Philosophy gives a lesson new meaning: Diana Hinds meets children taking their first steps in developing critical reasoning

'REMEMBER, we are trying to be philosophical: that means we are going to ask questions and try to think things through.'

Roger Sutcliffe, of the London Philosophy for Children group, is giving some 11- to 14-year-olds from St Paul's Way School, east London, their first taste of philosophical discussion. They read aloud a passage from a specially devised story.

'I disagree with the sentence that says we don't choose our religions, they are given to us when we're born,' volunteers Shaziya, a Muslim girl.

The pupils offer comments on the story. Of the subjects raised, they decide that they want to discuss Shaziya's point about religion. More than half the children come from Muslim homes.

'Does there come a moment when you can choose for yourself? When is this moment?' asks Mr Sutcliffe, steering the discussion.

'When you live your own life,' suggests one pupil.

'When you leave home,' says another.

'It depends on how you were brought up and if you were brainwashed at the beginning,' says Rachel, a non-Muslim.

As the discussion develops, several pupils argue that parents shouldn't 'bully' their children into adopting their own religion and should 'respect' what their children choose to do. Others gradually join in, Muslim pupils explaining that it would be very difficult to change their religion.

'You would have to have different festivals and change all your habits. I think it would be really hard,' says Sadiq.

'Your parents might not want you any more . . . It would be like starting your life again,' says Ripon.

It is a serious exchange of views, marked by a genuine openness and lack of hostility between the pupils. Mr Sutcliffe intervenes from time to time, not to judge or evaluate, but to suggest questions and help pupils clarify their thoughts.

To do this successfully requires philosophical training, says Mr Sutcliffe, who is a philosophy graduate and a follower of a method devised in the Sixties by Matthew Lipman, an American professor of philosophy, which aims to foster children's understanding by developing their powers of critical reasoning.

Mr Sutcliffe has abridged Professor Lipman's stories and teaching manuals for use in English schools with children from 6 to 16, and the recently formed national group, SAPERE (Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education) runs training courses for teachers.

Polly Saul, who has been using the Lipman method for two years with disaffected 15- and 16-year-olds in Haringay, north London, said it had helped to boost their confidence. 'It gives them a place where they can be heard, where they can order their thoughts. It gives them a vocabulary for learning, for dialogue, and it helps them to be unafraid of language. I've got pupils who have truanted for years saying 'Have we got philosophy next?' '

Vivien Cutler, head teacher at St Paul's Way school, said she hoped to introduce philosophy into personal and social education (PSE) lessons after seeing how enthusiastically her pupils had responded.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before