Philosophy in the Classroom

Quirky, Funny, and Philosophical

The idea that children can be interested in and more importantly have something valuable to offer discussion of a philosophical character was challenged by Matthew Lipman in the 1970s. His book Philosophy for Children is a little gem. This book has perhaps influenced me more than any other book about child development. Not particularly because I love philosophy but because he opened my eyes towards seeing children as valuable contributor to the world.

Children’s mistakes and funny sayings are not just to be ignored or brushed off as something quirky. Children actually have something important to say both about how they perceive the world and about our world.

New Trend
Philosophy and thinking are often subjects that are supposed to be included in the curriculum. Thus, there is no need to put aside any particular time during the week for philosophical discussion or ways to explore thinking. But trends in education come and go and many schools in Europe have started to include philosophy in the classroom. Often the argument is that it can raise children’s IQ, improve their critical thinking, and concentration.

However, the real value of philosophical discussion may be something different. The fact that your ideas and suggestions are taken seriously and explored gives children confidence in their own skills. Thinking discussions help children to explore other people’s views and ideas.It also helps children to continue to consider the world an interesting place. Philosophical discussions encourage the development of a curious mind. Things are not always clear and some questions are puzzling and bewildering to adults as well as children.

  • How do you know that everyone has a beautiful mind?
  • How do you know that you cannot turn a real cat to a dog, only an imaginary cat can be transformed to a dog?

These questions may later spark and interest in exploring issues such as gene transfer. Ethical questions are important. And the development of awareness of your own as well as other values is vital for developing healthy relationships with other people.

Socratic dialogueis a common method that is used in philosophical discussions with children. Questions are asked that lead the children to examine an opinion or belief. Lively discussion can take place with young children when the talk about whether there are leprechauns or elves hiding in the woods.

During a discussion children can sit in a circle and  pass a toy around. The child with the toy can either choose to speak or continue to pass it on. The teacher is often not actively participating in these discussions. Something that can be hard for both the children and the teacher.

Inspiration for Discussions

Books are a great way to explore philosophy with children. The Swedish author Pija Lindenbaum’s books are often filled with dramatic pictures that sometimes tell as different story than the text. In the book “Boodil My Dog”, we hear children describe their dog as “brilliant,” “fierce, strong, and brave,” with “nerves of steel.” But the pictures are different. Boodil is quivering under the coach and avoids puddles.

A book like this raises many questions. How do we know what we know? Is what we see the truth or should we pay more attention to what people are telling us?  And of course questions about the minds and feelings of animals.  Something that animal lawyer Antoine Goetschel is thinking about in his daily work.

Photo: Happy Child On Swing by chrisroll

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