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P4C Facilitation: Parking the Facts

What would the world be like if men gave birth?
If there was no religion, would people behave better, worse, or the same?
If you could alter one thing about the human species, what would it be?
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These far-fetched questions raise interesting issues around gender, moral motivation and human nature respectively. But in response to any of them, a child may stubbornly fold their arms and claim, “It couldn’t happen!” So how can you get past that response?
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Don’t let the facts get in the way
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A good strategy to get round this is to “park the facts”: you’re not interested, for philosophical purposes, about whether or not a situation is possible, but about the thinking that imagining it leads to. This can also be useful when children attempt to find practical solutions to a dilemma rather than grappling with the philosophical problem. For example:
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If it could happen, what then?”
“Yes, you could build some life-rafts, but this is a philosophy session, not a boat safety workshop. So if you could only save half the people on the Titanic, who should get the places in the lifeboats?”
If they couldn’t buy another cake, how should this one be shared out?”
“Perhaps you’re right and computers will never develop human-level intelligence. But if they did, should they have rights?”
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The move is to acknowledge the validity of their practical thinking, but to put that to one side and focus on the deeper philosophical questions on offer.
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“A probable impossibility is much better than an improbable possibility.”
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This is one of the first rules of film-making, according to acclaimed writer Aaron Sorkin. Coincidences that could happen, such as a detective sitting next to a killer at a baseball game, make lousy stories. Consequences that would happen, if the world was different, such as a detective who has arrived from the future remembering a killer from his trial, make interesting stories.
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Similarly, exploring hypothetical situations is not only a lot of fun, but it also develops children’s abilities to hypothesise, predict and forecast. Books and films are full of such possibilities.
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If an intelligent pig wants to be eaten, should you eat it? (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
If you were going to relive a day of your life over and over for ever, how should you live it? (Groundhog Day)
If children were left to establish their own society, what would happen? (Lord of the Flies)
If a tiger came to tea, would it behave itself? (The Tiger Who Came to Tea)
If you were King/Queen of the Wild Things, would you stay or leave? (Where The Wild Things Are)
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Making it happen in your classroom
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Have a go at ‘parking the facts’ and explore probabilities, rather than possibilities, with your children. You can start with some role-play, a text, or just asking a question about a current topic.
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For an instant, ready-to-use idea, take a look at this bulletin from 2014 about how ‘impossible’ arguments help speech confidence. It has two suggestions – one for a Reception class, and one for older children using Adrian Henri’s Tonight At Noon poem as a stimulus. We’ve added it to our blog:
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