(IAPC) Summer School at Montclair State University

I got my first real sense of the rich history of P4C when I watched the BBC documentary Socrates for Six Year Olds  https://youtu.be/fp5lB3YVnlE nearly 15 years ago and learned not only a little about the pedagogy but also of  the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) at Montclair State University in New Jersey.  This is the home of P4C and where, together, Matthew Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp crafted and refined the pedagogy, producing philosophically rich narratives, discussion plans and exercises to support teachers learning the approach.  

Each year the IAPC hold a week long summer workshop in St Marguerite’s Retreat in Mendham, New Jersey for facilitators to hone their skills, explore the original Lipman and Sharp texts, and to immerse themselves in the vast and ever increasing cannon of academic literature on P4C.   While I know many people who have attended and subsequently raved about it, the IAPC P4C Summer retreat was something still taking up space on my bucket list.  Until this year, that is.

I have been excited about this week for months and it has finally arrived.  Travelling with a P4C colleague we left Dublin and arrived at Mendham last night.  Set in acres of beautiful woodland in the charge of the nuns in the nearby convent, the torrential rain and 30 C temperatures didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The retreat house was once an orphanage run by the sisters and is perfectly equipped to accommodate the 20 participants from ten different countries.

Given the deer and other wild life we had been warned about the ticks and potential for Lyme disease, the addition of bears to the list of dangers has managed to shift the act of philosophising into a fairly dangerous pastime to my mind (although apparently they are attracted to the strawberry patches and as yet we haven’t done any inquiries there).  

The schedule is packed starting at 9am and closing at 9pm each day with breaks punctuated throughout.  It has been an absolute treat to have seriously gifted facilitators sharing their practise based upon the original Lipman and Sharp materials.  I spend so much time facilitating inquiries with my students and training teachers that I seldom have time to just participate and reflect on my own practise in light of what I’ve experienced.  The discussions, alternative techniques and applications of P4C within this group is fantastic to draw upon and I have learned something new from each of the inquiries we have engaged in. 

The last session yesterday was a gentle exploration of the history of the concept of ‘child’ and ‘childhood’ using images of children over the centuries to focus our philosophical eye.  Led by David Kennedy, I wholeheartedly recommend his book, The Well of Being: Childhood, Subjectivity, and Education to anyone interested in exploring the history of childhood, the history of adulthood, and their interrelationship.

The IAPC website has more information about P4C generally and this annual workshop as well as providing access to some interesting articles too.  In the past the workshop was only for advanced P4C practitioners with a separate week organised for beginners, but in recent years the two have been combined and it definitely works well.  I could not recommend this workshop more strongly to anyone interested in the approach, it has already exceeded all my expectations and it’s only Monday!  http://www.montclair.edu/cehs/academics/centers-and-institutes/iapc/iapc-summer-seminar/

Marelle Rice