I met Jane on twitter, Jane and her "Philosopher's Backpack". In her website we can read that Jane " has over 20 years of practical experience of P4C with primary school children. She is a registered SAPERE trainer and has led P4C training for over 1200 primary and secondary teachers from over 200 schools across the UK and also in Spain, Mexico City, Nepal, India, British Virgin Islands and Malawi. These include: whole school training, comissioned courses and open courses for state, private and international schools." I asked Jane to share her point of view about P4C and she answered so quickly! Thank you so much, Jane.
Can you recall the first time you heard about philosophy for children (p4c)? "I heard about P4C in 1993 from a primary geography lecturer called Chris Rowley (one of the founders of P4C in the UK) at the teacher training college, Charlotte Mason College. He did a workshop at a conference that I helped to organise in response to the infamous Rio Earth Summit in 1992 through my work with Cumbria Development Education Centre, which is based at the college."
And how did you started working with p4c? "Every few weeks, some of the lecturers at Charlotte Mason College, where I was working(and had trained), would hold a community of enquiry with each other using the Lipman stories as the stimulus. They kindly invited me to take part. As someone in my early 20s, I remember feeling quite daunted practising ‘philosophy’ with all these learned academics as I had come from an educational background where philosophy was certainly never an option. I was like one of those quieter children you sometimes find in P4C sessions in the classroom. I worried I would be laughed at. I worried that I didn’t have the sophisticated vocabulary to articulate my thoughts. Over time, I grew more confident to speak in this group and realised the impact it could therefore have on pupils. It was during these sessions that I learnt the nuts and bolts of reasoning and realised what a rigorous process P4C should be. I was then hugely fortunate to work with some of the lecturers at the college to try out P4C in some local schools and from there many projects developed. I was part of the catalyst for connecting P4C and Global Citizenship way back in 2010. Whatever job I’ve had, I’ve always tried to build in P4C somewhere. For the last five years, I’ve gone back to teaching and have been working with my school to achieve the P4C Gold Award (a new accreditation we have here in the UK). It was an absolute joy to achieve this in 2015. Crickey! That’s over 25 years of P4C!" Jane, that's kind of a lifetime. Congratulations!
Do you think p4c is necessary to children? Why? "I think p4c is totally necessary. Young children begin their lives naturally wondering about the world. As babies, they use their hands to manipulate objects to explore and wonder about their immediate world. There’s a lot of research about the link between the brain and the hand and how important brain connections are made when toddlers are stimulated to think through object play. As children begin to develop language, there’s a shift of thinking towards speech. This wondering about the ‘world’ can extend not just to their own world, but to that beyond their own immediate experience. I believe that the ability to wonder is our most important human capacity. Just as we would not hesitate to provide a stimulating environment for babies, we must also provide stimulus for thinking as babies become children and navigate their way to becoming adults. Through thinking, children learn about the world, but they also learn about each other. It helps them develop relationships, judgements and decisions."
In Portugal have a lot of activities at school and after school. There's a lot of discussion going on around this. Why should we take philosophy to schools? "Once children know what is expected from a p4c session, it can transfer to any aspect of school through curriculum lessons and life in school. Some of the best p4c that I see happens naturally in a corridor between individuals. Philosophy, ultimately, should help us to live a better life."
What makes a question a philosophical question – from a p4c point of view? "There’s lots of debate over this. Most of my P4C follows the Lipman tradition by the hugely powerful experience of children developing their own questions. In this case, I would say a philosophical question generated by children needs to include, explicitly or implicitly, a clear concept or two. The way the question is framed needs to have potential to engage everyone in the community. My favourite way of describing a philosophical question is to say that it is one that we are ‘not going to settle easily’ and ‘there might be different opinions and ideas within and outside our community’ and ‘we might need to apply logic and reasoning to test out different examples within our question’."
Sometimes we hear that a philosophical question has no right or wrong. What do you think about this, Jane? "It used to frustrate me that children often get into a habit of saying philosophical questions have ‘no right or wrong answers’. Arguably, the concepts of right and wrong are so huge in themselves that this notion can often reduce the complexity of a philosophical question to something rather more simplistic. And with this, there comes a tendency for relativism. However, I would suggest that sometimes children perceive ‘something’ from their unique individual experience of being part of a philosophical enquiry and jump to the conclusion there is ‘no right or wrong answers’ rather than it being something the facilitator has stated or encouraged. The binary concept of ‘no right or wrong’ is a hugely powerful one for children, especially when their experience of childhood might have very clear boundaries of what is right and wrong! For me, when this situation arises, it makes for a timely opportunity to explore the concept of right and wrong as binaries and as concepts on their own. Having said all this, some of the best enquiries have come when the questions have not been obviously philosophical. Increasingly, I am seeing the importance of involving the children in enquiry around the philosophical value of the questions themselves. I also think there is necessary value in the facilitator bringing questions that are not generated by the children through discussion plans and activities to deepen and further philosophical enquiry."
What’s the biggest challenge p4c faces, nowadays? "It’s always challenging giving the time to start something new. People want quick results and P4C is not something that can change things over night. I don’t think you can do p4c half-heartedly with children, as they will know you are doing this and the rich benefits will not be as apparent."
What can you say to teachers and parents about P4C, some kind of advice?
"As a teacher, I would use Socratic questions within the context of the enquiry to respond and help them deepen their thinking. I’m more of a facilitator of their thinking without swaying them with my own opinions. As a parent, I would always try and find out their thinking behind the question: What made you ask that question? It’s so easy to make assumptions about the meaning behind our children’s questions. Then I’d ask: What do you think? I’m more of a co-enquirer with my own children. For example, sometimes I might agree or disagree with what they are saying, through reasoning. Above all, I never tell them they are wrong. My 10 year old son made up a great quote recently: ‘If you say someone’s wrong then you are closing the question, but if you disagree with someone then you are opening it up for more answers.”
Can you share a question that really surprised you? "I’m never generally surprised by any question but I’ve had many that have really made me think. Once, we had an enquiry around: “If children were in charge of school, then how would school be different?” What interested me most, was their ideas were hugely possible and powerful but called for a very different structure than our current tradition of schooling. We must never underestimate the power of children’s ideas and only see them within the narrow lenses of our own experience."