Philosophy for Children and Community of Inquiry in Australia

Australia stands out in the development and production of a diverse range of curriculum and supporting materials for philosophy in schools.

Australia has also been innovative in the development of initiatives for the promotion of philosophy in schools. The Federation of Australasian Philosophy in School Associations (FAPSA) fulfils this role, as do the state-based associations that make up this federation, including VAPS. Conferences, teacher training, and an academic journal, the Journal of Philosophy in Schools, are part of the Australian contribution. Whether it is isolated classrooms or entire schools, classroom resources or theoretical books, kindergarten or senior syllabi, university courses or research, what started as Philosophy for Children is present, in some form or other, in all States across Australia.

But it was not always like this. P4C was introduced in Australia by Laurance Splitter following a meeting with Matthew Lipman during a sabbatical in the USA in 1982. He and his colleagues, especially Jennifer Glaser who was centrally involved in debates on curricula, did much to promote philosophy in schools. By the early 1990s an ongoing debate on the role of philosophy in P4C gave rise to key questions: Is designated subject time required or could philosophy be integrated across the school curriculum? Is scope and sequence vital to the aims and objectives of P4C? Do some materials more easily fit into the curriculum than others? Can teachers not trained in philosophy teach P4C effectively? These questions have played an integral role in the development and production of Australian produced P4C literature, which could be seen as attempts by the authors to answer one of all of these questions.

In the early times during the 1980s, P4C was marked by the struggle to ignite interest in the programme. This meant copious amounts of work by key individuals, including lobbying various government bodies, organisations, teachers and principals, as well as experimenting with classroom resources.

Despite initial successes, which included the growing network of classroom teachers, teacher educators, and philosophers involved in introducing philosophy into school classrooms, and the formation of a number of professional organisations, the introduction of P4C in Australia faced a myriad of challenges, primarily in the form of the existing curriculum framework, including competition for consideration and time. Not only did this impose limitations on the scope of the introduction of outside materials but also, internally, the existing curriculum framework was itself subject to continual revision. Nevertheless, Splitter, Glaser and others continued to promote the value of P4C and the IAPC materials in an attempt to propel it into the curriculum nationwide.

In mid-1985, Splitter invited Lipman and Sharp to conduct seminars, awareness sessions, demonstration classes, and workshops around Australia. Federal government funding was received for the first residential P4C workshop held at the University of Wollongong, which twenty-six people attended. The objective was to produce suitably qualified individuals who could work with and train classroom teachers. These events coincided with the founding of the Australian Institute of Philosophy for Children (AIPC), with Splitter as Director. The AIPC gained support from notable Australians, including social commentator and broadcaster Philip Adams and philosopher Peter Singer.

AIPC endured until 1988, at which time it was incorporated into the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), due largely to the enthusiastic support of then-Director Barry McGaw, who appointed Splitter as the Director of a new Centre for Philosophy for Children.

In 1989, a second workshop was held in Lorne, Victoria. Tim Sprod was inspired by a session conducted by Ron Reed at the Lorne workshop to use picture books as stimulus. Subsequently, he wrote to Splitter asking for his thoughts on possibly incorporating picture books as stimulus for dialogue in a community of inquiry. Sprod decided to develop classroom activities designed to aid teachers in finding philosophical themes in existing children’s books. The idea of using picture books had simultaneously struck Karin Murris (A Dutch philosopher in the UK). Murris’ text book, Teaching Philosophy with Picturebooks, was published in 1992, the same year the first Australian publication of a classroom resource emerged as an adapted version of Lipman’s Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery. Sprod’s Books into Ideas was published in the following year and stands out as the first Australian publication to move away from Lipman’s purpose-written novel approach to P4C and curriculum materials. In 1991, the Federation of Australian Philosophy for Children Associations (which later became FAPSA) was launched. In 1992, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation produced Lift Off which ran for three years and used P4C materials. A number of Australian materials were produced in subsequent years, including Philip Cam’s Thinking Stories.

From 1990, FAPSA associates (including VAPS) have been delivering professional learning to teachers and academics in P4C. These programs were initially delivered in two levels, and in 2018 this was changed to three levels: an Introductory course, Advanced Practice course, and a Teacher-Educator course for those who want to train others. These are reflected in the Professional Development section of the VAPS website. In 2002, FAPSA began constructing guidelines for the Level 1 Introductory workshop to ensure consistency in high-level practice, and by 2004 VAPS had produced the Level 1 Facilitator’s Manual to guide trainers.

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