Ilse Daems: "(...) if they can think for themselves, they are able to deal with the ‘certainty of uncertainty."
I met Ilse at Sophia Network Meeting, last july @ Aveiro. Ilse had a hard time answering my questions, but I think we can all understand Ilse's words and thoughts about P4C.
Who is Ilse? Ilse is 60 years old and lives in Antwerp | Belgium. Left home when she was 12, did not study, has no diploma. Has worked in an advertising agency, the zoo, the trade union, politics. She is copywriter & gamedevil, a lifetime Legofanatic, extreme allergic to fish, seafood and schoolish methods and an expert in colouring way outside the lines.
Can you recall the first time you heard about philosophy for children (p4c)?
It was five years ago. I had worked 20 years behind the scenes in politics [socialist party]. In 2012 my boss, the former mayor of Antwerp, lost the elections. So I lost my job. I was then 55 years old without any diploma and thought: ‘what the hell am I going to do the rest of my life?’ Those days I had to organize in the margins of a colloquium the child care. I did not want that this was a kind of ‘babysitting’. I did not want the kids to be ‘entertained’. I wanted them to work on the same themes as the adults, but from their angle and perspective. I asked a guy from Gent, Alex Klijn, who was recommended to me, to come and to philosophize with the children. I was thunderstruck and over the moon about what he did. He told me there was a training ‘philosophizing with children and youngsters’. I read the description of that course and thought: if I could have invented a training for myself, it would have been something like this…. So my decision was made and I lent the money to do this training because it was insuperable expensive. I asked to be admitted. That was not evident because I did not have the required bachelor diploma. They hesitated but finally agreed. I am still very grateful they gave me that chance. It was a solid and sound training with awesome, competent teachers. I followed this intensive course a year long, did my teaching practice, wrote my final papers and got the certificate. This was the most important junction in my life and has changed it completely.
How did you started working with p4c?
After the training I ran a few workshops and then two schools asked me if I would want to philosophize with their children. In the first school the headmistress, Judith, wants to integrate p4c in all classes and in the curriculum of her nursery and primary school. In the second one a lot of parents wanted their children ‘released’ from ‘religion’ and ‘social science’. They now get p4c and yoga instead. Those schools have no budget for p4c. So I don’t get paid. I do it as a volunteer. With pleasure. And satisfaction.
Do you think p4c is necessary to children? Why?
I think it’s very necessary. Because p4c teachs and trains them to think for themselves. And if they can think for themselves, they are able to deal with the ‘certainty of uncertainty’. To be able to cope with uncertainty, that’s the greatest gift ánd weapon we can offer them.
Nowadays children ( @ Portugal) have a lot of activities at school and after school. Why should we take philosophy to schools?
For two good reasons:
1. At school they learn a lot of ‘knowledge’. Nothing wrong with that. Knowledge can be useful. But they don’t learn the skill of the thinking process itself. They learn thougths, but they do not learn to think. Isn’t that sheer madness? Schools are nuts. They have a screw loose and have lost their marbles. P4c can help them to find those marbles again.
2. P4c is not just another umpteenth ‘activity’. It’s a free space. And that’s why children do like it so much. Their heads and agenda’s are already full. They desperately need free space.
How is P4C developing in your country?
Much too slow.
A lot of practioners want to change first the whole education department before they are willing to make a single p4c move.
They just sit, wait and ‘lobby.’ They lobby year in year out. That’s not my cup of tea. Think we should do the opposite and make p4c big by ‘just doing it.’ Then the education department will have to follow.
And if they are not smart enough to see and to realize that, we will have to be and stay the rebels. Rebels wíth a cause….
What makes a question a philosophical question – from a p4c point of view?
A philosophical question from a p4c point of view is: short, crystal-clear and ‘triggers’.
The answer may not be obvious but has to be inquired.
And the question may not be too big, general or vague.
‘Can music become wet ?’ might be a better question for a philisophical inquiry with children than the ultimate and deadly heavy ‘what is the meaning of life?’
What’s the biggest challenge p4c faces, nowadays?
To beat and defeat the highly fashionable ‘p4c light’.
Some people want to do p4c because ‘kids are sooooo cute, soooooo spontaneous and sooooo creative’.
They think that it’s enough to put kids in a circle and to have a vague talk about love, friendschip, the meaning of life, bullying….that kind of stuff.
They do not know the difference between a group discussion and p4c.
They are glad with every ‘opinion’ and haven not or seldom heard the word ‘argument’ yet.
And they feel giddy and faint when a child says something ‘cute’.
For them those cuteness is the ultimate ‘mission accomplished’ signal. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
To take p4c serious is to take children serious and to let them think for themselves.
They are able to do it.
Can you give the teachers and the parents some kid of advice to help them deal with the children’s questions?
A very simple one: talk with children and just don’t give answers all the time.
A lot of parents and teachers only talk with their children if those kids have done something naugthy.
And if children ask questions they are convinced that they have to give the answers.
If a child shows you his latest drawing and asks ‘Do you like it? Do you think its beautiful?’ ask him what he thinks.
And start a conversation about what he has drawn.
‘What is it?’
Does it look like a boat?
Did the children ever surprised you with a question? Can you share that question with us?
They surprise me all the time. That is their core business But the one that surprised me the most was Aki’s question. It happened at the annual school party. Out of the blue Aki dropped in on me and said:
‘I have played enough, Ilse, for now I desperately need to philosophize a while and my question is: what is the oposite of time?‘
So we talked about the fact that we talk about time ‘all the time’ although we don’t know very well what time is.We have difficulties to define it.According to Aki we cannot say that we have time.In his eyes we are time.‘Time is all there is’ he said. And then his eyes started to shine: ‘If time is everything, than I know the opposite: nothing! And after a while: ‘But is nothing not also something?’ That’s for the next time, he said. And ran away to play.