P4C and Voice: Does the Community of Philosophical Inquiry Provide Space for Children’s Free Expression?
Introduction: here are several ways to interpret Nina’s explanation of the difference between what she said during the CPI (Community of Philosophical Inquiry) and what she said later. She might have been pointing out the distinction between how one should feel and how one actually feels. She might have simply been explaining that she changed her mind. However, there is one interpretation of what Nina said that merits particularly careful consideration and illustrates the central concern of this chapter: Nina may have been telling the counsellor that she was not free to express her real beliefs and feelings during the CPI. In other words, there was something about being “in there” that stopped her from expressing what she really thought or led her to believe that she was not supposed to say what she really thought. If this is what Nina meant then her words raise troubling questions. P4C (Philosophy for Children) is founded on a respect for children’s rational abilities and their expressive capacities. It is a pedagogical approach that is designed to provide children with the opportunity to freely express themselves and practice the skills necessary for making well-reasoned choices. Indeed, in the UNESCO report, Philosophy: A School of Freedom, the importance of P4C is supported with reference to the three articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that set out children’s rights to freedom of expression and thought (i.e., 12,13,14).2 An individual child may feel unable to express her genuine thoughts during a CPI for many reasons that relate to her particular circumstances. These reasons should be considered and addressed, as far as possible, by P4C facilitators. However, if children are restricted from freely expressing their beliefs during a CPI due to their shared status as children, this would be a foundation-shaking problem for P4C. It would mean that there is a serious inconsistency between what P4C does in theory and what “things are really like.” Nina’s comment may represent a fundamental challenge to the P4C ideal. Does a CPI really give children a space in which to be heard? Does P4C provide children with genuine opportunities for free expression?