P4C in Communities

Community Philosophy is a growing movement in which voluntary groups in civil society engage with philosophical thinking and action. It is practiced by a wide range of groups, from older people through the work of Age UK, within Philosophy in Pubs, the youth and community sector, and by housing associations. Community Philosophy provides spaces, resources and expertise that enable local people to join, form, and sustain self-determining, democratic thinking communities. These groups have already helped many individuals and communities develop their thinking skills and dispositions, deepen their own thinking and that of others, and explore thinking as a practical tool for engagement in community and cultural life. Community Philosophy brings people together, gives them a chance to access practical, transformational philosophy, develop a thoughtful, purposeful voice, and take pleasure in these collaborative activities.

Community Philosophy employs practices from the Community of Enquiry approach used in school-based Philosophy for Children. As with P4C in schools, a stimulus may be chosen to initiate thinking and questioning. Alternatively, in Community Philosophy, topics may be chosen in advance, based on the issues that those working in the community have gleaned through everyday dialogue with local people or that have emerged through previous enquiry.

As with P4C in schools, supportive and challenging philosophical dialogue is facilitated with the aim of exploring the ideas and concepts that emerge. In Community Philosophy there is an emphasis on the potential for group self-determination and thoughtful social action. The Practical Thinking Model and the Stages of Community Philosophy reflect the action oriented, democratic and locally focused nature of the enterprise.

Community Philosophy Aims:
• to support the practice of Community Philosophy through developing self-determining and self-sustaining democratic communities of philosophical enquiry and action.
• to help individuals and communities develop philosophical enquiry as a practical tool for engagement and action in community and cultural life.
• To promote the creative, collaborative and caring aspects of philosophical enquiry, whilst developing critical, independent and reflective thinking.
• to make philosophy an accessible, purposeful and pleasurable means to the promotion of personal and community well-being.

 

Article for The ‘Bevan Foundation Review’ issue 22 Spring 2013, p24-25

Developing the skills which underpin democracy through Communities of Philosophical Enquiry.

 

Background

 

Philosophy for children, communities and colleges (P4C for short) is a practice designed to develop the capacity to think creatively and critically with other people. It involves the establishment of communities of enquiry where the participants build on each other’s ideas, subject arguments to scrutiny and support each other in the development of understanding around issues of importance to the participants themselves. The essence of the practice is the formulation of good questions by the participants which then act as a basis for dialogue and discussion. The aim is not to reach a definitive answer to the questions but rather to  explore underlying concepts leading to greater awareness of  a range of opinions, beliefs and viewpoints.

 

P4C develops the capacities necessary for a genuine deliberative democracy in that it rehearses the skills of listening, of argumentation and of dialogue. Such collaborative activity leads to a greater tolerance of views at the same time as building confidence and emotional intelligence. This leads to more balanced and thoughtful judgements about issues of importance and consequently to better democracy. From the above description it will be clear that P4C is not about philosophy but could better be described as ‘doing practical philosophy’. Not only is the practice effective in the ways described above but it is also very enjoyable.

 

In the United Kingdom, P4C is promoted by a charity called SAPERE (www.sapere.org.uk). The original practice focused on school-aged children but has more recently expanded successfully to include community groups and students in universities and colleges. I describe aspects of the practice in different contexts below.

 

P4C in schools

 

The practice of P4C was developed in New Jersey schools around 40 years ago by Matthew Lipman. He showed that children as young as five or six can happily engage in discussions about ‘big issues’ when such discussion originates from within their own experience. Philosophy for children is now practiced in over fifty countries. In this country there are around 10,000 teachers trained as P4C facilitators.

 

A P4C session usually starts with a story or a picture which gets people thinking. Participants are invited to reflect, discuss and produce questions. These questions are considered by the group and one is chosen to be the focus for discussion.  Apart from discussion, games and puzzles are used to get people moving around, mixing and to keep the atmosphere light. The main activity in P4C involves following enquiries arising from pupils’ own puzzlement.

 

Children’s literature is often used as a stimulus in P4C since selected examples address issues important to young people, such as: friendship, identity, relationships with others, place in the world, et cetera.  Stories are very important and highly motivating to most people. Crucially P4C is not aimed at inculcating any particular moral teaching, what it does is assist participants to think and speak intelligently about issues that are important to them, thereby promoting critical and creative thought and the ability to make good judgements within a collaborative and caring environment.

 

P4C in communities

 

Community Philosophy is a growing movement in which voluntary groups in civil society engage with philosophical thinking and action. It is practiced by a wide range of groups, from older people through the work of Age UK, within Philosophy in Pubs, the youth and community sector, and by housing associations. Community Philosophy provides spaces, resources and expertise that enable local people to join, form, and sustain self-determining, democratic thinking communities. These groups have already helped many individuals and communities develop their thinking skills and dispositions, deepen their own thinking and that of others, and explore thinking as a practical tool for engagement in community and cultural life. Community Philosophy brings people together, gives them a chance to access practical, transformational philosophy, develop a thoughtful, purposeful voice, and take pleasure in these collaborative activities.

     

Community Philosophy employs practices from the Community of Enquiry approach used in school-based Philosophy for Children. As with P4C in schools, a stimulus may be chosen to initiate thinking and questioning. Alternatively, in Community Philosophy, topics may be chosen in advance, based on the issues that those working in the community have gleaned through everyday dialogue with local people or that have emerged through previous enquiry.

 

As with P4C in schools, supportive and challenging philosophical dialogue is facilitated with the aim of exploring the ideas and concepts that emerge. In Community Philosophy there is an emphasis on the potential for group self-determination and thoughtful social action. The Practical Thinking Model and the Stages of Community Philosophy reflect the action oriented, democratic and locally focused nature of the enterprise.

 

Community Philosophy Aims:

  • to support the practice of Community Philosophy through developing self-determining and self-sustaining democratic communities of philosophical enquiry and action.
  • to help individuals and communities develop philosophical enquiry as a practical tool for engagement and action in community and cultural life.
  • To promote the creative, collaborative and caring aspects of philosophical enquiry, whilst developing critical, independent and reflective thinking.
  • to make philosophy an accessible, purposeful and pleasurable means to the            promotion of personal and community well-being.

 

P4C in Colleges and Universities

A number of  universities offer modules on the facilitation of P4C as part of their initial teacher training courses. The practice is seen as a valuable addition to the toolbox of teaching strategies and as useful development of the teachers’ own capacities for critical and creative thinking. The reflective nature of P4C makes it ideal as a basis for action research and on going learning and improvement. There is a significant body of research now available on the effectiveness of P4C in schools and links with higher education institutions will add to this and to research on P4C in other contexts.

Further Information

Initial training as a facilitator of P4C involves attendance at a two-day course. Details of courses available around the country can be obtained from the SAPERE website.

www.sapere.org.uk.

General information about the practice of P4C, research, case studies and other links can also be accessed from this site.

Steve Bramall is a key contact for recent developments in community P4C . The description of community philosophy above is largely taken from his resources. Contact Steve on admin@philosophyineducation.com.

The author of this article, Rod Cunningham, is very happy to discuss any further issues and answer questions. He can be reached on vron.rod@btinternet.com