Philosophy for Children: A Simple, Cost Effective Way to Improve Child Education
End Bullying by Closing the Achievement Gap
The most common thought process most people have is that children don’t have the ability to think critically until they’re twelve years old. But I’d like to make the case that children are actually very receptive to critical thinking, Socratic dialogue, and reason and evidence before that age. The trick is to introduce them to a method that that promotes this kind of thinking early on, and that method is Philosophy for Children.
As is true with most if not all children is their shared desire to be happy. Part of this is wanting to have their voice and ideas heard (I guess this applies to adults as well), so it makes sense that they’d resonate with the old’ Socratic mantra of reason=virtue=happiness. But, it’s even more than this. Children are very curious about the deeper elements and aspects of life. They even want to voice their opinion and thoughts on bigger issues that affect the world.
One of the Most Influential People in Helping Children Speaks Out
Who is this person that is so influential? This person is Matthew Lipman, one of the most influential people to have ever helped children. He posits that the use of a community of inquiry method is a great way for children to practice and learn the basics of reasoning and critical thinking, i.e., philosophy. This method is rooted in the work of John Dewey. The Philosophy for Children (P4C) movement started out in the 1970’s in the US.
Ironically, great homeschoolers and teachers already incorporate a lot of techniques in the P4C method. Most notably the ‘talking circle.’ Before we go any further, I think it’s important to understand why it’s so important for children to learn P4C. If children are taught early on to reason they’re less likely to be susceptible to propaganda. They’re also more likely, in the spirit of Americanism, to grow up with a critical thinking enabled brain which is able to question the dogmatic and ideological facets of things that they’re taught, not necessarily because everything they’re taught is wrong, but rather that they’re able to disseminate false information from the factual. They’ll be able to question everything which is at the heart of healthy thinking and encapsulates the scientific method to a tee. They’re also more likely to be well adapted individuals who go on to lead successful lives.
If we close intellectual achievement gap between children, it simultaneously closes the gap of most invitations of bullying. @yesphonics Click to Tweet
The Beauty of the Talking Circle
One of the primary aspects to the the talking circle is asking children, “What would you like to discuss?” In this form, it engages children in a way that allows them to express themselves in a safe environment. They have the educator (for the purposes of addressing homeschoolers and teachers, I refer to ‘educator’) there that acts as a guidepost for the conversation. This enables children to speak their minds on subjects that interest them, which is VERY exciting for them.
One of the main concerns that advocates for P4C have is that a lot of young people who arrive to college are hyper sensitive, bad at debating and overly politically correct: a recipe for disaster for free speech and intellectual growth. One of the main causes of hypersensitivity, I would argue, is that they’re the generation that has been exposed to day care the most, which is a breeding ground for disaster because it produces the same symptoms of parental abandonment as actual abandonment does. If this is the case, then we need to take a step back and start applying more voluminously and fervently the method of P4C. In this way, students will be prepared to encounter new ideas, even if they seem foreign or scary, with open mindedness and spirited debate, rather than safe spaces and hysterical outbursts. Like they say, the best disinfectant for bad ideas is sunlight. The talking circle readies children for new ideas by teaching them how to debate and discuss information in a respectful and thoughtful manner. It also prepares them to analyze new information and ask questions in a way they might not otherwise.
Teaching children how to use logic and reason is the front runner to improving literacy and numeracy and other cognitive functions. Essentially, with P4C, you’re teaching children the fundamentals on how to think.
How is P4C Implemented?
P4C is intended for primary grade children (K-3rd grade), but it can be implemented as a whole school approach. Training days for teachers take place when schools are not in operation. All staff, including administrators, superintendents, principals, etc. are invited and encouraged to join the training.
The instructors of P4C have teachers and administrators play the role of children where they teach methods of how to use P4C. Teachers get a hands-on, up-close view of how such a system works. Some examples include: sitting in the talking circle, moving to different parts of the room to “defend” different positions or schools of thought. Sometimes these scenarios don’t’ always transition exactly the way they should in a real time classroom setting. Understandably so, some teachers have a reluctance in giving up control over their students–but that’s the key to its successful implementation.
A great example of this situation was in a Catholic school: a student suggested that perhaps “hell” didn’t exist. The teacher refused to even entertain the thought, much less have a discussion about it. It’s an extreme example, but it’s worth highlighting. The ‘take-away,’ in this case, is that when giving children a vehicle for logical inquiry and rational thought, it may lead them down a path of questioning that may be ‘uncomfortable’ for those in a position of power or authority.
Day-to-Day P4C Proceedings in the Classroom
Most of the time, however, teachers allow the system of P4C to run it’s course. Usually the talking circle plays out in the following way: a student asks a question, and they are met by their fellow peers, where they discuss the issue until a logical conclusion is reached. At the end of the discussion, the class will take a vote on a particularly contentious issue, or, they can write their down their own conclusions.
If you would like to learn more about P4C, I suggest listening to this podcast, it’s has a fantastic explanation and it touches on the trials and data surrounding P4C. This video also covers rules to the P4C exercises, what subjects P4C covers, and what the process looks like in the classroom from an educator’s perspective. It also covers how disadvantaged children benefit more from P4C than advantaged children–which is well worth everyone’s time as educators, politicians and everyone in between have been trying to find a way to close the achievement gap. They also discuss how the results of Philosophy for Children is tracked and how it’s measured over time.
Closing the Achievement Gap Will Close the Bullying Gap
I think the most wonderful and fascinating aspect to Philosophy for Children is that early results indicate that when the achievement gap is close that the bullying problem will start to recede as well. Most bullying problems come from the class gap, i.e,, new cars, clothes, more money, etc. etc.. In other words, if we can close the gap of cognitive attainment and the intellectual achievement, it simultaneously closes the gap of most invitations of bullying. Ultimately, this would have a dramatic effect on school culture for kids.
At the end of the day, this is not only an effective solution, but it’s also a solution that’s cost effective. It kneads in values that are universally preferable and develops empathy and compassion in children to the max. If we want a society free of malcontent and one that is prosperous and kind, Philosophy for Children is the starting point.
Philosophy for Children website: https://p4c.com/
Professor Gourd: https://www.dur.ac.uk/education/staff/profile/?id=11539
P4C Research, Data, and Studies: https://v1.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/Philosophy_for_Children.pdf
The Dangers of Daycare: https://www.yesphonics.com/the-dangers-of-daycare/