Laura D'Olimpio: "I think adults can also gain a great deal by pausing to reflect on the “why?” questions children ask"
I met Laura on twitter - YES! social media bringing people from all over the world togheter! Laura is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, at The University of Notre Dame Australia. She is also Co-editor Journal of Philosophy in Schools - if you don't know what it is, please check it out here.
Laura, thank you so much for giving me some of your time answering my questions. Do you recall the first time you heard about philosophy for children (p4c)? "When I started my PhD in Philosophy, I was working as a research assistant for a drama educator who ran drama and literacy workshops for gifted and talented children from ages 3 – 18. It was through this work that I discovered philosophy for children in 2004. I started using narrative, music and drama as vehicles to encourage children’s questions and exploration of ideas. I was amazed at the philosophical questions and discussions that resulted from this work and published my first article “Drama and Philosophy: Language, Thinking and Laughing Out Loud!” in the International Drama Educators Association (IDEA)/Applied Theatre Researcher Journal as a result. I still love the connection between aesthetic education and philosophy in schools."
How did you start working with p4c? "I was working on my PhD Thesis in Philosophy at UWA when I encountered P4C. My Thesis, The Moral Possibilities of Mass Art, explored how narrative art, and film in particular, could be used as a tool for moral education and encourage critical thinking in viewers. I eventually decided that what was needed was to train viewers to be critically engaged from a young age. Therefore, by my last chapter, I was recommending P4C as an ideal method by which to achieve this goal."
Do you think p4c is necessary for children? Why?
"I believe that children are natural philosophers in the sense that they are inquisitive and love learning about life and the world around them. I think it is important to encourage children’s “why?” questions, and take them seriously. I think adults can also gain a great deal by pausing to reflect on the “why?” questions children ask, and taking the time to engage in a dialogue in which we are all inquirers seeking truth and wisdom. I think this can be done playfully, without losing the sense of importance such questions and their answers naturally convey. What I love about P4C is that it consciously does all of these things, and makes room in educational spaces for such philosophical reflection, wondering, dialogue and the exploration of ideas for their own sake. This is sorely needed in a time where a lot of education is aimed at test results and measurable outcomes."
I don't know about Australia, but nowadays, in Portugal children have a lot of activities at school and after school. Why should we take philosophy to schools? "Philosophy is valuable because it trains the thinking skills everyone needs in life. Studying philosophy involves explicitly learning how to formulate, defend, justify, analyse and critique arguments. Philosophy focusses on conceptual and normative questions that are central to how humans make meaning and justify what they value in life. It also allows for critical reflection on the history of ideas that have led us to where we are now. The study of philosophy is valuable in and of itself. Another way to argue that busy teachers should include it in their curriculum is by pointing to the measurable benefits P4C offers students. There have been empirical studies done (by Trickey & Topping in the UK, by Buranda State School in Queensland, Australia, and more recently by the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK), that demonstrate that students who study one hour per week of philosophy in the classroom have improved literacy, numeracy and problem-solving skills, plus there are reports of better behaviour as well. These results are not surprising because the study of philosophy trains general thinking skills. Furthermore, the community of inquiry pedagogy promoted by advocates of P4C encourages respectful dialogue and empathetic engagement with others whose ideas may differ from one’s own. P4C therefore promotes the practice of good habits, and also improves overall test results, while not being costly to implement in the classroom. Given this is the case, the real question is why aren’t more schools offering philosophy as a compulsory subject to all students?!
Let's talk about questions: can you help us understand what is a philosophical question? "There is some debate about what makes a question philosophical, both within the P4C tradition, and in the field of Philosophy. A question is philosophical if it is open, ‘deep’, and doesn’t yield an immediately obvious answer. A philosophical question invites contemplation, wonder, and will generate multiple answers. The job of philosophers or inquirers is to investigate these answers in order to determine which is the best and most reasonable. And by ‘best’, I mean that the argument is justified and logically constructed, that its premises are sound, and assumptions valid. The conclusion or ‘answer’ that follows will also stand the test of time and take its place among the history of ideas. This is why the classic philosophical questions are eternally relevant to human beings’ quest for a meaningful life.
Can you give the teachers and the parents some kid of advice to help them deal with the children’s questions? "It’s OK to say ‘Good question! I don’t know the answer to that either. Let’s think about it together’! Genuine inquiry starts with puzzlement and wonder and moves forward from there. Don’t be in a rush to get to the end of the inquiry – I think about the process of philosophical inquiry as a lifelong journey! We can revisit the same questions countless times and we keep exploring and uncovering new ideas, building upon or revising and refining ideas from previous inquiry sessions, and that’s a good thing. A really good tip for teachers is to always do a final reflection – for the participants in the inquiry as well as for yourself. Give everyone the chance for a ‘last word’ (which they can ‘pass’ on if they like), and give yourself 5 - 10 minutes to reflect on what worked, what you’d like to improve upon, and moments that surprised you."
Laura works mostly with university students and she takes many P4C games and activities to her classroom: "Children, and adults surprise me all the time with their questions and ideas! That’s why I love teaching philosophy." Laura knows that P4C faces many challenges: "P4C has to be inclusive and encouraging of variations on theory and practice in order to allow for growth and expansion if they wish to remain relevant and innovative. I don’t think P4C can afford to be too strictly tied to the ‘purist’ Lipman model if it is going to continue to attract increasing numbers of supporters who are both academics / researchers as well as practitioners, but at the same time, we should also preserve those classical origins of the movement. P4C also needs to continue to establish and maintain positive research ties to those working in Philosophy of Education, and Philosophy more generally. An inclusive and expansive approach will ensure P4C or ‘philosophy in schools’ continues to grow and be well respected in academic circles as well as within educational spaces."
p4c = philosophy for children
bold sentences = my responsability