edu for access to full text

This document is currently not available here.