Philosophy 4 Children: can kids do Kant?

Sunday 1 November, 10.45am until 12.15pm, Lecture Theatre 2

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? 

Dr James Gledhill
fellow in political theory, LSE; co-convenor, IoI Postgraduate Forum

Dr Joanna Haynes
senior lecturer, education, University of Plymouth; author, Children as Philosophers

Dr Stephen Law
head, Centre for Inquiry UK; senior lecturer in philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London; author, The War for Children’s Minds

Professor Dennis Hayes
professor of education, University of Derby

Produced by
Professor Dennis Hayes professor of education, University of Derby
Recommended readings
Young Philosophers

When Socrates pondered the immortality of the soul, Gopnik argues, he should have considered the sort of afterlife that parents can obtain through their children.

Anthony Gottlieb, New York Times, 6 August 2009

Philosophy for Children

Philosophy prior to high school seems relatively uncommon around the world. This may suggest that serious philosophical thinking is not for pre-adolescents, for two principal reasons. However, both of these can be challenged.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 June 2009

Children as Philosophers

This book was written with the belief that philosophy, the use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality, can assist with children's thinking, speaking and listening skills as well as providing a stimulus and structure for morals enquiry within the PSE/citizenship curriculum.

Joanna Haynes, Routledge, 22 November 2001

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