Despite philosophy not being part of the core curriculum in the UK, thousands of children are engaging regularly in philosophical enquiry due to the work of educators and philosophers. Many teachers will have followed the media coverage of the recent Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) Study bit.ly/uked15sep01 on Philosophy for Children, which found that the more disadvantaged pupils participating in the trial made modest gains in reading, writing and maths. With such a positive impact on learning now being made clear, and with the profile of philosophy with children rising, now is the time to bring P4C into your classroom.
”Philosophy for Children (P4C) is an approach to teaching in which students participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues. Dialogues are prompted by a stimulus (for example, a story or a video) and are based around a concept such as ‘truth’, ‘fairness’ or ‘bullying’. The aim of P4C is to help children become more willing and able to ask questions, construct arguments, and engage in reasoned discussion.” (EEF- Philosophy for Children)
The press exposure provided a timely backdrop to the recent ‘Philosophy in Schools with Students’ conference at the University of Leeds bit.ly/uked15sep02. On the 30th of July 2015, experts, researchers, teachers, academics and undergraduates alike gathered to distribute and gather insights into the important work being done in schools and universities in England and beyond. Organisers Grace Robinson and Elizabeth Watkins brought forward a day of partnership as well as opportunity: a chance to reflect on the nature, purpose, and value of philosophy for children.
Nature: What is philosophy with children?
In his keynote address, Peter Worley @the_if_man of The Philosophy Foundation outlined a framework for what philosophy might be. Through the guidance of a skilled facilitator, pupils are given the tools and opportunity to have a conversation. They approach perceived problems and puzzles about reality, knowledge, value and meaning with their peers. Since the questions are conceptual, children do not need a large body of empirical knowledge in order to ‘do’ philosophy. But what makes these conversations genuine philosophical dialogue and not merely circletime? For Worley, there are some ‘candidate’ necessary conditions in order to achieve a philosophical enquiry: the 4Rs (see more details at bit.ly/uked15sep03).
Responsive: When a philosophical problem is recognised and understood as a problem (“It is fair because we all got the same, but it is not fair because he was naughty and he still got some!” The problem is that it is both fair and not fair at the same time.)
Reflective: A kind of ‘brain-storming’ which considers Socratic question of ‘what is x?’ (“What is fairness exactly?”)
Reasoned: A rational, ordered and sequential, and therefore logical attempts to make sense of and justify a position (“So fairness must be… because…” Or “But is fairness is … then it can’t be …)
Re-evaluative: Whatever conclusions may have been arrived at during the reasoning they are not simply accepted. They are subject to further critical analysis. (“Okay so I think fairness is… but is that right because…)
Purpose: What is the point of philosophy with children?
One line of discussion which arose in many of the talks and demonstrations on offer at the PSS conference was that, despite the clear link that P4C has with raising attainment as found by the EEF, this should not be the aim or overall purpose of philosophy for children.
In her keynote address, Lizzy Lewis @lewis_lizzy of SAPERE (sapere.org.uk) set out a cross-curricular vision for philosophy in schools. She said that approaching the curriculum through philosophical enquiry “lights a fire for pupils”. This fire is more than better literacy and numeracy. It is clear that philosophy can improve a whole range of academic skills (Carl Warom of Philosophy Exchange Leeds bit.ly/uked15sep04 listed 68 of them!), but it also aims to help children think better, act wisely and improve the quality of their lives.
Value: Why should we do philosophy with children?
Shortly after receiving the death sentence for corrupting the youth of Athens, Socrates is said to have heard a flute player reciting a melody. He asks the musician to teach him how to play it. His friends are aghast at this, for what is the use of learning to play a new piece of music when death is so near? Socrates replies that there is, of course, no use at all, but that the music remains beautiful.
Educators might look to P4C as a useful tool for improving academic skills, developing the whole child and raising attainment. These are all good reasons to do philosophy. However, it might be better to set aside all these benefits. Philosophy has an intrinsic value. It is part of what it means to be human.
This article was first published in the September 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine. You can read the magazine freely online by clicking here.
Arabella @MissAVECarter is a Teacher of Ethical and Religious Studies at an independent secondary school in Derbyshire. She is an advocate of philosophy with children and a supporter of the importance of good Religious Education. She contributes regularly to discussions on those themes via her blog missavecarter.wordpress.com and for @BlogSyncRE.