[Western Oregon University]

Philosophy for Children, Northwest

Dale Cannon, director

What is Philosophy for Children? 
Its approach to developing reasoning skills 
Nature of the program 
Awareness sessions 
Additional training opportunities 
Philosophy for Children. What is it?
The Philosophy for Children program is an internationally recognized and internationally utilized program for developing the entire range of reasoning skills in young people from grade level K through 12. Its central aim is to help young people become more thoughtful and more reasonable persons. There are currently seven components to the program: three early elementary grades ( Getting Out Thoughts Together--- reasoning about experience Wondering at the World -- reasoning in nature and Looking for Meaning -- reasoning about language); two for middle school and junior high (Philosophical Inquiry -- basic reasoning skills and Ethical Inquiry -- reasoning in ethics); and two for secondary school (Writing How and Why -- reasoning in language arts, and Social Inquiry -- reasoning is social studies). Other components of the program are being developed.

The program has been extensively implemented in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, in some cases in whole school districts at all levels. Extensive testing, particularly at the middle-school level, has repeatedly demonstrated participation in the program to have significant impact on improving basic skills, performance in other subject areas, and readiness for learning generally.

Curriculum materials include a storybook writen specifically for each level of the program, a comprehensive instructor's manual to accompany each storybook to guide facilitators in the effective management of children's philosophical discussions, a program rationale, Philosophy in the Classroom, and other related books and materials. The storybooks, which are about young people involved in reasoning through a wide range of issues and ideas on their own, are used as springboards for guided classroom discussions centered upon issues the students find of interest.

The program has been developed by the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, Montclair State College, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043 (tel. 201-893-4277). The institute oversees the training and accreditation of teacher-trainers and coordinates implementation of the program internationally. For further information, curriculum materials, and availability of teacher training in the Pacific Northwest region, Contact Professor Dale Cannon , Philosophy for Children Northwest, Western Oregon University, Monmouth, OR 97361 (tel. 503-838-8335)

The Approach of Philosophy for Children to the Development of Reasoning Skills
The distinctive approach of Philosophy for Children lies in its assumption that reasoning skills are best developed where young people are involved in open-ended, peer group discussions of ideas in which they are themselves interested and where each holds the others of the group responsible for reasoning well. Thus it places the intellectual play of philosophizing, which is native to young children, at the center of reasoning skill development. It regards philosophy to be primarily a matter of thinking about thinking -- or, more specifically, to be the effort to gain sovereignty over one's thinking through clarification and progressive refinement of the ideas and principles with which one thinks, so that they make better sense on reflection in common among peers. The program does not attempt to inculcate any particular philosophical theory or viewpoint -- only good reasoning.

The program assumes further, that, similar to the way language is naturally learned, the skills and disposition of reasoning well on one's own are internalizations of what is first experienced interpersonally. It is in discussions that children develop the habits of alert and skillful but also thoughtful and considerate thinkers. And just as language is learned more readily in play, Philosophy for Children helps children learn to reason well in discussions where they are free from having to come up with pre-determined results and free to follow up and explore their own ideas in relation to those of others.

Teacher Apprenticeship

Success of the Philosophy for Children program depends on having teachers who are genuinely interested in philosophical inquiry as described above and who respect, and seek to encourage, the efforts of children to realize sovereignty over their own thinking. Learning to be a teacher of the program consists of learning how to effectively guide philosophical discussion, through a course of apprenticeship and supervised practice, how to enable children to shape the agenda of discussion, and how to avoid being the repository of answers.

Experience has shown that substantial guided practice is normally needed for the successful implementation of the program. Philosophy for Children is no commercial gimmick that would demand from the teacher little thought or reorientation from business as usual in order to implement. It is actually a novel realization of the discipline of philosophy in a manner appropriate to the classroom. Yet teacher competency in the program can readily be aquired in a workshop by anyone who has a genuine commitment to philosophical inquiry with children. Keeping this in mind, teacher training workshops can be tailored in a variety of ways to meet the needs of individual teachers, schools and districts.

Regardless of the level of the curriculum they will be implementing in their classrooms, teachers are introduced into the Philosophy for Children program by (1) experiencing the formation of a genuine community of inquiry in which they are participants and given responsibility for enabling that formation, (2) becoming skilled at drawing out the ideas and reasoning of others in relation to each other -- i.e., enabling a philosophical discussion to emerge, prosper, and progress, and (3) becoming acquainted with the philosophical issues raised in the specific program components they will have to deal with and how to handle them effectively. This typically takes a minimum of 30 hours of workshop time. Training works best when (1) it can be connected with supervised implementation in the teacher's own classroom, (2) when it takes place in a retreat setting removed from competing interests, (3) when it is not spread over too long a time, and (4) when teachers implementing the program can participate in a support system to discuss their experiences.

Successful workshops have been designed as regular college courses, 5 to 14 day retreat experiences (these tend to be well-liked by teachers), contracted in-service on-site courses of training (e.g., on consecutive days, one day per week for several weeks, a series of weekends, a series of evening seminars combined with practicum experiences), among other possibilites. An optimal introductory, one-component workshop for teachers living at home would be 7 to 8 days in length; shorter worshops under these circumstances tend to create an ''overload.'' In any case, content and format can be adapted to school and district needs.

Prices vary widely among these options, depending on teacher trainer honoraria, length of workshop, and the number of teachers in a workshop. Additional costs would include provision of books and materials for each, plus any expenses enabling teachers to attend the workshop. Graduate credit validation is available for a reasonable fee for on-site workshops. For further information, contact Dale Cannon , who also may be able to put you in touch with teacher trainers closer to your location.
Training for Individual Teachers
Individual persons desiring training should contact Dale Cannon , Coordinator for training in Oregon, indicating current status, address, phone number, component of the curriculum in which training is desired, and what times you might have available for training (e.g. a 1 to 2 week workshop at the begining or end of summer). You will be kept informed of upcoming open workshops in the region . Regularly each Winter term at Western Oregon University, a Wednesday evening course (for graduate or undergraduate credit) is offered from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, which serves as an introductory workshop. The program component used in the workshop varies from year to year.

Philosophy for Children Awareness Sessions
Presentations on the Philosophy for Children program for educators, board members and/or parents can be arranged from a brief 1 ½ hour demonstration to a full day presentation of the entire program, sampling of different components, a demonstration with children, and videotapes of the program in use.
Additional Training Opportunities
In-service consultation and mini-workshops are available to be conducted on resoning skill development, including both theoretical perspectives and practical guidance, from ½ day to 2 full days in length. (This is outside of and not a substitute for regular teacher training in Philosophy for Children.) A mini-workshop specifically on the development of reasoning skills is available on a ½ to 1 day format.
Philosophy for Children, Northwest
Western Oregon University
Monmouth, OR 97361
(503) 838-8335

Return to the top of the page.

Return to the Philosophy and Religous Studies Department.

Return to the Humanities Division. 

Western Oregon University
Copyright © 1997 Western Oregon University
Direct suggestions, comments, and questions about this page to Dale Cannon, cannondw@wou.edu.
Last Modified 12/2/96