High school campers engaging in conversation during 2016 P4C summer camp.
To teach or not to teach Philosophy for Children
Historically, some philosophers have believed that children are incapable of philosophical reasoning, while others have feared that encouraging them to engage in such thought too early is dangerous. Parents and teachers have shared similar fears that teaching children to engage in philosophical questioning might challenge the standing of adult authority figures. Some continue to have these fears, and the debate about whether children should engage in philosophy is ongoing.
As much as Katz understands and touts the benefits of P4C, she has concerns about formalizing it in K-12 classrooms. Her main worry, which is shared by many philosophers, is that meaningful discussions integral to philosophy might disappear and downgrade to a series of multiple-choice questions in order to cover the canon.
“Our informal approach allows students to take intellectual risks without fearing a bad grade; they are truly free to explore philosophically,” Katz said. “Additionally, some teachers in public schools might be uncomfortable facilitating lessons that turn to controversial or sensitive topics such as religion, ethics and God.”
While Katz sympathizes with initially reticent teachers, she believes that the P4C method, which conveys skills of listening, critical thinking, and a desire to understand differences rather than avoid them, can create a community of philosophical inquiry that effectively addresses any topic.
Fears aside, from a practical perspective, public school teachers have very little time to cover educational material not included on standardized STAR tests. At Harmony Academy, for example, the university students led conversations only once per month because the teachers already found it difficult to cover all the necessary material that appears on the test and other parts of their curriculum, Katz said.
“Of course, I’m thinking that if my students could teach P4C more frequently, their students would do better on the tests, but I understand that’s a risk they cannot yet take,” she continued.
After-school programs, such as those offered at the Boys and Girls Club of Brazos Valley and Harmony Academy, which are designed to provide activities for students without testing of any kind, afford more flexibility.