Peter Worley | Thought Adventure 41: Here and Elsewhere – thinking about migration and identity

Originally posted on Education:

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…

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Be a Philosopher!

World Philosophy Day is here again on Thursday 19th November.

Download free lesson plans from our website to inspire your classes; don a beret or a beard and get thinking!

In Peter Worley’s latest book, 40 lessons to get children thinking (one for every week of the school year, plus a spare, because philosophy isn’t just for a day!), he wants to inspire young thinkers to become philosophers.

The downloadable appendix ‘Be a philosopher‘ can be handed out to your classes to help them do just that. He suggests:

  • Drink ‘n’ Think: Pour yourself a drink: a cup of tea, a cup of coffee or your favourite soft drink. Sit down somewhere comfortable and drink the drink slowly, thinking only about one chosen question for as long as it takes you to finish your drink. Talking to yourself out loud is permitted.
  • Thought ‘n’ Talk: Find someone (a teacher – if they have time, a friend or family member) who is willing to spend five or more minutes discussing a chosen question with you. Read them the question and then discuss it together.
  • Write ‘n’ Reason: Take a piece of paper (or your philosopher’s notebook) and write your chosen question at the top of a clean page. Either simply free-write (just write what comes into your head) in answer to the question or, if you prefer, use the structure suggested in the attached document.This ties in with a previous article written by Peter on Innovate My School: improving writing through dialogue

In Be a philosopher you will find the writing structure and some suggested questions – of course, you can always come up with your own philosophical questions to ponder.

The Philosophy Foundation this year is running an event at the Mercers’ Company on Friday 20th November in celebration of World Philosophy Day – we have children from some of our London schools ready to run philosophy sessions with other students in a ‘Philosophical Agora’, plus we will be running philosophy sessions with all 150 students at this sold out event.

And join us on Saturday 21st November at Conway Hall for the third annual Philosophy Now Festival. We are running sessions for young philosophers aged 4-7 and 8-14. Our sessions are nearly sold out, but there are plenty of other philosophical adventures happening all day, and the award ceremony for the Contribution to the Fight Against Stupidity, this year won by Cressida Cowell.

Happy thinking.

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Write a #Shorting for National Poetry Day and Win Books

Win a copy of ’40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking’ or the award-winning ‘Thoughtings’.

‘This collection of poems is very, very irritating. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your bed. It’s irritating like having toast crumbs in your brain… getting toast crumbs out of your bed is fun. They jump up and down. Some of them refuse to be swept out. Some of them find new places to hide. Some invite you to nibble them. Getting toast crumbs out of your mind is just like that too.’

Michael Rosen, from his foreword to Thoughtings by Andrew Day and Peter Worley

For National Poetry Day 2015 Andrew and Peter would like to invite you, and your classes, to write a Shorting (a short Thoughting). Tweet your short ‘poem for thinking’ with the hashtag #Shorting and we’ll gather them together and post them all here after National Poetry Day.

This competition is open to adults and young people (under 18) . The teacher (or parent, or interested adult) prize will be a copy of Peter’s new book 40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking and the under 18 prize, a copy of Thoughtings.

Need inspiration on poetry in the classroom? Download Thought Adventure Number 8, Is This a Poem? from 40 Lessons, on The Philosophy Foundation’s website.

What’s a Thoughting?


Thoughtings: poems for thinking

In 2012 Andrew Day and Peter Worley wrote a book called Thoughtings: Puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with (Awarded Teach Primary Magazine’s ‘Best Teaching Book’ 2014) to use in classrooms to stimulate philosophy sessions. Michael Rosen, who wrote the foreword (or forward!) for Thoughtings recommends it in his book for parents Good Ideas (2014). The title for Thoughtings was coined by a 6-year-old who was asked to say what thinking is without saying the word ‘think’ or ‘thinking’ in his answer; he said, ‘It’s when you’re thoughting’. There are free downloadable Thoughtings for you to use National Poetry Day on our website.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking, Philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum

What’s a Shorting?

In Peter Worley’s new book 40 lesson to get children thinking (out in October 2015) he has a chapter called ‘Is This A Poem?’ to help classes think through what poems are (and what they’re not). In the chapter he introduces the idea of a ‘Shorting’, a Thoughting for the Twitter generation: a ‘poem for thinking’ in 130 characters or less (to make space for the hashtag)! Here are some Shortings by Andrew and Peter:

Nospacetothinkmakesnosense. Space to think makes sense. B ut notw hen thes p ace s a r ei nthew ron gp lac e s.

I’ve got 140 characters I can play. Which one shall I be today? Let’s see what other people do and what they make me say.

Deciding is taking a scalpel and making a clean incision, cutting away the alternatives every time you make a decision.

Over to you! 

Write your shorting, post on twitter with the #shorting, or if you’re not on twitter send it to us via email

Thoughtings (plus more free poetry resources) on our site.

40 Lessons to Get Children Thinking will be available in October, available for pre-order now.

For more on our work on philosophy in schools and with children visit our website


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Tales from the Nursery

By Steve Hoggins

steve listeningI have been doing philosophy with nursery children for the last couple of years (having previously worked as a nursery teacher) and I have noticed some differences between doing philosophy with them and doing philosophy with older children, which I’d like to share.

Get their attention

The first significant difference is that nursery children aren’t regimented into a formal lesson structure. Their activities are child-centred and free flow. As an approach to education there is much to admire here but for our slot of 15 minutes we don’t have the luxury of waiting for opportunities to do philosophy. However, nursery children rarely sit down with the express purpose of following your lesson plan. To overcome this problem I have had to try and make ‘following my plan’ the most interesting thing for them to do. Partly this is achieved through your selection of resources, choice of games etc. but I think one key element is having an infectious enthusiasm yourself. Try stepping into nursery with a pillowcase thrown over your shoulder, a cardboard crown on your head and proclaim “Quick! The story of the Unhappy prince is about to begin!”.

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. During the beginning, middle and end of the lesson and in the most immediate way, that is to say make them interact with you, their story-teller, narrator, problem-setter or puppeteer. Then you have them and the ground is fertile for you to plant the philosophical problem. However, engagement doesn’t always come easy.

I was being observed when, mid-way through telling a story, one child suddenly pipes up with,

“I want to go upstairs”

“Sure you can go, upstairs”, I reply.

“I want to go upstairs as well” chimes in another.


“Me too!” I let this child leave too.

“Can I go?” Says another as she is halfway out the door.

“Upstairs!” Choruses the rest of the group, rising. Cue a mass exodus. I lose the entire group to the mysterious delights of ‘upstairs’; I look across the empty room to the person observing me.

“This doesn’t always happen…”

Set out the basics

The engagement needed was there, but it wasn’t enough. I also needed to set out some routines and start developing some habits. These are things that our older students are already aware of, we just have to asked them to do it in the right way. Nursery needs to be introduced to these ways of working as a group. First was the concept of ‘sitting down’. As adults we view sitting down as a position that one adopts, usually for some length of time, when one is at rest. Children seem to view sitting down as a split-second transition between standing up and rolling all around the floor, limbs flailing towards the ribs of nearby teachers. Success in this area is never really complete until children are about 23 years old, I feel, but you can make progress. To get them sat in the right place I have tried a three stage strategy:

Games1. A catching game in which the prize for catching the ball is to sit in the special circle! (that I have taped out on the floor prior to the session).

2. Many children will know the ‘Make a Circle’ song, which is set to the tune of Frere Jacques; also a good way of getting them in place.

3. Then, I play the passing game in which they have to call the name of another child and roll the ball to them. The idea behind this is that they develop the habit of talking to each other (not just me), taking turns and joining in. Try this out and if it doesn’t work try it again.

Running games with young children can take a lot of problem solving to get just right.

I’m running the pass-the-ball game with some success. Most of the children have had a turn, many of them said someone else’s name and passed that person the ball. At least two of them have said someone’s name but then threw the ball directly up, dislodging several ceiling tiles in the process. Currently one child is gripping the Elmer ball and incoherently mumbling their own monologue with occasional audible exclamations of ‘elephant!’. I gently lean forward with the glittery butterfly puppet, and as she reaches for it, I whip the ball away with my spare hand so the rest of us can continue the game.

Get to the philosophy

Once I have their attention and covered the basics I have between 1 and 13 precious minutes of philosophy potential. Most weeks I hit around the 7 mark. My success indicators for philosophy are different for younger children and by themselves may not, rightly be called philosophy. However, I consider them to be part of doing philosophy, a significant part too. More so than ‘being awake’ is part of doing philosophy but obviously less than ‘expressing valid arguments in syllogistic form’ is.

One of the greatest struggles is finding the point at which the children find a concept controversial. Friendship, for example is normally a term we reserve for describing human relationships, perhaps stretching to pets before it gets debatable whether Fido can be a friend. Children, I discovered, had few difficulties with considering animals as friends.

Fido & RobotCan Jack and Fido be friends?

“Yes!” several children shout, some hands go up.

“Why?” I ask one child.

“Cause Fido is happy to see Jack”

I ask others in the group. There are no contrary views but I had anticipated this.

“OK, can jack be a friend with a robot?” I whip out a robot picture and pass it to Lyra.

She puts it next to the picture of Jack and proclaims them friends.

We still haven’t got an opposing viewpoint.

“Who thinks Jack and the robot are NOT friends?”

Silence. I begin to improvise.

“Can Jack and this pen be friends?”


I really didn’t think they would say that,

“Can you show me?”

Mason picks up the pen and the picture of Jack. He then puts on a crude puppet show in which Jack and pen meet, say hello and are best friends thereafter.

“Can Jack and this piece of paper be friends?”


“So why can’t they be friends, Casey?”

“Because paper can’t talk”


Finally I was getting to the bite point, the point at which children think of it as a friend and not a friend, the point at which it is controversial. They may not go further to give conditions of friendship (like ‘talking’) as Casey did in my cherry-picked example, but doing philosophy is substantially helped when the children see that there is a problem.

Once a problem has been spotted children tend towards the dramatic response rather than the reasoned response. Unless the dialogue is managed the to and fro of child pantomime will quickly ensue:

FAC: Mason says that they are friends

CASEY: Not they isn’t!

MASON: Yes they is!”


MASON: Yess!

CASEY: Nooooo…No!”

To begin the reasoning I look to put the grammar and language in. This is done elegantly and simply through the use of ‘why?’ as a follow-up question and ‘because…” as a prompt. Admittedly you don’t always get supporting reasons from 4-year-olds, but you will get the language and grammar of reason-giving embedded as a habit. Sometimes I’m tempted to rename my nursery sessions Becausing classes for this reason.

It’s not your session

Honestly, even when you think they have followed your plan perfectly, it is only because your plan happens to be what they want to talk about. There will be more days where they go off at a tangent you couldn’t prepare for.

Saddest KingToday’s story is about this land where the king has made it law that everyone must be happy. The key characters are the king who thinks it’s better to be happy and this boy who wants to be sad. And a dog. These opposing characters will help set up opposing views, enabling the children to see the controversy (adapted from The Saddest King by Christoper Wormell).

“So, the King told the boy that it was better to be happy all the time. Is it better to be happy all the time?”

“Look, the dog is funny!”

“Thank you, Sara. Is it better to be happy?”

“Look! It’s smiling…”

“Happy, sad or something else, Sara, what’s better?”

“…And its tail is wagging” I sigh heavily “So is the dog happy?”

If your question isn’t the one the children are interested in there is little point in pushing it. Sometimes they’ll answer your question if you repeat it but at other times you have to improvise a new question using the content they are interested in. On this occasion my session deviated from the ethics of when one should be happy and moved toward the metaphysical concerns of what happiness is. So I guess the session is still yours in that you are going to still aim for controversy, differing viewpoints and some level of reasoning. However, you can only suggest content to your class to see if they want to run with it and if they don’t you have to see if you can run with theirs.


Four things to try in your next nursery class are:

Bin it

Be ready to bin it!

1. Engage them, make learning interactive at every possible moment.

2. Create the conditions for philosophy to take place; this takes longer to do with younger children.

3. Get to the philosophy, if you hear the word ‘because’ then that’s a start.

4. Keep your lesson plan near the bin at all times. Follow them.


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Response to Dennis Hayes in Spiked Online

Dennis Hayes wrote in Spiked Online, ‘Philosophy for children’ isn’t real philosophy.

(So that I don’t simply repeat myself, go here for my response to the issue of philosophy’s own value: Aeon, should children do philosophy? Also read my response to Tom Bennett’s, Philosophy. For Children?)

My Response to Dennis Hayes

‘Surely the worst, most instrumental reason for doing philosophy is that it might improve your skills in other areas, like maths and reading, while also boosting ‘cognitive abilities’ and pupils’ self-esteem.’ [Dennis Hayes.]


‘P4C is a popular method of exploring concepts such as fairness or bullying in small group discussions. By claiming that P4C might help all primary-school pupils — especially those on free school meals — to do better in other disciplines, the EEF report does a serious disservice to philosophy.’  [Dennis Hayes.]


‘The problem today is that children are being taught bits of philosophy, in their circle-time activities. They should be taught more. Why not start with the classical Greek philosophers? Teach your charges about Socrates and Plato and Aristotle! Let them rehearse the arguments of all the great philosophers.’  [Dennis Hayes.]


‘Childish whining is not philosophy; reading books, even difficult ones, and then having proper classroom chats about them is.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree, childish whining is not philosophy. I don’t see much childish whining in my philosophy classes, because I always ask them to say ‘why?’ When someone complains about something without providing good reasons, that’s what I call ‘childish whining’.

‘The EEF report also said teachers don’t know enough about philosophy and aren’t confident enough to teach it. Yet as we wait for a drive to recruit more actual philosophers into primary schools, which we should do, teachers can easily teach some of the history of philosophy in history, and some of the works of philosophy in literature. Even in nursery rhymes there are challenging topics. Why was Humpy Dumpty on that wall? And a burning question for all young girls: Does kissing frogs work? These are potential philosophical sticklers, and can be addressed without the dumbed-down approach of P4C.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

I agree that many teachers don’t know enough about philosophy. Whether a discussion of bullying and fairness are philosophical is all in how it’s approached. A discussion around whether it’s right to bully people (where the teacher holds the view that it is wrong) probably won’t be, but a genuinely open discussion around what bullying is, that leads to conceptual progress in the children’s views as a result of this analysis (see the response to Tom Bennett ‘progess in philosophy’) is much more likely to be philosophical. I have recommended that teachers be trained in what it is they need to be able to run good dialogues with their classes. And what they need – as a minimum, in my view – is an understanding of what a conceptual discussion is and how to facilitate it. For more on this see my response to Tom Bennett ‘It’s (not?) what you know’.

‘The EEF report has been widely welcomed, but largely as a convenient shortcut away from serious teaching in favour of therapeutic talking shops. If we really want the best education for children, then we should ditch classes on jargon and go back to teaching real subject matter — including sometimes difficult, philosophical subject matter.’  [Dennis Hayes.]

Again: Why?

I agree, there is a danger that philosophy is used as a ‘therapeutic talking shop’, but this is purely down to proper education and training about what philosophy is and how it works. Philosophy is not therapy. When working with teachers I sometimes have to explain that ‘feel’ is not a synonym for ‘think’, as it is sometimes used in the classroom. This may have something to do with the fact that teacher training is saturated in psychology and its accompanying jargon. This can be addressed with proper training. For a glimpse (not exhaustive by any stretch) into the kind of facilitation techniques I’m talking about, then go here:

The Philosophers’ Magazine: how to philosophise with children

In conclusion, Dennis Hayes, has an incomplete view of what philosophy is. He clearly thinks that philosophy is ONLY a subject; one that engages students with the classic debates. Let us take, probably the most famous example of a philosopher from the great canon, Plato. He demonstrated, through his dialogues, that philosophy is more than thinking about the canon. Yes, during his dialogues, the characters sometimes engage with the philosophers of the past, but most of the time, they are engaging with each other, with no reference to the canon. But in almost all cases, Plato is showing us how to philosophise, and also providing models for doing so (for example – and it is just one example – the much discussed Socratic method). My approach to philosophy (with adults, children or whatever) is to facilitate a discussion so that it resembles the kind of discussion we might see in a Platonic dialogue. (I do NOT mean: so that it is identical! – Before you write to say ‘do you entrap people like Socrates did?’) I simply mean: so that it contains a similar dialectical structure with similar dialectical aims. This is philosophy as ‘methodology’ that sits next to philosophy as ‘history of ideas’. (There’s also Hegel, Descartes, Spinoza, Aristotle and so on, who also provides methods for conducting philosophical enquiry, all of which are dialectical.) There are even those that say, along Socratic lines, that studying the history of ideas can be done while doing no real philosophy, where philosophy is understood to be an attempt to show whether real-life example X is a genuine example of category Y. Philosophy was practised long before it became a subject at school.

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Response to Tom Bennett on TES blog ‘Philosophy. For children?’

Philosophy has been in the news a good deal this week due to some very positive research by EEF into SAPERE’s model that notes improvements to reading and maths. Tom Bennett wrote a piece responding to the P4C buzz yesterday: Philosophy. For children? When thinking requires thinking about something. This is my response to that piece, piece by piece.

Philosophy’s value?

‘The value of Philosophy doesn’t lie in its contribution to literacy, or indeed indirectly to any other perceived good.’ (Tom Bennett)

Should ‘philosophy with children’ be measured according to its instrumental benefits? Does philosophy have its own value? If something is good for its own sake, there’s not a great deal more to say about it than that: music’s good, because it’s good. About philosophy, I might say that it’s good because it comes from what it is to be human: to respond, to reflect, to reason, to re-evaluate, and – arguably – these are among the best things about what it is to be human. But all I can hope for here is that you agree with me; that you share my values.

Or, I might show you research that demonstrates how doing philosophy is good for other things (see link above for an example of this kind of research).

It’s a good thing, as Tom says, that ‘philosophy for children’ (or P4C) can be shown to improve literacy and numeracy, but I’m interested in what it is philosophy offers in and of itself. I am also interested in whether children can get better at it. ‘But why’, objectors may say, ‘should we be interested in what philosophy offers unless it’s the instrumental stuff – that which improves reading, writing and arithmetic, SATs results etc.?’ Because, if there is a correlation between doing philosophy and improved literacy and maths results then surely we want to know why – we want to know the cause.

What I’d like to suggest is that philosophy offers ‘intellectual virtues’ and that these are good in and of themselves, as well as being transferable. They may well be the qualities that confer the improvements identified in research. For instance, if philosophy engenders structured, sequential thinking then this may well be what improves performance in maths. So, what do I mean by ‘intellectual virtues’? Let me make some suggestions (though, in no way final or exhaustive). Those doing regular philosophy may learn and practise…

  • How to respond to others in an intellectually appropriate way (whether to be critical, logical, sequential, structural, semantic and so on).
  • How to respond to others in a socially appropriate way (with sensitivity, with respect, with confidence, tentatively and so on) that is also intellectually sensitive.
  • How to discern and select what is the appropriate response, either to a question, problem, or peer.
  • They will gain some insight about how their peers think and learn to approach problems from thinking with their peers.
  • They will practise how to appropriately oppose each other while working collaboratively to address controversies and problems.
  • …How to structure their thinking well.
  • …How to give expression to their thinking so that others may understand them and therefore respond appropriately.
  • …How to make appropriate use of empirical knowledge in their argumentation.
  • …How to abstract when necessary.
  • …How to engage critically with their own ideas as well as those of others.
  • …How to judge when to re-evaluate (revise or reject) and when to defend their own ideas. (A good philosopher only defends the defensible.)
  • …How to offer reasoned support to a peer when the peer is unable to see good reasons that they may be able to see.
  • …How to recognise controversies and problems for themselves.
  • …How to judge for themselves when to be open-minded and when to make a judgement on an issue or question.
  • …How to evaluate, discern – and in some cases eliminate – ideas and opinions shared in a discussion.
  • …They will practise resilience in the face of other’s opposition to their own ideas and resilience to demonstrations made by others of shortcomings within their positions and arguments.
  • …They will practise a willingness to re-evaluate.
  • …They will practise reflecting on the quality of their own reasoning and how to improve it.

It is because of these (and other) virtues, as practised by the Ancient Greeks (notably Socrates, Plato and Aristotle) that ‘the scientific method’ came about (also logical, structured and sequential), to take just one important example. This is exactly the sort of stuff that can be bottled and integrated into the curriculum as a whole.

The Philosophy Foundation is about to begin a project with King’s College London into this aspect of philosophy. The aim will be to establish what kinds of virtues might be described as ‘philosophical virtues’ and to establish whether philosophical progress can be made, and in what ways we might begin to try to measure such progress. No doubt, this will include the drawing up of some criteria of what philosophy is. If nothing else, it should be interesting.

It’s (not?) what you know

‘This is why philosophy is a particularly hard thing to do with a group of very young children, or those with little knowledge about philosophy. Can you imagine a discussion about Shakespeare if nobody had ever heard of the man? Or a debate about Danish modal verbs populated only by Yoruba speakers?’ (Tom Bennett)

The examples of Shakespeare and ‘Danish modal verbs’ are disanalogous. If we think of philosophy as ‘the history of ideas’ then the analogy might work (though, presumably, one could have a discussion about one of Shakespeare’s plays without knowing who he is or even that he wrote it), but the focus of philosophy in schools is on the process of philosophising, not the history of ideas. Consider the following questions:

‘If something is moving then is it doing something?’

‘If fair is ‘getting the same amount’ then is it fair for Ted to get more cake than the others on his birthday?’

‘Can you make a deliberate mistake?’

‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’

‘If something changes can it be the same thing?’

‘If you take something that you don’t know belongs to someone else then is it stealing?’

To engage in discussions around questions of this sort the children do not really need to know much at all; all they need is some notion of the concepts involved and a notion of the relationship between them. Very often the discussion will be fuelled by the fact that the children have different notions. For instance, some children will think that fair simply means ‘getting the same amount’ and others will think that it has ‘something to do with desert’ while others, that ‘it depends on the situation’. In other words, philosophy discussions in the classroom will – or should – be conceptual, or at least include it. And in many cases, it won’t be a discussion about ‘what something means’ but rather ‘what something is thought to mean’ and the conflicts that arise from the different notions present within the discussion. (We recommend our facilitators ask ‘What do you mean by X?’ rather than ‘What does X mean?’)

This also means that progress can be made (an oft-overlooked aspect of doing philosophy with children) because, for example, a class may begin a discussion thinking that fair is ‘getting what I want’ and later on understand, through arguments put forward by members of the class, that this leads to problems, such as that there are many situations where it is impossible for everyone to get what they want if, for instance, what they want is not available to all. This is conceptual progress; the class (or some within it) now has a more sophisticated, nuanced conceptual understanding of fairness.

You would only need to know something about philosophy (as ‘history of ideas’) if the questions were:

‘What is Thomas Hobbes’s response to the problem of The Ship of Theseus?’

‘Does Descartes’s think that the mind is the same as the brain?’ etc.

But these are not the kinds of philosophy questions that are asked of primary-aged children doing philosophy.

When we run our Stage 1 training course – where we train graduates to facilitate philosophy in the classroom – the first thing we do is run an enquiry for the trainees. We usually run an enquiry around the perennial philosophical favourite, ‘The Ship of Theseus’ thought-experiment (the idea is: if something’s parts are replaced gradually over time then can it be considered the same thing?). What is interesting about this is that when we take them through a discussion around the same stimulus had by able 10-year-olds, the graduates are often astonished at how similar the conceptual moves are, differing only in sophistication. The reason this happens is because the facilitation is such that, in both cases, it focuses on the conceptual dimensions of the issue.

Conceptual treatment of non-philosophical topics

You may think that a question such as ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’ must be an empirical discussion – it must be a science question. But even empirical discussions have conceptual dimensions. For example,

FAC: ‘Is the mind the same as the brain?’

Child A: ‘Yes.’

FAC: ‘Can you say why?’

Child A: ‘Because the mind is inside the brain?’

FAC: Is there anybody who has anything to say about the last speaker’s idea?

Child B: ‘But if a coin is inside a piggybank that doesn’t mean that the coin is the same as the piggy bank.’

FAC: [Turning to child A] Would you like to reply to that?

Child A: ‘Yes. But it’s more like plasticine.’

FAC: Can you say a bit more about that?

Child A: If one bit of plasticine is in the middle of a bigger bit of plasticine then it’s the same. The mind is like that: the mind is in the middle of the brain.

The issue here is conceptual: it is to do with whether if something X is inside something else Y, then can X and Y have a relationship of identity? You don’t need to have any neuroscience to engage in this conceptual aspect of the discussion. To facilitate this successfully, however, one needs to understand what a conceptual discussion is and how it differs from an empirical discussion, or how an empirical discussion can be treated in a conceptual way (for example, with a hypothesis such as ‘Is there an object in the box’ a conceptual discussion might be: ‘What do we mean by object?’ or ‘What do we mean by in?’). This is where, I would argue, expertise is needed. Either someone with this understanding is necessary for a genuine philosophical enquiry, or teachers need to be formally trained so that they are equipped with this understanding and the tools to facilitate it.

‘What [philosophy] might be doing with children might be good practise for debating, or general discussion, and I certainly wouldn’t strike it off the curriculum.’ (Tom Bennett) 

Where does philosophy go in the curriculum?

I’ve never really liked the expression ‘P4C’. When I do philosophy with children, teenagers, adults or dogs, I facilitate philosophy. Just philosophy. And they respond as children, teenagers, adults or dogs respond. The dialogical method I use with each of them is basically the same. However, when I train teachers I don’t teach them to do philosophy because I believe – as did the originator or the P4C movement, Matthew Lipman – that it requires specialist knowledge and training in philosophy. I train teachers in something more like what Darren Chetty has coined ‘D4C’. Or, what I might call just dialogue. This does not exclude discussions of a philosophical nature, but neither does it demand them. So, at TPF, we train philosophy graduates to do philosophy in schools; we train teachers to do dialogue with their classes. The difference between philosophy and dialogue is the content. Sometimes discussions using dialogue is philosophical, but it doesn’t have to be; it could be a discussion about how many decimals there are between 1 and 2, what symmetry is, or what growth is or friction. These discussions may become philosophical. For instance, while discussing what goes between 1 and 2, a discussion about the nature of numbers may occur. But it may not. As a ‘visiting philosophy specialist’, when I do philosophy with a class, my job is to make sure that the discussions are genuinely philosophical; that, as far as the class is able, they pursue philosophical lines of enquiry further than they would have if I was not there, and that they continue to pursue intellectual lines of enquiry when I’m no longer there, yet deeper than they would have had they never met me.

There is a place for philosophy, then, as a stand-alone subject, somewhere classes can practice conceptual thinking outside of specialized subjects and therefore free of the need for subject knowledge, but where the same structures of thinking are practised for application in the curriculum subjects. There is also a place for a dialogical treatment (both philosophical and non-philosophical) within curriculum subjects. So, the debate about whether philosophy should be ‘integrated’ or ‘added on’ is a debate premised on a false dichotomy. It’s both.

Peter Worley is the CEO of The Philosophy Foundation charity, president of SOPHIA and a Visiting Research Associate at King’s College London. He is the author of numerous books on philosophy with children including The If Machine, and his latest book is 40 lessons to get children thinking: philosophical thought adventures across the curriculum (published by Bloomsbury and available from September 2015)


Filed under Education, Peter Worley, Philosophy in Schools

Philosophy GCSE

Over the last year The Philosophy Foundation has been supporting the Philosophy in Education Project (PEP), run by Dr John Taylor and A. C. Grayling, along with SAPERE, A Level Philosophy and a host of well-known philosophers including Angie Hobbs, Simon Blackburn, Nigel Warburton and Tim Williamson.

This is a response by Peter Worley to ‘why there shouldn’t be a philosophy GCSE‘ by Miss AVE Carter, who has started an important open debate about the newly proposed philosophy GCSE by PEP.

Carter’s argument is premised on an incomplete understanding of philosophy. She says,

‘One thing which makes philosophy sessions so wonderful is that they go some way to breaking the mould of educating children on factory lines. They are set apart from any lesson anywhere in the school. Children get a chance to just wonder, to think, to discuss to learn, without writing anything down at all. They are engaged with the biggest questions ever dreamt up, questions which they may have never considered. I judge my lessons to have been successful if, and only if, pupils continue to talk about the material when our 40 minutes are up.’

I agree that doing philosophy with children (especially very young children) is often more successful when they do not write things down, but it would be wrong to conceive of philosophy as something that is – or must be – done without writing things down; or, for that matter, without reading texts, or without learning about philosophers and philosophers’ ideas. The way many practitioners do philosophy with primary-aged children in particular (myself included) is just the beginning of how philosophy is done. Miss Carter seems to think that it is the beginning and the end. The evidence for this claim is in this line:

‘I judge my lessons to have been successful if, and only if, pupils continue to talk about the material when our 40 minutes are up.’ [My italics]

Remember: ‘if, and only if’ means ‘under no other circumstances’ (I would ask Miss Carter: does she really think there are no other circumstances under which she would consider a lesson to be successful?); it is a very strong claim. Even when working with younger children, I think this is an incomplete conception of philosophy. This view of philosophy confirms my more general worry that philosophy is seen to be nothing more than a sharing of opinions, an involved chat. But, as I have argued elsewhere [TEDx ‘Plato not Playdoh’] philosophy is evaluative and re-evaluative; and this means – and many will not like this – that it is judgmental. By this, I mean that philosophy includes evaluative judgments (albeit provisional) about the arguments that have been made, based on the quality of reasons given. I will fall short of saying ‘if, and only if’! This conception of philosophy invites criteria: criteria for what makes good reasons. And these criteria would be good candidates for a marking criteria for a GCSE, and I see no reason why we should have a problem with this per se.

This argument about why there should not be a GCSE is also premised on a false dichotomy: that either education initiatives are:

a) box-ticking, knowledge-heavy, test-driven ‘factory’ models, or they are

b) exploratory, dialogical, engaging ‘discovery’ models.

Surely, the preferred place is in between? And a well-put together GCSE would, ideally, inhabit this space. At this point we reach the question of whether a GCSE would be well-put together and whether it really would inhabit this space and how we might ensure that it does. In this respect I am sympathetic to many of Miss Carter’s worries, and that is why PEP have gathered together academics as well as philosophy in school practitioners and teachers, but that discussion is for another day.


Filed under Education, Peter Worley, Philosophy in Schools