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Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Lecture Theatre 2 In Conversation Salons.
Philosophy for children (P4C) is a growing movement that seems to many teachers to restore faith in the education system. It is said to be able to create ‘little big minds’ and to enable children to become critical, caring, creative and collaborative. No more learning by rote for endless tests; here is a chance to develop young minds to think for themselves. Philosophy is employed as a key resource to improve the quality of children’s thinking and to help them explore ‘how things are’ and ‘who they are’, to ‘learn more from [their] experience and make better use of [their] intelligence’. Its popularity has increased since the introduction of SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspect of Learning) programmes in schools, which, along with other initiatives, attempts to develop critical thinking. When Education minister Ed Balls overhauled the primary curriculum recently, cutting the number of traditional subjects to make room for ‘concept-based’ lessons, many saw this as a chance to embed the new ‘personal, learning and thinking skills’ (PLTS) into teaching.
Various training schemes present philosophy for children as a way of introducing them to rigorous thinking, but some critics see it as another example of the therapeutic turn in education – a recent trend towards prioritising self-esteem and emotional well-being rather than traditional subject-teaching. When children’s ‘personal development’ is given equal status to English and maths, is there a danger that philosophy is reduced to little more than infantile ‘self help’ mantras? Others think philosophy is simply too difficult for children. How realistic is it for children to ‘do philosophy’ when traditionally the subject has been withheld from the young until at least university level precisely because it requires levels of abstract thinking way beyond the average pre-pubescent youth, let alone infants? Will the P4C movement wise up children or dumb down philosophy?
fellow, political theory, LSE; co-convenor, IoI Postgraduate Forum
Dr Joanna Haynes
senior lecturer, education, University of Plymouth; author, Children as Philosophers
Dr Stephen Law
editor, THINK; senior lecturer in philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London; author, The War for Children’s Minds
Professor Dennis Hayes
professor, education, University of Derby; chair, Academics for Academic Freedom; author, Defending Higher Education: the crisis of confidence in the academy.