Oscar Brenifier: "Do not answer the questions of children, unless they first propose themselves an initial hypothesis, or different ones. Teach them to be autonomous, instead of mere consumers."
Oscar Brenifier, holds a Bachelor of biology degree (University of Ottawa) and a PhD in Philosophy (Paris IV – Sorbonne). For many years, in France as well as in the rest of the world, he has been working on the concept of ‘philosophical practice’, both from a theoretical and practical viewpoint. He is one of the main promoters of the project of philosophy in the city, organizing philosophy workshops for children and adults and philosophy cafés, working as a philosophy consultant, etc. He has published about fifty books in this domain, including the ‘Philozenfants’ series (Editions Nathan), which has been translated into over thirty-five languages. He founded the Institut de Pratiques Philosophiques (Institute of philosophical practice), to train practical philosophers and organize philosophy workshops in various places: schools, old people’s homes, prisons, social centers,organizations, etc. He is one of the authors of the UNESCO report: “Philosophy, a school of freedom”.
At the Institut de Pratiques Philosophiques' website there are free books that you can download.
Can you recall the first time you heard about philosophy for children (p4c)?
I vaguely remember: I was still young at the time. It was when I proposed to an elementary school to hold a philosophy workshop with the children . Until then I was primarily doing workshop with adults. But when later on I heard the coined expression “P4C”, I noticed it often had little to do with philosophy.
How did you started working with p4c?
In a regular way, it was when my eldest daughter entered kindergarten. I proposed to the director of the school to hold regular workshops with different classes of children, aged between 3 and 5. I then made different experiments, invented diverse exercises, to make the children think.
Do you think p4c is necessary to children? Why?
No, it is not necessary. No more than art or gymnastics is necessary. Most people live without exercising their body or their mind, and manage quite well to survive. But of course, one might criticize the fact that they are missing on something important.
Nowadays children ( @ Portugal) have a lot of activities at school and after school. Why should we take philosophy to schools?
I don’t think we should. There is no foundation for such an obligation. But the good thing about philosophy is precisely that it is a non-activity, in the middle of all these activities.
What makes a question a philosophical question – from a p4c point of view?
Strange presupposition. It implies that there is a specific “p4c point of view”. I did not know. In a more general way, I don’t think there is such a thing as “philosophical questions”, but there are philosophical ways to deal with a question. For example, multiplicity of answers, guidance of reason, argumentation, problematization, etc. In this sense, all questions can be philosophical.
What’s the biggest challenge p4c faces, nowadays?
To do philosophy, instead of holding cute discussions, going beyond a mere exchange of feelings and opinions. Learning to listen attentively, to analyse, to question rigorously, etc.
Can you give the teachers and the parents some kid of advice to help them deal with the children’s questions?
Do not answer the questions of children, unless they first propose themselves an initial hypothesis, or different ones. Teach them to be autonomous, instead of mere consumers.
Did the children ever surprised you with a question? Can you share that question with us?
Yes. “Can I go out to the toilet?”. I was surprised, because I naively forgot how much human beings connect to their body more than to their mind.