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Mind over matter: P4C at Holy Rosary School

| June 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Monica Baart

Recently, a colleague recommended the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson, entitled ‘How to escape education’s death valley’.1

It had a profound impact on my thinking. In the 20-minute presentation, Robinson outlines three principles crucial for the human mind to flourish – namely individualism, curiosity and creativity. He goes on to talk about how mainstream current United States education culture works against these principles. He also says that education is mostly something many teachers labour over and many students have to endure. I realised then why the likes of Professor Matthew Lipman developed and promoted Philosophy for Children.

P4C Lipman created Philosophy for Children, often referred to as P4C, in the late 1960s.2 P4C uses the discipline of philosophy as a resource to help children become more intellectually energetic, curious, critical, creative and reasonable. Lipman and his colleagues believed that there was, and still is, a need in education to develop thinking skills. People ought to be able to think for themselves in the face of competing values, authorities and ‘prescribed solutions’. It’s important to define ‘philosophy’. It comes from the Greek words philos and sophy, and literally means ‘the love of wisdom’.

Thinking about thinking

How then do we go about creating this ‘love of wisdom’? How do we cultivate curiosity, creativity and the opportunity for individuals to think and also share their thinking in a supportive learning environment? Well, we awaken and develop the power of thinking through philosophical inquiry. Introducing philosophy into the classroom has so many advantages.

Here are some we have discovered at Holy Rosary School since we have ‘bought into’ P4C:

• A child’s thinking skills are developed, which we believe is a very important life skill, especially in the Information Age in which we live.

• P4C develops cooperative discussion and teaches children how to respectfully agree and disagree with others’ ideas and opinions.

• Children are encouraged to challenge and question in an established safe and caring space.

• P4C enhances the quality of children’s speaking and listening skills.

• Self-confidence and self-esteem is valued and built.

• A higher level of creative thinking and reasoning is stimulated.

• We awaken curiosity during P4C sessions by providing the opportunity to explore questions.

Let’s face it, everyone is trying to convince you of something. Perhaps you are tired of being conned or scared to make a wrong decision. Perhaps you are confused. I know I often feel like this. Thinking critically is a defence against the world of too much information. Philosophy, says Richard Epstein,3 in the context of P4C, is the means to search for wisdom and, in so doing, allow others to do the same.

Finding the way at Holy Rosary

Let me share with you the story of how Holy Rosary School instituted P4C. Staff were most fortunate to learn from Karin Murris, an associate professor at the School of Education at the University of Cape Town. Murris’s methods are based on the principles created by Lipman.

We have also shared a workshop with Sara Stanley, who specialises in creating philosophical worlds in the classroom.4 Using a year-long curriculum, she entices children, aged three to five years, to create a unique journey through one long story.

With my colleagues Diane Horsten and Brenda Pullen, I attended the International Council of Philosophical Inquiry with Children (ICPIC) conference in Cape Town in 2013, where we were introduced to two more inspirational philosophical practitioners – Isabelle Millon, a French philosophy practitioner and the director of the Institut de Pratiques Philosophiques,5 who works with children and teenagers aged four to 18 years; and Peter Worley, who runs The Philosophy Shop in London in the UK.6

We thus had exposure to a range of techniques and methods and took ideas from a range of experts to create a methodology that would work for us in our classrooms.

How we work

A typical P4C session at our school would follow seven steps:

1. A discussion about the ‘rules of engagement’. Setting ground rules for the inquiry – such as taking turns; speaking in a clear voice; not interrupting; listening with eyes, ears and whole body – is paramount. Following these guidelines enables children to feel like they are working in a team and are valued, respected and safe. The teacher’s role is to support thinking, speaking and learning.

2. Present the stimulus: a poster, picture, story, poem, photograph, song, artefact, newspaper article and sometimes a starter question.

3. A discussion around the stimulus, so everyone has a basic understanding.

4. Thinking time and then paired or small group discussion reflecting on the stimulus. At this stage, the children decide on a question that will arise from their discussion pertaining to the stimulus.

5. The class votes and decide on the question or concept most important to the majority.

6. The teacher facilitates the philosophical dialogue by exploring the question.

7. The teacher as facilitator concludes the discussion and checks that everyone who wanted to talk has had the opportunity. If you are willing to be challenged in your classroom, then P4C is for you. Like Socrates, you will be developing ideas and creating wiser, more reflective individuals who embrace a life well-lived.7 

Baart, Horsten and Pullen also advise teachers to visit to f ind out about P4C courses in Johannesburg and for information regarding participation in inquiries run at the Origins Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) on a monthly basis. Educators can also contact P4C expert Cathy Fry at e-mail

1. TED is “a[n] [online] platform for ideas worth spreading”. See:
2. See:
3. Epstein, R.L. and Kernberger, C. (2012) Critical Thinking. New Mexico: Advanced Reasoning Forum.
4. See:
5. See:
6. See:
7. See:

Category: Winter 2014

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