P4C and the curriculum
There is a popular approach to doing philosophy with children that involves presenting a stimulus (often a picture book), having the children formulate questions, gathering and sorting the questions and then having the children vote on a question to discuss. There can be great value in this student-centred approach to discussions, however it can make doing P4C in the curriculum more difficult. The reason for this is that, according to the principles of a standard P4C Community of Inquiry in the UK, the children significantly determine the direction of the discussion. So, if you’ve chosen the picture book Elmer by David McKee because you want the class to explore the notion of ‘difference’, there is always the danger that the children will focus on a completely different theme with the question that they vote on or that they naturally move towards during the discussion, such as the theme of ‘celebration’. In these cases, if you wanted to pursue your intended theme you would have to do some expert engineering to bring students back on track, therefore jeopardising their autonomy. And even if the question they choose does have some relation to the intended theme, it may not do so in the relevant way for a good fit with the curriculum. One response is to reject the idea of doing ‘P4C for curriculum fit’, but the reality is that many teachers would prefer P4C to fit with their curriculum. One very good reason for advocating ‘curriculum fit’ in P4C is because there is a danger that teachers will abandon it if they don’t see it directly relating to the curriculum or if they can’t integrate P4C into the curriculum. A P4C session designed for curriculum fit can ‘fit’ in a broader way or in a narrower way. Both of these have a place.
My new book 40 Lessons to get Children Thinking: Philosophical Thought Adventures across the Curriculum provides new sessions for philosophical enquiry that have some curriculum fit. Sometimes the fit is broad, so ‘The Incredible Shrinking Machine’ allows children to explore what they think about ‘the microcosm’. This has a fit with many topics in the curriculum such as dissolving, microscopes or evaporation. (Incidentally, one of the key misconceptions in these areas for primary-aged children is to think that because something can’t be seen it therefore doesn’t exist; this could significantly feed into how well children understand a topic like evaporation.) In other instances the fit is narrower. The session ‘Is This a Poem?’ asks the children to think more specifically about what exactly a poem is and ‘The Hypothesis Box’ is sharply focused on how one tests a hypothesis. Appendix 5 (page 171) describes a model for creating enquiries around the curriculum and I’d like to share a session (not in the book!) that a teacher and I devised using this model following a request from two teachers for something on ‘migration’. The key insight came from the brainstorming part of the procedure, and, interestingly, from that part that asks one to think of ‘what X is not’. The concept of a holiday (contrasting with migration) provided the key insight for this session’s development. I’ve seen this session successfully delivered by teachers and I’ve also run it myself.
So, if you wanted to do something around the curriculum topic of ‘migration’, you could run a standard P4C Community of Inquiry using something like the painting The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown as a stimulus, crossing your fingers that the children fix upon a migration-related question.
Or, you could run the following, more sharply focused session.
(This is formatted in the same way as the ‘Thought Adventures’ in the book)
Thought Adventure 41!
Here and Elsewhere – thinking about migration and identity
This is not only a curriculum topic (at the time of writing), it is also a topical topic, and, in my experience in schools in South East London, one that has special significance for the children I have run this session with, many of them being immigrants – or the children of immigrants – themselves.
Equipment and preparation needed: a whiteboard and pens
Subject links: Geography, migration
Key controversies: When, if ever, does your national identity change? Can it ever be the case that, in a way, one is X-ian and, in a way, one is Y-ian? What makes you X-ian?
Key concepts and vocabulary: migration, immigration, culture, blood, ancestors, DNA
Key Facilitation Skill: Anchoring – this is the technique of asking a simple but central (usually grammatically closed) question that you keep coming back to in order to help keep things focused and to encourage contributors to construct arguments (with premises and a conclusion). In this case, the question may be: ‘So would you be Herian or Elsewherian?’ Keep coming back to these, or similar questions over and over again, but always remember to ‘open it up’ if necessary, usually with ‘Why?’, ‘What do you mean by…?’, ‘Can you say more about that?’ or ‘Can you give an example?’
Begin by saying the following to the class:
Say: There are two countries: a country called ‘Here’ and another called ‘Elsewhere’ [feel free to rename these]. You are from Here. You were born there and have lived there your whole life. This year you are going on your first holiday to Elsewhere. In Elsewhere they do things differently from how things are done in Here.
Do: Draw a simple diagram showing two countries and label them ‘Here’ and ‘Elsewhere’. Write ‘You are…’ above Here and draw an arrow pointing to Here.
A long holiday
Start question: When you go on holiday are you still Herian or do you become Elsewherian?
What if you went on holiday for…
- 6 weeks?
- 1 year?
- 2 years?
- 5 years?
And so on…
- Would you ever become Elsewherian?
- If so, how long would you need to be in Elsewhere before you became Elsewherian?
- What is it that makes you X-ian (Herian, Elsewherian, English, Jamaican and so on)?
- What is national identity?
- Can national identity change?
War, famine, disease, natural disaster
Say: While you are on holiday in Elsewhere something terrible happens back home in Here: there’s a terrible war in one part, there’s no food in another, a virulent disease is ravaging the country and there’s been an awful earthquake! This means that you and your family cannot go back to Here. You have to stay in Elsewhere.
Task Question: Are you Herian or Elsewherian?
Main nested questions:
- At what point, if at all, would you become Elsewherian?
- What, if anything, would make you Elsewherian?
Extension activity: When in Elsewhere…
Say: At the beginning, I said that in Elsewhere they do things differently to how things are done in Here. Here are some of the ways that they do things differently:
- In Here they celebrate birthdays but in Elsewhere they don’t.
- In Here they drive on the left hand side of the road and in Elsewhere they drive on the right.
- Elsewherians speak a different language.
- Elsewherians eat insects like we eat prawns.
- In Here everyone is educated but in Elsewhere only the girls are university educated; the boys are trained only for the workplace.
Start question: What do you think about these different practices? Do you agree with them?
- Should you follow these different practices while in Elsewhere?
- They feel very strange to you now. Will they ever feel normal?
Extension Activity: Turning the tables
Do: You could have the class imagine that they are from Elsewhere: they are Elsewherian, born and bred. Use this ‘turning of the tables’ to see if it impacts on their views and/or to engender different but related discussions around migration.
The Philosophy Foundation website: In another class? – Thinking about classes, sets and vagueness
Thoughtings: From Me To You
The Philosophy Shop: Metaphysics: Identity
The If Machine: Republic Island
Once Upon an If: Sindbad and The Pit
The If Odyssey: The Battle (The Ciconians) and Dinner Guests (The Laestrygonians)