Children can be philosophers too

21st January 2005 at 00:00
The article on storytelling in Primary Forum was encouraging, at least in promoting the value of stories for children: "Children need stories. They make them think. They make them ask questions. They show them other worlds." (TES, January 7).

This is precisely why stories are used as stimuli for thinking during Philosophy for Children (P4C). Children are also offered opportunities to learn to think more deeply about issues that arise from the stories, and are encouraged to listen and engage more significantly with what they have heard. During P4C, children learn to ask open, searching questions for themselves instead of listening to the teacher's questions, as Jill Parkin incorrectly suggests.

Children also learn to respond critically and creatively to a stimulus, giving reasons to support their arguments. They have the chance to practise applying their thinking to difficult questions that involve making judgements and justifying their responses. Jill implies that all children can do this as a result of reading and it is here that I disagree.

In an ideal world, where all children can read and are surrounded by supportive, well-educated, interested parents with plenty of time to devote to reading and sharing stories with their children, and the willingness to do so, perhaps these critical capacities are naturally present. In much of our society this is not the norm, so children need the skilled practice of facilitators to scaffold the acquisition of these valuable skills at school.

Contrary to Jill's assumption, the teacher will not be telling the children what to think either. It is the children who present the interpretations and learn to apply criteria in order to evaluate them. The teacher prompts them to recognise weak or inappropriate reasoning and poor arguments, and helps to widen the range of perspectives available. This is why there is increasing interest in resources that can be used to stimulate philosophical debate in classrooms and also why teachers request training from SAPERE, the recognised British charity for P4C. Many teachers do not feel immediately able to recognise the stories that are most appropriate for this type of discussion, hence collections like But Why? Publishers will always respond to need; that is their business.

Perhaps it is time to critically review more of these story collections and apply appropriate criteria for their evaluation. Would Jill now be prepared to openly reconsider her question "Who needs this most?'"

Alison Hall Teacher 7 College Road Upper Beeding, West Sussex

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