Philosophy for children (P4C), past, now and future

Interview with the successor of Matthew Lipman at Montclair State University

P4C practice
Maughn Rollins Gregory and Lukasz Krzywon at SOPHIA network meeting 2019 at NUI Galway

Tell us in a nutshell what you are currently doing?

I am a professor of the faculty of Educational Foundations at Montclair State University. I teach classes in philosophy of education, gender issues in education, education and democracy, and the ethics and politics of educational assessment. I also conduct research in these areas and I am the Director of the IAPC (Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children).

Is this the role you took after Matthew Lipman?

Exactly, since he retired in 2001. I started working at the university in 1997, but at the beginning I was not permitted to work directly in philosophy for children, because I was hired for other tasks. It was a few years before I was able to work closely with Mat Lipman and Ann Margaret Sharp at the Institute, and then in 2001 I became director.

Why did you become interested in philosophy for children?

Since I was young I had many questions about life—mostly about the Mormon religion in which I was raised—and my mother, who is devout but also a questioner and a seeker, encouraged my questions and enjoyed discussing ideas with me. Sometimes, when we found ourselves deep in a theological perplexity, she would pick up the telephone and call a religious authority to get some guidance. She was also a schoolteacher, and I spent many summer afternoons with her, preparing her classroom for the new school year and talking about what and how she would be teaching. When I began to study philosophy in college, I recognized that I had been doing philosophy with my mother for many years. In those years, I often shared with my mother what I was reading or discussing in my philosophy courses and then discuss it further with her. While I was an undergraduate philosophy student my mother found an article about philosophy for children (P4C) in an education magazine and shared it with me. The description made the program seem congruent with the best of the seminar-style philosophy courses I had taken and with the Socratic discussions my mother conducted in her own classroom. After my undergraduate degree I took a detour from philosophy into law, which was excellent training for me, but I missed philosophy. After law school I clerked for a county judge for a few years, after which I decided to take a break from law to get a masters degree in philosophy. I went to the University of Hawaii, where I could study comparative Asian and western philosophy, and where they had a strong philosophy for children program directed by Dr. Thomas E. Jackson. I studied Sanskrit, Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, had wonderful seminars on medieval philosophy, aesthetics, and Kant, and fell in love with philosophy for children.

Surely you remember Lipman and Sharp well. What was it like to be a member of their team?

I met Mat Lipman and Ann Sharp in Mexico City, where I was studying for a PhD in Philosophy with a specialization in philosophy for children—the first program of that kind—at the Jesuit, Universidad Iberoamericana. Walter Kohan, Ji-Aeh Lee, Christine Gehrett, Gilbert Talbot, and Eduardo Rubio were in the doctoral cohort with me, and Teresa de la Garza was the program director. Mat and Ann were two of the professors who flew in from around the world to teach courses and advise students. A job came up at Montclair State University while I was writing my dissertation, and knowing that was where P4C began and that I wanted to be part of it, I applied.

It was an honor to work closely with Mat and Ann while they were both very active. David Kennedy and Mark Weinstein are also in the department. The University had masters degree programs in Critical Thinking and Philosophy for Children, and while I was there we created a doctoral program in pedagogy with a specialization in philosophy for children. We ran the IAPC workshops at Mendham twice a year for two weeks each time, and we had (and still have) a number of international visiting scholars study with us for weeks or months at a time. The IAPC published the journal Thinking (Kennedy eventually took over as chief editor in place of Lipman). We were all doing our own research, on philosophy of education as well as philosophy for children. And we worked with a small number of local schools, bringing graduate students in to do philosophy with children and to work with teachers in learning how to do that. In the years that I was at the IAPC, Mat didn’t travel a lot but Ann was constantly on the move, all over the world. I was able to travel with her a number of times, speaking at academic conferences and conducting P4C workshops.

P4C founder Ann Margaret Sharp philosopher
Ann Margaret Sharp and Maughn Rollins Gregory in 2008

What was the dynamics of work between Lipman and Sharp? It often happens that one side supports the other in what it is stronger. How was it in their case? Who did what in this duet?

This is an interesting question. I recently published a book with Megan Laverty on Ann’s scholarship, for which we researched her personal and professional life. Ann died before she managed to publish her own book based on all the articles and book chapters she had written. She was very generous and shared her texts at conferences so that they could be printed in local journals. So her work was spread all over the world, in different languages. Much of it is difficult to find, because her articles did not always appear in mainstream philosophical or educational journals. Our work consisted in finding many of these texts and translating them. We also invited contemporary scholars to write critical evaluations of her work. Another reason we put this book together has to do with the dynamic between her and Mat. Mat published much more than Ann, who spent so much time dealing with the dissemination of the method, conducting workshops, directing the degree programs at Montclair, and helping various people start their own P4C programs all over the world. In fact, since the book came out, many people have expressed surprise that Ann Sharp had written as much as she had (only a fraction of which was collected in the book). Mat was the official director of the IAPC, but he and Ann discussed every aspect of the Institute’s work together and made most administrative decisions together.

So she was involved in “apostolic” work?