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October 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm #139244JaxKeymaster
This is an interesting article I read today.
Philosophy as the Missing Link – An Eye-Opening Audit of Our School’s Curriculum
By: Kimberly Wickham
The question might be asked, “Why would anyone want to teach philosophy to pre-adolescent children?” but there are very good reasons why one might want to take on such a lofty task. I am not suggesting that the history of philosophy would be particularly pertinent for a young child to learn, but there is substantial evidence to support the development of an already natural tendency towards philosophical thought. Some may think that the pre-adolescents haven’t got the cognitive developmental ability to wrap their minds around such an elusive and subjective study as philosophy. However, developing this skill has shown long term positive effects. These effects range from developing critical thinking skills and cognitive ability to raising emotional maturity and encouraging the child’s sense of security within his or her world.
For years there has been an emphasis on cognitive and physical aspects of children’s development, but recently more attention is being placed on both the social and emotional aspects of a child’s development. It is becoming recognized that a child’s emotional maturity has a big impact on their ability to learn and process information. While that, at first blush, may seem an obvious conclusion there is a little more to the story. A child’s emotional maturity and self esteem has a significant impact on his or her behavior as well. An increasing number of children are being identified as needing additional learning strategies and showing challenging behaviors. Education systems are struggling to find creative methods to address these needs before the problems arise.
It is recognized that a child’s ability to learn depends on how advanced they are at managing personal and social tasks. Their work suffers when they are incapable of coping effectively with important skills such as the ability to be aware of other’s feelings, manage relationships and be part of a social community. Encouraging philosophical thought and developing critical thinking skills in pre-adolescent children provides a foundation for cognitive, social and emotional skills to flourish.
Children continually ask philosophical questions without prompting, such as: “If I squeeze my eyes shut really tightly and I can’t see where I am, does that make where I am become somewhere else?” As adults used to navigating the world in our current understanding of reality we answer these types of questions following the strict rules of our present view, but it might be far more useful to the child to encourage examination of the question. For example an appropriate response might be, “What do you think about that?” Further discussion can take place when the child has had a chance to explore their own opinions and ideas about their physical reality, for example.
A pre-adolescent child may not move as fast and furiously through this type of metaphysical analysis as a college student but they certainly do have the cognitive ability to use this type of critical thinking to expand their thinking processes. So what is meant by ‘critical thinking’ exactly? The American Philosophical Association’s Committee on Pre-College Philosophy describes it as “…purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based…” (Facione 1989)
But for those of us looking for a simpler explanation it is essentially the ability to use reasonably reflective, focused thinking to decide what to believe and do. Children need to be encouraged to reflect carefully on their own beliefs and be encouraged to explore other points of view. Philosophy encourages children to learn to think independently as well as think and discuss with others. In order to gain the most advantage children need to be able to engage in open classroom discussions on an ongoing basis. By mastering this type of thinking the child develops deeper emotional literacy and learns to create a more thoughtful and purposeful life.
On another level philosophical discussion can be used to develop a deeper understanding of ethics. Dr. Stephen Law, a senior lecturer in Philosophy at Heathrop College, University of London explains the skills that are cultivated in such discussions as the following:
* reveal and question underlying assumptions
* figure out the perhaps unforeseen consequences of a moral decision or point of view
* spot and diagnose faulty reasoning
* weigh up evidence fairly and impartially
* make a point clearly and concisely
* take turns in a debate, and listen attentively without interrupting
* argue without personalizing a dispute
* look at issues from the point of view of others
* question the appropriateness, or the appropriateness of acting on, one’s own feelings
He goes on to say, “Acquiring these skills involves developing, not just a level of intellectual maturity, but a fair degree of emotional maturity too. For example, turn-taking requires patience and self-control. Judging impartially involves identifying and taking account of your own emotional biases. By thinking critically and carefully about your own beliefs and attitudes, you may develop insights into your own character. By stepping outside of your own viewpoint and looking at issues from the standpoint of another, you can develop a greater empathy with and understanding of others. So by engaging in this kind of philosophical, critical activity, you are likely to develop, not only the ability to reason cogently, but also what now tends to be called “emotional intelligence.” (Law 2007)
In order to gain the most advantage, children need to be able to engage in open classroom discussions on an ongoing basis. As a teacher of pre-adolescent children I have had the opportunity to witness these discussions taking place spontaneously. In most instances I have been able to set aside the particular lesson that might have been planned for the time and let the free-wheeling philosophical discussion go on with minimal but well-timed guidance. Although it would have been ideal to have had time set aside on a daily basis for such discussion there is a fair amount of pressure from the already demanding curriculum, thereby restricting the frequency of these critically important discussions.
As a writer of philosophy for children, I give examples within my stories of my characters exploring deep philosophical questions in an alternate school setting as well as in every day events. It is my hope that when children read my stories they will have a sparked interest in exploring the deeper questions of life with their families and perhaps even instigate such discussions within their classrooms. I also have great hope that the educational systems currently in place will take a closer look at the benefit of adding philosophical discussions to their curriculums. This would provide an opportunity to advance the world’s development by populating it with emotionally intelligent and critically inquisitive minds.
— Kimberly Wickham is the author of Angels and Horses and Summer of Magic Horses.October 16, 2008 at 9:25 pm #149676Kol DrakeModerator
Was that not what was once ‘taught’ intrinsically through ‘example’ and tales such as Aesop’s Fables, etc.? Not the Disney-fied versions but the ones once told & taught to every child.
Or at least inferred to through key phrases?
A stitch in time saves nine.
He who laughs last…
A bird in hand..
Look before you leap.
Do unto others before they do it to you.October 16, 2008 at 9:30 pm #149677JaxKeymaster
To an extent, but the difference here is that they aren’t just told these things, but developing critical thought and what they think and feel about topics. They’re developing their own wisdom rather than just being taught rules about the world.October 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm #149678JaxKeymaster
Sorry, tired and at work…I should add that perhaps parables are taught sometimes with a critical thinking element, and sometimes they aren’t. I shouldn’t assume kids are told what they should get from them, but that certainly seems to be the case in most kids stories. Stories were told to kids so they’d learn what adults wanted them to learn, which is a different focus from what this person is advocating.October 16, 2008 at 9:42 pm #149679Kol DrakeModerator
But… if they are not given some ‘rules’ or guidelines on how to act / interact with the world —- how are they to put all this great ‘philosophical thinking’ to use… or know how to balance ‘hand wavy’ concepts with life reality?
While I am not discounting the ‘trainability’ and ‘capacity to absorb’ the brains of young kids, I am not certain grade school kids — and even junior high and most of high school kids are still learning the basics their own social structures and their own bodies… to be asking them to wrestle with concepts of ‘why are we here’, ‘what is the reason for reality’, ‘what is reality’, ‘is what is real for me the same reality that is real for you’, etc.
While this sounds neat…. and gives some one a new job to foist on the education structure … I wonder if this is more muddying of what really needs to be the reversion to the ‘three Rs’ — reading, (w)riting, and (a)rithmatic. If we emphasised the core skills, then maybe we would not need to go off shore to find people who can add simple values in their head instead of hoping the electricity is still on so they can punch the proper buttons…. ’cause if it goes dark, they can’t even figure out how to make simple change for you dollar.
True, some.. maybe many.. kids will be more then capable to ‘handle’ this stuff by late high school… is this something we really need to make every kid go through… cookie cutter style? I am afraid the old ‘pre-20th century’ Prussian teaching style we adopted is not what has worked that well at the best of times and was even more of a mess by the end of the 20th century and now. The school systems are still a mess from the last 40 years of ‘fixes’ which only made matters worse.October 16, 2008 at 10:36 pm #149680CharlesParticipant
The question I think we realy must ask is if we should ask our children to do something we ourselves are not brave enough to do. Few people TRUELY ask philosophical questions to themselves completely seeking an answere not built on previous statements made to them. If they did most would leave their jobs immediatly, kill themselves (or others), or do many other such “reprehensible” actions as they would have no “moral grounding” to prevent it.
When a man tells me he wants to kill his boss, I can ussually write that off as a want he will not seek out because of a moral grounding. When he says he is going to because he’s found enlightenment thats when I begin to worry. Most of us who are amature philosophers and spiritualists (if your a professional in the field bless you but keep listening anyway) learn that all the world is an illusion created by our own perceptions. Yet, that illusion, those perceptions are VITAL to our function and happiness. We learn that believing in the basic lies are very important because without those we wander aimlessly and our quality of life decreases.
So we pick and choose our lies then, removing ones that limit us in negative ways and adding ones that we like to experiance. Often this is done after the self examination, internal questioning, and philosophical debate. Often likewise it is done on a subconscious level without direct awareness.
We’ve shown that children can pick and choose moral grounding. Yet most children choose that moral grounding based on a benifits system. Which moral gets them the most candy? Which moral gets them the most praise? If we give them praise for simply looking at their morals, and making a choice, no matter what that moral may be then we invite them to choose the easiest path. The easiest path is the path of the taker and destroyer. What is simpler for a child, or adult, to earn a piece of candy or to take it from someone who can not keep ahold of it themselves?
In looking deep into how we wish to train our children, we should look deeper into what it is we wish to have them gain in that training. If it is felxibility in them we seek then we should present a strong moral core yet also still ask some deep philosophical questions. However if flexibility is the supreme, if it is worth everything, then we forfeit all other things of importance. We forfeit love, kindness, goodness, generosity, perhaps we even forfeit basic human traits of these things even. The reason I say that is we all put aside our childlike selflessness that is learned as we take on the tit or bottle and are taught that the best things are those given. We put it aside, we go out, and we enter an “earning” based system of praise. Yet, we never completely get rid of that concept, so we maintain our basic kindness.
However, sometimes looking deeper is worse than looking shallow. If we have our children truely examine the world and the way it works how long will it be before the principals, the lies, that good triumps over evil and that a kind heart is important will be forgoton.
At the end of the day we mold our children into the world we wish it was. We teach them to believe in a reality that we wish we seen, and sometimes one we even do see, so that they might make it that way for us and for them. We do this selflish and selflessly in our quest for a better existance.
Any action, taken with this bit of advanced thinking, could have great or terrible reprecussions. Wisdom is in seeking a balance between philosophical thought and moral right action.October 17, 2008 at 11:40 am #149681Anonymous
Star Wars myth, religious myth, stories, parables, comic books, video games, play games are how children do begin to rational think about injustice, the idea of knowledge, right action versus wrong, how to react when faced with adversity, fairness…
My pre-adolescent philosophy was most strongly felt after beginning to read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was about seven. I was also a rabid Star Trek Fan. (This was before Star Wars was known). I believe those two pieces of fiction along with church and bible study were the three strongest foundations I received to help me with philosophical thinking and judgement.
My hope was that at some point we adults in the Jedi Community could get it together enough to begin outreach to discussion with the many youth who are searching online for teaching online that was once gained through churches and other religious communities.
I have met many eight to twelve year olds who are asking incredibly important questions who are beginning to seek answers outside of their parents and local boundaries.
Teaching Philosophy to Children has always been done – but the infrastructure towards doing it has fallen-away – and it is one of those things that would be difficult to teach in a school setting due to it’s personal nature.October 18, 2008 at 5:05 am #149682inariParticipant
It’s hard to get kids to sit still long enough to learn anything, especially if its stories and they take more than 5 minutes to read. Sometimes it is worthwhile to carefully choose the television programming they watch, to awaken this sort of question in their minds. Some examples are ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Last Unicorn’.October 20, 2008 at 1:29 pm #149687Kate SolusarParticipant
I very much agree with AstaSophi’s points and personal experience, as it echoes my own personal experience. I was taught the language and process of philosophy in high school first, then in some college coursework. To be honest, developmentally, children do not have a concept of their own thought process (which is required in order to begin teaching critical thinking and logic, for example) until they reach Jean Piaget’s stage of formal operations, which is about sixth grade (12 years old, roughly) in the US (I know there are members here from other countries and their education systems are naturally different).
However, children ask and think about philosophy all the time. I know it is true of my own children, particularly my eldest, because he has the communication skills to articulate these kind of ideas. It also helps that he has always been interested in such questions. Stories, like from the Bible, or fairy tales, or movies and mythos like Star Wars, are the primary teaching mechanisms for sharing philosophy and shaping the world view of our children. The key is, how in tune and in touch with this process parents are. That makes all the difference, I sense. No question or topic is off limits at our house. My children have both (at 3 and 5) been to funerals for close loved ones who have died. Believe me, death is quite the philosophical stimulus in conversation with my little guys. Right now, my eldest is learning about similies and how comparisons can explain and describe people, places, objects, etc. That opens the door to discussing the meaning of common proverbs, such as “A stitch in time saves nine.” Of course, my son with autism is much more literal, so I have learned that such discussions with him need to concretely and accurately explain things. I can’t tell him it’s “raining like cats and dogs.” I have to tell him “it’s raining very, very hard.” Otherwise, he looks for the cats and the dogs falling from the sky.
We share philosophy with our children, both at school and at home and in the community every time we teach how people should work together, social rules of ettiquette and politeness, what “the rules” are, what’s fair or unfair, what’s right or wrong. My sons both have been taught not to say it’s unfair, because I believe that life is unfair. What is important is not that you get the same exact size piece of cake as your brother, but that you get what you need, when you need it, how you need it. Having “the talk” is another way we convey philosophical concepts to our children. The topic of sex, sexuality, and sexual expression has come up several times. I try to convey a sense of blessing, that such expression is good, that our bodies are good and that sexuality is something natural, good, and a positive expression of love. The mechanics, biology, and philosophy behind these concepts will have to wait until they can understand and examine their own thought process.
Very thought provoking article and discussion. Our schools and education systems are not well-equipped to take on this task directly, perhaps, but it behooves us all to recognize that this kind of education already goes on in our lives and those of our children. We need to tune in and be part of the process.November 11, 2008 at 8:07 pm #149741AdanaParticipant
My son, now 9 1/2 has surprised me with deep philosophical questions since he was 3 years old. He would come to me and ask something I would have never expected from him but in time got used to it and enjoy some of his insights he likes to give or his curiosity. Suprisingly his inquiries are not always what you would expect from a child his age but coompatible with that of adults. It’s amazing.
While we need to be careful not to overload a young mind we can certainly foster and further philosopical education. Childrens’ minds are much more open and uncluttered than ours.
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