Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Philosophy for children - what a pity we need it!

Last night, our thinking skills lecture slot was guest run by a woman from SAPERE. She introduced us to the concept of Philosophy for Children (P4C), starting as young as the age of 4.

There was some debate about the name, apparently, since philosophy has developed a bad rep in some quarters. But they decided to stick with it. The kids aren't studying philosophy or becoming disciples of this or that philosopher. They are learning to philosophise: philos = love + sophos = wisdom. So...

The use some stimulus like a photo, a piece of music, a movie clip, a story book. Then they ask the children to come up with questions based on the stimulus. The children then vote on a single question to discuss during the session. We had a go at it ourselves and chose the question "Why don't we value non-conformity?" based on a children's picture book about a little boy who was a nonconformist. It was an interesting and valuable exercise, with many people saying they didn't know what they thought until they starting hearing other people's views and found themselves agreeing or disagreeing.

The initiative has not been universally welcomed, but where it has been introduced at schools, it has apparently had enormous success. It has been introduced to children of various ages, and even to adults, when the parents/grandparents of the children have developed an interest. In some schools it has become a timetabled session. In others, the requirement is for the principles to be introduced into other subjects in the curriculum. Through last night's session, I began to recognise the ways in which at least my elder son is receiving teaching of this nature ("In the play Blood Brothers, how does class affect the relationship between the two boys?")

Children who have been exposed to this approach have apparently almost universally shown improvement across the board.

This is all wonderful and very exciting, but it makes me want to say, "Well duh!" What makes me sad is that it is necessary for schools even to be doing this. I mean, what are families for? Where are all the lively dinner discussions? The rainy weekend debates? The discussions over board games? What ever happened to conversation, for goodness sake?

It has always been my view that parents are the primary educators, and I have stuck by that view in the face of some pretty stiff opposition from schools along the way, and part of the parental responsibility must surely include teaching children to think, to consider.


Anonymous said...

It does seem a bit sad that we have to look at doing things the home should be doing. Conversation has become a lost art as has the whole idea of a good debate. What I have noticed at school is that students are very into arguing but don't know when to bring the arguement to a close. They are so concerned with "their rights" that they don't take time to consider that there may be other points of view. I really love our family game nights and the discussions that take place during these times. Especially with the 14 and 15 year old. I think things would be much different if parents spent time at home with their chilren.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Family game night. We used to do that, but it seems to have gotten lost in the wash. We'll have to try to resurrect that.

One thing we find very helpful: my husband does a one-on-one male bonding thing with each of the boys once a month. Usually they go out for a "full English" breakfast, but it could be anything, and they just talk.

Because our elder son has gotten really slack about this obligations and commitments lately, he also has a brief once a week "KPI meeting" with his Dad. Oddly, he really enjoys those, and has begun to prepare for them. It's looking like such a successful idea that we might just introduce them for our younger son even though he is naturally diligent... for now!-)