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The Problem With Religion is the People

Shalom Salam Peace
Shalom Salam Peace

Peace image courtesy of

I used this provocative title to introduce workshops at a school where I was asked to use Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats to help the children discuss the issue of religious intolerance. As an opener, using WHITE HAT thinking  (facts / information), we talked about what we knew: names of the six main world religions, their differences and similarities, the difference between knowledge, belief and practice and the problems that arise because of differences – either on a personal or an international scale.

We concluded that, in fact, the problem is not with religion per se, but with the people – either between people from different religions or between people from different denominations within the same religion. And the problem is intolerance of each other’s beliefs or practices, largely due to ignorance, lack of understanding or prejudice.

Still with our white thinking hats on, we then considered an inspiring inter-faith project in Bristol, which started out as Radio Salaam Shalom (salaam and shalom being the respective Aramaic and Hebrew words for ‘peace’).

White hat thinking is essential as a foundation for solution-focused thinking: we have better ideas about how to solve a problem if we know something about the issues at stake.

The children were then asked to discuss in pairs ideas for ‘making peace with people’: practical ideas for bringing people together to help them know, understand and respect each other. This is GREEN HAT thinking – creativity. Children’s ideas always astonish me: we had suggestions for events such as street parties, football matches, visits to each other’s places of worship, multi-faith assemblies, information videos on YouTube, shared meals, clubs, workshops, an inter-faith fair… the list goes on.

As with all ideas, there are going to be a range of reactions from different people. The children thus shared in small groups their feelings (RED HAT thinking) about a particular idea. Naturally, there would be nervousness, anxiety, excitement and pride at setting up an initiative to bring people together.

Following that, the children considered the benefits of the ideas  (YELLOW HAT): Why might this be a good idea? What good would it do? They volunteered suggestions such as ‘making new friends’, ‘helping people to find out about each other and their religions’, ‘reducing crime’ and ‘helping people to feel confident about what they believe’.

Of course, we have to also consider the potential problems or pitfalls – why an idea might not work. This is BLACK HAT thinking (caution). This is often the most difficult stage but, in some respects, the most important: considering the potential problems (which may not even surface) will, in any case, prepare us for any eventually of a crisis, minor or otherwise. Perhaps this underlines Baden-Powell’s Scout Motto, ‘Be Prepared’. Having said that black hat thinking was difficult, the children did, in fact, come up with realistic possibilities that demonstrated an understanding of potential problems: ‘people might not want to join in’, ‘some might try to spoil an event’, ‘people might not like what was happening’, ‘some people might use the event to promote themselves’, and so on.

To finish on a high, we considered alternative ideas: more GREEN HAT thinking. As expected, having now discussed in depth the topic of overcoming differences and making peace with people, the children readily supplied other possibilities: a bouncy castle party, links with other schools, brochures, outside speakers, performances, sharing stories from different religions…

Thanks to Stanton Bridge Primary School in Coventry for an inspiring couple of days: children representing several different countries, languages, religions and cultures sharing ideas about bringing people together. It gives me hope for the future…


How much do you know about world religions? Take this 10-question World Religions Quiz from York College.

How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience?


Master Isolated Images courtesy of Free Digital Photos

When did you last get asked to justify what you are doing? It might be challenging but it’s healthy and it helps you to be clear about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. As Socrates said in a time before mine,

The un-examined life is not worth living.

During a recent Philosophy for Children (P4C) INSET, I was asked the following:

What’s the link between P4C and resilience? How does P4C impact on a child’s resilience?

Great question. I was modeling P4C with the staff after having spent the day delivering P4C workshops with classes. And there should always be a good reason for what we ask children (or staff) to do. So I attempted to come up with a good answer. So how – and why – does P4C impact on children’s resilience (stick-ability, bounce-back-ability)? I bang on about resilience (and resilient thinking, in particular) a lot in my workshops, training events and school assemblies because I know it makes such a difference to outcomes – and overall success – in life.

However, resilience isn’t something you can just talk about, lecture people on or deliver a set of instructions on – it’s not like a cooking recipe. It has to be identified, explained, modeled – and promoted and practised in activities which offer a safe and secure bedding ground for growing resilience. So that’s why I use P4C.

But how does P4C impact on resilience per se? Those who have used P4C with children will have their own stories to tell about their observations. Here’s a couple of mine: I usually divide a class into smaller groups for part of a P4C discussion, especially when they are required to come to a consensus about an idea. On this particular occasion, a group included some fairly strong-minded characters, few of whom were prepared to agree on a single idea (the intended outcome). When it came to a time for each group to submit their chosen idea (from among the several they had aired), the said group were unable to offer anything  – but they were prepared to admit that they couldn’t come to an agreement. I always aim to use humour to defuse a potentially difficult situation so I made light of it and challenged the group to spend a little more time to come to an agreement. Within minutes, they had, indeed, resolved whatever issue had prevented agreement and we moved on.

In terms of resilience, the children had to relinquish pride and accommodate each other’s perspectives. This takes risk but it builds mutual trust and respect and, in the end, resilient thinking (what I define as the capacity to hold and justify a perspective whilst taking account of others’ and, if necessary, adapting one’s own thinking accordingly).

However, that wasn’t the most important outcome of that particular experience: I asked them (and the rest of the class) to evaluate the session and to state what had helped them to think, to create, new ideas, to communicate, to communicate – to solve problems (and, sometimes, collaboration – or NOT collaborating – IS the problem). Invariably, children will identify not only the skills they have been using and how well they have been using them – but also why they are important.

The structure of P4C doesn’t just impact on children’s ability to ask ‘out there’ questions – it massively impacts on their communication and collaboration skills. Within P4C circles, four important realms of thinking (all ‘c’ words) emerge within a so-called ‘community of enquiry’, as put forward by Matthew Lipman, the acknowledged founder of ‘Philosophy for Children:

Critical thinking – giving reasons and evidence

Creative thinking – generating and building on ideas

Co-operative or Collaborative thinking – engaging in thoughtful discussion

Caring thinking – developing awareness of self and care of others.

  I’ve added a couple of my own, which I think are pertinent to children in the 21st century :

Concentrated thinking – focusing on, and exploring, a specific topic for a sustained period of time

Controlled thinking – being measured, mature and rational – and, if necessary, constrained.

 In Part 2, I explore more of the particular skills and attitudes relating to resilience that children are encouraged to develop as they undertake P4C exercises, including the capacity to develop imaginative thinking, communication of ideas, validation of thinking and more on that essential pre-requisite to collaborative thinking: building community.

Let your knees do the talking


Working with a Reception class recently, we recounted the well-known fairy tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. With a little imagination, a low-level chair became a bridge and a child duly took on the role of the troll. In this version, no less than six billy goats trip-trapped across that hapless troll’s bridge, much to his consternation.

The rest of the children joined in with trip-traps and rumbling (the troll’s hungry tummy) and the troll eventually received his comeuppance and was tipped into the river, never to be seen again.

You can imagine the enthusiasm of the 5-year-olds. So much so that they did it again in smaller groups outside – using an upturned crate for a bridge and building a wall of foam blocks behind which the troll could hide and spring up from. By far the most exciting part was the biggest billy goat knocking the wall down on top of the troll…

But don’t we all just love a good drama?

What is so compelling about role-play, about that often-admired but seldom acquired skill of acting?

At the start of a drama workshop, I often ask children when they last saw a drama – people acting. They respond with suggestions such as a Christmas nativity, a pantomime, a school trip – but are surprised when I state that most of them would have watched drama on their TVs the evening before.

Drama is a natural part of our human experience – we use it to communicate, to tell a story, to persuade, to deliver a message, to make sense of our humanity. Drama is compelling form of communication – and it sticks.

Drama requires us to capitalize on forms of communication that we take for granted: voice intonation, facial expression, body language. Try NOT using your voice, relying only on your body – let your knees do the talking. Children find drama empowering and they often surprise us with their insight, interpretation and ability. It brings out essential creativity and communication skills and, within a group, builds collaboration effectively. This clearly has the potential for impact on their learning and achievement right across the curriculum and, of course, in their relationships and personal well-being.

Even a troll can work that one out…


Some useful drama resource websites:


Image by Victor Habbick, courtesy of