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‘Philosophy for Children’ and May 2022

/ 04:03 AM July 23, 2021

If you followed the coverage of the funeral for former president Noynoy Aquino on YouTube, you probably noticed the stream of insensitive posts in the comments section. While these eventually elicited intermittent rejoinders, which either challenged the posts or pleaded for common decency, the people (aka trolls) behind these unkind comments might as well have been bots. They could not go off a programmed script.

Was this in reaction to the steady outpouring of public sympathy for P-Noy? Was it meant to reverse the ever-growing acknowledgement of the former president’s legacy as a decent and honorable public servant? Does this signal the kind of discourse we should anticipate as we start deliberating who deserves to lead us after May 2022? If so, then it is not enough that we remind each other to register and vote. Clearly, we need to go back to something even more fundamental.

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That something might be as fundamental as the insight that came to the educator Matthew Lipman who was dismayed at the way a number of college students debated the Vietnam War in the late ‘60s. In Lipman’s mind, it was too late to teach grown-ups the rudiments of sound rational discourse. So he came up with the radical idea of teaching philosophy to children “not to turn children into philosophers or decision makers, but to help them become more thoughtful, more reflective, more considerate, and more reasonable individuals.” Hence, his “Philosophy for Children” or P4C.

P4C hinges on the community of inquiry (COI), a pedagogical method in which children take turns reading an age-appropriate book which they individually and collectively strive to understand by asking questions that interest them with the help of a facilitator. After voting for one question that will anchor the COI, the children then share their answers and back up their assertions with reasons. They also listen to their fellow inquirers and ask questions to challenge and clarify what they learn. The goal is to arrive at a shared understanding while respecting individual differences.

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For the COI to really work, however, participating inquirers must imbibe the attitude of fallibility. Such an attitude, often common among children, presupposes the possibility that as you listen to the other, you might realize that you are mistaken. In the COI, this is welcomed as an opportunity to revise and update one’s position about the issue at hand—something you will rarely find in most online skirmishes today where the objective is to convince the other that he or she is wrong and must therefore be shamed. Worse, when such convincing can’t be achieved by means of logic and evidence, ad hominems and invectives are employed together with threats of physical harm.

Early this year, no less than the International Bureau of Education (IBE) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco) amplified Lipman’s insight that reasonable, caring, and creative children make for a reasonable, caring, and creative society. In its 2021 P4C primer, the IBE-Unesco pointed out that citizenship “requires the ability to discriminate between statements which are rational and factual and those which are not, suspending judgment on those where this is not clear.” P4C can develop this ability by way of the COI. The IBE-Unesco primer even cites the urgent issues of our time that are ideal for COIs: fake news, the global climate crisis, habitual beliefs, cognitive bias, among others.

The glowing IBE-Unesco endorsement of P4C and the COI is not without basis. Part of the numerous research validating the long-term positive societal impact of P4C are two studies (Trickey and Topping, 2004; García-Moriyón, Rebollo, and Colom, 2005) indicating marked learner improvements in “cognitive gain, school attainment and socio-emotional enhancement.” A more recent study (Di Masi and Santi, 2016) noted an increase in the cognitive and affective dimension of children’s moral judgment between 2009 and 2010.

The Pinoy folk-rock band Asin may not have known about P4C and the IBE-Unesco, but given these findings, its memorable admonition might be worth pondering as we approach May 2022: “Masdan mo ang mga bata, ang sagot ay iyong makikita.”

Von Katindoy is a teacher and a student based in the metro.

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TAGS: children, decency, opinion, philosophy
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