The philosophy for children curriculum was specially written by Matthew Lipman and colleagues for the teaching of philosophy by non-philosophically educated teachers from foundation phase to further education colleges. In this article I argue that such a curriculum is neither a necessary, not a sufficient condition for the teaching of philosophical thinking. The philosophical knowledge and pedagogical tact of the teacher remains salient, in that the open-ended and unpredictable nature of philosophical enquiry demands of teachers to think in the moment and draw on their own knowledge and experience of academic philosophy. Providing specialist training or induction in the P4C curriculum cannot and should not replace undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in academic philosophy at universities. However, although for academic philosophers the use of the P4C curriculum could be beneficial, I will argue that its use poses the risk of wanting to form children into the ideal ‘abnormal’ child, the thinking child—the adult philosopher’s child positioned as such by the Lipman novels. The notion of narrativity is central in my argument. With the help of two picturebooks—The Three Pigs (2001) by David Weisner and Voices in the Park (1998) by Anthony Browne—I illustrate my claim that philosophy as ‘side-shadowing’ or meta-thinking can only be generated in the space ‘in between’ text, child and educator, thereby foregrounding a ‘pedagogy of exposure’ (Biesta 2011) rather than ‘teacher proof’ texts.
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For a further discussion see below.
It does not follow that the activity is therefore not educationally worthwhile in e.g. teaching important thinking skills and tools, such as making distinctions, giving examples, offering good reasons, asking probing questions, but for teaching to be philosophical more is needed, i.e. a necessary condition is thinking about thinking (meta-thinking). This is what Lipman calls complex thinking (see below in the main text) and what he claims the novels make possible.
For many decades Lipman’s Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) at Montclair State College organises regular international teacher training courses for educators and philosophers in their retreat in Mendham, New Jersey.
This in contrast to socratic dialogues in the Leonard Nelson and Gustav Heckmann tradition. Meta-dialogues are an integral part of the philosophical work. See: Draken (1989), Nelson (1949, 1993, 1994) and Heckmann (1981, 1989). In my own work I introduce meta-dialogues with the help of the ‘joker-card’ from a pack of cards (an idea from Roger Greenaway; see: www.reviewing.co.uk). Everyone in class can pull the joker when they want to discuss the dialogue itself: its procedures, strategic decisions and facilitation moves by the teacher. The dialogue itself only resumes when the meta-issues have been resolved. The device helps to make the practice more democratic and encourages higher-order thinking.
Rather than giving a definition of a community of enquiry, Laurance Splitter and Ann Margaret Sharp invite their readers to visualise a P4C classroom. They describe it as: ‘We would see a physical configuration which maximises opportunities for participants—notably, students and teachers—to communicate with one another; a round table format or perhaps a collection of smaller groups… We would see participants building on, shaping and modifying one another’s ideas, bound by their interest in the subject matter to keep a unified focus and to follow the enquiry wherever it may lead, rather than wander off in individual directions. We would hear, from students and from teachers, the kinds of questions, answers, hypotheses, ponderings and explanations which reflect the nature of inquiry as open-ended, yet shaped by a logic which has features which are both general and specific to each discipline or subject. We would detect a persistence to get to the bottom of things, balanced by a realisation that the bottom is a long way down. This means, for example, that the members of a community of enquiry are not afraid to modify their point of view or correct any reasoning—their own or that of their fellow members—which seems faulty; and they are willing to give up an idea or an answer which is found wanting’ (Splitter and Sharp 1995, pp.18, 19). For practical advice on the establishment of a community of enquiry—physical arrangements, length of sessions, how to set the agenda, and how to conduct philosophical enquiries—see, for example, Murris and Haynes (2002, 2010).
There is no space in this paper to explore what Biesta (2010, p. 496) describes as the assumed simplistic relationship between cause and effect in educational interventions. For Biesta, a representational epistemology is a closed system that assumes a particular deterministic causality between an educational intervention and its effect. A transactional epistemology, on the other hand, is an open system that is relational and not isolated from its environment and the exchange of meaning. A semiotic system that is open to children’s own perspectives and to the possibility that children can bring something new into the world cannot rely on texts that model, i.e. represent ideal speech, alone to produce a particular effect.
The conceptual confusion is based on the conflation between children’s intellectual development and their biological maturation and the mirroring of the development of the species (from ‘savage’ to ‘civilised’) with the development of the individual child (Matthews 1994).
People with an education in academic philosophy are not necessarily good P4C teachers. The issue is complex as the pedagogical skills that are inseparable from the philosophical praxis are also an expression of a particular philosophical position. The book Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (Haynes and Murris 2012) is structured around this complexity.
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Murris, K. The Philosophy for Children Curriculum: Resisting ‘Teacher Proof’ Texts and the Formation of the Ideal Philosopher Child. Stud Philos Educ 35, 63–78 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11217-015-9466-3