Using Ignorance in P4C: Facilitator-in-Role

This week, an theatrical idea from the chalk-face that promotes careful thinking and clear speaking.



You might have read about Philosophy-in-Role in previous bulletins – putting children into a dramatic narrative where they make decisions and judgments as characters within the story, rather than as pupils within a classroom. Earlier this summer, we tried a new approach – Facilitator-in-Role – with groups at St. Francis School in Wiltshire. Rather than being our usual selves, we entered classrooms as robots in desperate need of programming on the difference between right and wrong.


Playing Dumb

By facilitating from a position of ignorance as a robot who knows nothing of human ways, you automatically encourage pupils to take care over their words, and put greater effort into clarity of expression. They cannot rely on colloquialisms or common sense, and will have to break complex concepts down into simpler, constituent parts. Some good stock phrases to have up your sleeve are:


That is a new word for me. Can you explain what it means?
Sorry, I don’t understand. Could you put it more simply?
OK, so does that mean…?
Is what you have said always true?
Could you give me an example, so I can understand better?


Facilitating-in-Role need not be limited to establishing right and wrong, nor a robot. Acting as an alien works just as well (see “Explaining Christmas to an Alien”), and you can take the approach to explore any concept within your curriculum, for example:

Voting – (as a robot) “My master says once there are lots of robots, we might get to vote on who runs the country. How do I work out who is the best candidate?”
Money – (as an alien) “I had to pay for parking for my spaceship. What is this thing called money?”
Rights – (as either) “I notice you rear animals to eat. I would like to start my own human farm. Is that acceptable?”

It seems to work quite well for the “robot” to speak with a rather bloodless, unemotional voice, and in a rather formal fashion, which provides a great opportunity fo introducing technical vocabulary. For example, “You have said hurting people is wrong. Is this a universal principle, which applies in every situation. Or are there exceptions when hurting people is OK? Please find another human to talk to and decide what you think and why.”


Let them facilitate each other

You might know that Tom is now teaching Religious Studies full time at Bancroft’s School, where he remains Philosopher-at-Large for us. Last week, his class got into pairs with one acting as an alien, and the other the earthling, taking it in turns to push each other on questions about this thing called ‘religion.’ This twist is particularly suited to older pupils who would be able to ‘play the ignoramus’ and to challenge lazy expression and sharpen their partner’s thinking.

Best wishes,

Jason and Tom

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