Fostering reasoning skills in young people can improve learning outcomes and one way of doing this is by teaching philosophy. Children are naturally curious and constantly asking “why?” Studying philosophy helps them not only explore answers to these sorts of questions, but develops critical thinking.
Hawaii: Young minds, old questions
Waikiki School in Honolulu has strived for a mindful approach to educaton for the last 20 years. In contrast to many other schools, here children as young as five study philosophy, or at least are encouraged to ask philosophical questions.
Thomas Jackson, from Philosophy for Children, in Hawaii, said: “In kindergarten, we are filled with wonder and our wonder bubbles out in these extraordinary questions. As you follow most students through the school, that wonder diminishes. By the time they get to 3rd grade, 4th grade, they’re already shutting down, they’re responding to the expectations of the system and what the teacher wants.”
The Philosophy for Children Hawaii Centre helps the teachers here retain their wonder and their curiosity. The point is not to acquire specific facts or opinions, but to develop critical thinking skills.
Courtney Carpenter, a teacher at the school, said: “Since they went to philosophy class, they’ve been taught that you can think of questions and you can come up with answers for the questions and there’s no wrong answer. Then what happens is they get empowered and when they come into a classroom they can lead the classroom.”
This year, Waikiki School has been ranked second out of the 258 primary schools in Hawaii – and the Philosophy for Children Hawaii Centre is hoping to expand into other schools.
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USA: Natural Born Philosophers
Sarah Goering, a philosophy professor at Washington University, advocates teaching philosophy at a very early age. She says that children are natural-born philosophers:
“Kids already think philosophically when they are young. I think they question very naturally, as philosophers do: questions like: what are numbers and where do they come from? And how can they possibly go on forever. Why do we have wars? They want to know if there a God and if there is, then who created God? And you know the questions go on and they are all good philosophical questions.”
Sara teaches philosophy to 10 and 11 year-olds
at the John Muir School in Seattle. The theme of immortality sparked a heated debate about life, death and what it all means.
Sara Goering, Philosophy professor, University of Washington: “Overall, I’d say in the philosophy for children movement the idea is to help them think critically about things – carefully and creatively. The hope is that, over time, they learn to talk together as a group, offering reasons to each other: “This is my reason for disagreeing with what you said…” and then hopefully you can respond back to the reasons that I have given.”
Sara is inspired by her 7 year-old daughter and 3 year-old son and tries her ideas out on them.
Sara Goering: “Earlier on she would ask questions like “what happens when people die? Do we put them in the ground? Are they there in the ground, just like sleeping? Or are they sleeping? You know, questions about the mechanics of that. But now she gets into questions more like: Why do we die?”
Some people argue that when art and music classes are being cut, philosophy is not really a priority. But Sara doesn’t agree: “They feel the pull of needing reasons. They want to know why they have to do something and philosophy gives them those tools.”
Philosophy teaches children to think about subjects like the meaning of life, time and justice. Do we really want them growing up thinking the answers to these questions aren’t important?
Norway: Mind games
Here in Oslo 82 students from 39 different countries are competing in the International Philosophy Olympiad.
The competition involves the student having 4 hours to write an essay in one of four languages: English, German, French and Spanish and the language chosen cannot be their mother tongue. The essay has to discuss one of four quotations. They can choose which one. These are quotations from different philosphers about different issues which they have to discuss.
Young people from all over the world compete and for fun there are also lectures and discussion groups.
The winners are announced on the final day. In 2012 there were 3 bronze winners, 4 silver and two gold.
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