I’ve been on the first of a two day course on Philosophy For Children (P4C) today. It’s a very interesting methodology and I’m looking forward to the next session and to trialling a philosophical inquiry with my students. The approach relies heavily on language and, as ever, I found myself reflecting on the relationship between language and thought.
My learning today was dependent on a group and the role of dialogue was central to this process; the community of practice I was part of helped me to think more deeply about the issues we were exploring than I might have done alone. Social relations are not central to Dylan’s life and ‘talk’ has little capital within a residential community where most members of the group do not use speech to communicate. This doesn’t mean, however, that Dylan is not capable of complex patterns of thought.
In 1969 William Labov’s ‘The Study of Non-Standard English’ demonstrated that Larry, a dialect-speaking member of a New York City gang, ‘The Jets’, was capable of conceptual thinking and logical interrogation of the philosophical question ‘does God exist?’ Labov’s study challenged the claim that higher order thinking requires Standard English and elaborated linguistic codes. If our thinking is not limited by non-standard uses of language, why should it be capped by non-use of language? Dylan may be as capable of thinking about ‘God’ as you or I (or, indeed, Larry).
I can’t see an easy way of adapting the P4C methodology for use with people who don’t use speech to communicate given the role of dialogue in the process. I can, however, imagine the approach being a potentially rich way of working with verbal autistic children and adults. Not only does the methodology provide a useful framework for discussion, as the stimuli for the philosophical inquiries are often visual (we used a short film and a photograph today) they are likely to be comfortable for autistic students as a support for thinking and the development of ideas.