Philosophy for Children
What is it and how is it done?
Philosophy for Children (P4C), or some variation of it, is practised in over 60 countries around the world and has a history stretching back over 40 years. The underlying principle is for children and young people to experience rational and reasonable dialogue about things that matter to them and their teachers. All participants work together in a ‘community of enquiry’. The aim for each child is not to win an argument but to become clearer, more accurate, less self-contradictory and more aware of other arguments and values before reaching a conclusion.
Learning to be reasonable
PHILOSOPHY FOR CHILDREN is often taken up because of its ‘effects’. It is thought worthwhile in so far as it improves scores in literacy, speaking and listening and maths tests. It is praised for its effects on emotional awareness and thinking skills. But we argue that philosophising with children and young people is a good thing in itself. Philosophy calls on imagination and reasoning and puts these capacities to work exploring values, assumptions and vital concepts like justice, truth, knowledge and beauty. A philosophical community of enquiry provides a forum where adults and children can search for meaning together. Children become reasonable in both senses of the word — they are adept at reasoning and they are open to the reasoning of others.
It is so important for adults and children to talk together in situations where differences can be welcomed and explored. Normally, they don’t talk together in this way enough. It’s now recognised that children are influenced by their peers to a far greater extent than we had previously thought. Not surprisingly, young people talk to each other and the talk means something. It’s important and memorable. Adults can make classroom talk memorable too, through philosophy.
Philosophy for Children promotes a forum for open dialogue in which participants are not content to exchange ideas and opinions as if they were bits of information. Instead they ask questions, sift arguments and explore alternatives. Above all, they try to understand each other. It is possible to find a philosophical dimension, and so an opportunity for philosophical thinking, in any subject in the curriculum. If we had the will, we could even give it a curriculum slot all to itself.