Day 81: Questions

WP_20151203_002I’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.

4 thoughts on “Day 81: Questions

  1. Really fascinating post, Liz. So much hangs on the relationship between language and thought! Your logical extension of the findings of Labov’s study is the crux of much philosophical thought, from what I can see. It makes me want to explore this area more.

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    • Hi Caroline – I hoped you might find this post, knowing you have written about P4C yourself. I didn’t have that thought about Labov’s work until I sat down to write the post – I read his wonderful paper (about Larry and God) with students this semester so his work has been on my mind recently – I hadn’t revisited Labov’s work for a while but found it as fresh and compelling as ever.

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      • There’s a very big gulf between non-standard use and non-use of a language but it’s an interesting starting point for a thesis, certainly….
        The issue about P4C relying on language is its main stumbling block, I think, and this issue also affects theories of participation, inclusion and democracy. I suppose that work on other forms of communication, such as visual, is a way to counteract verbal reliance and make democracy more inclusive – and P4C does at least pay some attention to the visual. You might enjoy Iris Young’s (2001) book ‘Inclusion and Democracy’ which argues for a widening of the Habermasian idea of the ‘ideal speech situation’ so that other social groups are included in deliberative forms of democratic discourse.

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      • Sounds fascinating – I will look it up. The concept of an ‘ideal speech situation’ certainly needs re-visiting. These ideas really interest me – when the 100 days are over this is one place I’d like to direct my attention, x

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