The Philosophy for Children Co-operative (P4C) is a pedagogic approach developed by Mathew Lipman that centres on teaching thinking skills and the ability to question and reason. It is a student-led, inquiry based approach to learning. The curriculum and pedagogical approach is practiced in over 60 countries, including many schools in Iran.1
The underlying principle is for children and young people to experience rational and reasonable dialogue about things that matter to them and their teachers. A lot of research analyzing the implementation of this pedagogical approach and its outcomes has been published in the Persian language.2 In the past, Sayyid Khamenei has repeatedly emphasized the importance of teaching philosophy to children. Needless to say, what is intended by philosophy here is a healthy habit of thinking correctly and improving comprehension, not traditional books of philosophy studied in the seminaries.3
In this vein, what follows is a description of how the very basic foundations of thinking correctly, through topics discussed in books of traditional logic produced by Muslim scholarship, were introduced to middle school students. Although many preliminary discussions in traditional logic overlap with material students will generally learn in English literacy, depending on the flexibility teachers have to go beyond the curriculum, these specific lessons would most likely be incorporated in an Islamic Studies class. Nevertheless, they can easily be integrated into English literacy class too.
In these lessons, students are introduced to the basics of how our knowledge structures are built, what are sources of knowledge, what sources are of greater value, and what type of knowledge concepts and propositions are self-evident and which are not. This is to be followed by a discussion on semiotics and signification, where students learn about how to understand and interpret meanings from different observed phenomena, including words and symbols. Ultimately, they explore the art of crafting basic arguments using two premises, as well as be able to identify logical fallacies.
However, a challenge often encountered while teaching traditional propositional logic is the perception of the discipline as a tedious subject, making it challenging to maintain student engagement. In my experience, this was true even at the seminary level where many students would be unable to maintain their attention spans in logic class, due to the dryness of the topic. To counteract this anticipated problem, having taught the material twice already, this time the lessons were “gamified” using game-design elements, and I was surprised by the level of engagement and interest I observed in students.
After covering the topic of signification and argumentation, students went through dozens of examples identifying what type of signification exists between two phenomena or how to properly build an argument. For example, a red light signifies through human conventions that the driver must stop; or someone’s face turning red naturally signifies the person is sick. After a reasonable amount of practice with both signification and argumentation, a case study was done on Argument by Design, one of the simpler proofs for the existence of God that can be easily understood by students of this age.
In the case of my class, I created a digital escape room activity, with audio sound effects, as well as eight visual images generated through AI, all hosted on our school website. First, I had to come up with a basic storyline (the students had to go from one destination to another) so they knew the context of where they were before their journey began. Each of the eight AI generated images had a certain caption to go along with it, that gave students an indicator for what they were meant to be looking for and then think about what and how it signified a certain meaning. For example, in puzzle #5, the image is that of a room with a glass window through which they can see a heavy thunderstorm. In that part of the storyline, the students must leave the room, but what does a thunderstorm signify to them? It signifies that they would get soaked if they went out, and hence the must take their umbrella with them.
As they complete all eight puzzle images, jotting down what each image signified in context of the overall story, they were then asked to use the eight solutions to write a paragraph in the order of the puzzles, to conclude the initial story. Students did employ some creative thinking while putting the answers together, but generally speaking, there was a similar pattern that concluded the story.
Further enriching the curriculum, we incorporated the Logical Fallacy card deck, sourced from yourlogicalfallacyis.com. This card deck provides students with tangible tools to identify and understand various logical fallacies. A real-world application of this knowledge was done over several lessons analyzing media interviews, allowing students to pinpoint logical fallacies in real-time discussions. At this grade level, only 5 logical fallacies were introduced, namely: Ad Hominem, Strawman, Bandwagon, Loaded Question, and the Tu Quoque fallacy. Most of these fallacies are committed by people daily, and students realized how common they were during while completing their media assignments.
To cement their understanding and showcase the practicality of logical argument and fallacies in everyday life, students were introduced to a game titled “Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher.” This game illuminates how the principles of argumentation, rebuttals, and logical fallacies they learned are not just theoretical but have real-world applications. You can ask for “Clarification”, “Backing”, “Relevance” and ultimately “Challenge” your opponent’s claims by offering them a rebuttal. To make it easier to use this game in-class, it is ideal that the teacher him or herself finishes many of the initial levels themself, and have an understanding of all the ways to beat the first few levels. That way, when played in class, a teacher can guide students accordingly and make them follow along with the arguments and responses to be given. The game is lost once a series of incorrect rebuttals are offered, which leads to a loss of “Credibility” for the player.
All in all, by intertwining game-design elements with traditional logic lessons, we can make the subject more engaging and relatable for middle school students, preparing them for advanced studies and real-world challenges.
Sayyid Ali studied in the seminary of Qom from 2012 to 2021, while also concurrently obtaining a M.A in Islamic Studies from the Islamic College of London in 2018. In the seminary he engaged in the study of legal theory, jurisprudence and philosophy, eventually attending the advanced kharij of Usul and Fiqh in 2018. He is currently completing his Masters of Education at the University of Toronto and is the head of a private faith-based school in Toronto, as well as an instructor at the Mizan Institute and Mufid Seminary.
- See for example: https://p4ciran.com/ | http://www.p4c.ir/ | https://iranp4c.com/
- There are too many papers to cite, but see for example: The impact of implementing the ‘Philosophy for Children’ program on the moral intelligence growth of female students; Examination and critique of the ‘Philosophy for Children’ program from the perspective of Transcendent theosophy (al-hikmat al-muta’āliyah).
- See: Philosophy for children is a serious and necessary subject.