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Prior Knowledge

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Philosophy for Kids

I've previously posted on my own blog about teaching kids philosophy. But it seems appropriate to raise the issue here too. Here are three relevant articles:

One discusses Harvard's Project Zero, which I think sounds very interesting:
Up to 70 per cent of Project Zero's work involves schools. One of its projects - known as "visible thinking" - gives teachers strategies to encourage deep thinking among students.

"We would like schoolchildren to learn to think and learn in a stronger way," Professor Perkins says. "One simple problem with thinking is that it's invisible. So the basic philosophy of this initiative is to make thinking more visible in classrooms so that children can see their own thinking and teachers can see it at work so they can get a hold of it and improve it."

For the utilitarians among us, another confirmed that a philosophy for children programme "was making a real difference to academic results and had resulted in children behaving in a less aggressive and more mature way."

The third contains much of interest. For those who doubt whether kids are ready for philosophy:
Gareth Matthews was in Japan last year talking to fifth-graders about perfect happiness. He read them a story he had written about a child absorbed in the satisfaction of scratching an insect bite. Could this define perfect happiness?

"Scratching an insect bite and enjoying it so much that at the moment you don't enjoy anything else is only one petal on the flower of happiness," one child said.

Matthews, a philosophy professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was impressed. "Adults are not generally aware of the fact that children are capable of raising interesting philosophical questions and pursuing interesting philosophical issues," he said.

It continues:
Mount Holyoke College philosophy professor Thomas Wartenberg teaches a course called "Philosophy for Children." College students help develop questions based on picture books and then lead discussions for second- and fifth-graders at Jackson Street Elementary School in Northampton, Mass. Out of the adventures of storybook characters come such questions as "What is courage?" Lively discussions develop around the topics of beauty, truth, justice and reality.

Under Wartenberg's supervision, college students help grade-schoolers create a "community of inquiry" in which children learn the crucial elements of a philosophical discussion. He tells children, "You have to listen carefully and think hard and then make up your mind. If you can't defend your answer, you have to think some more."

This sounds like really fun and worthwhile stuff. I wonder if there'd be any chance of a similar programme being developed here at Canterbury?

Recommended Links:

Update [Feb 07]: More here:
New research from Dundee University suggests learning philosophy raises children's IQ by up to 6.5 points and improves their emotional intelligence.

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  • There certainly is... Just contact P4C NZ, go do their next training then contact some schools till one says yes... And you can set it up. It really is good value and great fun, and some have managed to spin it into a full time job.

    10/18/2005 09:09:00 PM  

  • So it's open to students, then? Sounds good, I think I'll have to look into this...

    10/18/2005 11:05:00 PM  

  • Richard, because I'm lazy but interested in this I'd be very interested to hear anything you find out about the course or what not. Could be a fun thing to do for a few hours a week. Also given that many of us agree that teaching young people HOW to think is imporant, this seems like a very valuable tool to have.

    10/18/2005 11:36:00 PM  

  • I heartily support the idea of teaching philosophy to kids, as long as we really are allowing them to think for themselves and learn to be rational. So much of the curiculum at schools ends up a task of brute memorization rather than actual thought. It would be an utter tradgedy if we ended up with children chanting off the different postions of different philosophers without ever having thought about them. So thats a worry about general implementation in schools, and hopefully a surmountable one. But I also have a worry about the kind of programs you are talking about. (Not that have actually read up I'm afraid. . . I'm blogging while procrastinating and that would take too much time.) Most supplemental sorts of programs like these end up helping kids who are already doing well, already on a path to sucess, and really don't need much help. I really think if you are going to spend time helping kids, one ought to help the one's who need it most. (And I wish I was doing more of it these days, I miss it.) I'd really rather spend time and effort closing socio-economic and educational gaps than opening them up, even on the very small level.

    10/19/2005 12:11:00 PM  

  • Alex, surely it is still very worthwhile to extend the most gifted students and enable them to reach their full potential. The mere fact that they are "already on a path to [career] success" is no excuse to abandon them to the mindless drudgery of the standard school curriculum. In some respects, I think they are the ones most worth targeting, supposing they will get the most out of such programs (and it's so tragic to have their intellectual potential restricted by the standard school settings). For the record, your implication that it's somehow bad for top students to excel (because this opens up "educational gaps") is awfully rant-worthy, but I'll restrain myself for now...

    But, getting back to the main point, it's probably good that we have a diversity of preferences in this regard. If some of us work with the gifted students, and others with the more needy ones, then everyone is happy! ;)

    10/19/2005 04:22:00 PM  

  • Its more fun teaching those that need the least teaching - the brightest. this happens in almost all classes you focus on the bright ones.

    Some lecturers even give them extra marks just in case (I say remembering a specific example). And certainly give them more attention.

    10/19/2005 10:25:00 PM  

  • Hi all

    P4CNZ trainer and philosophy person Vanya Kovach here. I was asked to enter your blog and let you know about the opportunities for training in Philosophy for Children. Yes, it is open to philosophy students, yes, you may get a chance to work with kids, if you find a co-operative school, and yes, we can put on the standard two day training for you in Canterbury, if you can get a group of between 10 and 20 people keen. Best would be a mix of teachers and philosophers. It is not easy for us to organise this from a distance, so if any of you are interested in helping to organise a workshop, email me and we can try to set something up together. v.kovach@auckland.ac.nz If you want to know more about Philosophy for Children, go to our website www.p4c.org.nz



    10/20/2005 03:44:00 PM  

  • Hi Richard
    basically you can be trained either as a teacher or as a philosophy student, although as Vanya points out a mix of both is best, and if you can arrange it working in a teacher philosopher team can be an advantage because you quickly come to envy teachers behaviour management/control skills.

    I agree with Alex in terms of it being a shame if P4C is treat as for the best and the brightest. This is especially the case because, at least in my opinion, schools and our educational system are fairly poor at identifying the best and the brightest.

    From my experience it has sometimes been the kids you wouldn't have expected who have shone through once they realise that they are in an environment where they can think for themselves and express themselves without the standard confines of school.

    I also share Alex's distaste for just getting the students to rote-learn philosophy, fortunately that is definately not P4CNZ's philosophy.

    Actually I would recommend the course myself even if you weren't keen on teaching in schools, I found it generally excellent for thinking about how and why I wanted to teach philosophy.

    So Richard, do you think you can get 10 likely candidates together?

    10/20/2005 09:23:00 PM  

  • I'm not sure. Hopefully. I guess once exams are over I should get in touch with some local primary schools, to see if there are any interested teachers.

    By the way, do you know if anything is being done to bring philosophy into high schools at all? I guess it would be a bit harder to fit in. I imagine it'd also be very different in style from the stuff for younger children that I take it P4C focuses on. A bit closer to academic philosophy. Still, it seems like another worthwhile possibility...

    10/20/2005 10:03:00 PM  

  • I have always wondered a bit how one tells if one is an expert enough in philosophy to be worthy of teaching it?
    (having said htat the same is true for a lot of things I guess)

    Or do you just have to be smart enought to handle a random hypothetical?

    10/20/2005 10:25:00 PM  

  • I should also check: do potential trainees have to become paying members of P4C first?

    10/20/2005 10:36:00 PM  

  • Ah the P4C label strikes again. Although P4C is suitable for primary school it also works in high school and intermediate and as I suggested in university, in fact over here in Northern Ireland (I made the mistake of getting a job) I'm giving a seminar teaching bioethics skills to bioscience students, guess which teaching methodology I'm borrowing from heavily to do this.

    For the record the youngest kids I've worked with doing P4C where 11 year olds, and I've mostly worked with 15 year olds.

    On an entirely different note there was some discussion at the last AAP (NZ branch) about trying to introduce philosophy as a six form subject since there has been a bequest for this at Auckland.

    There was fairly little academic support for this, and since it would be a full time job preparing this for a few years, it is unlikely to go ahead. There is some talk however of making stand alone philosophy modules to slot into existing curiculum to offer extensions for them i.e. Maths and the notion of infinity etc. Again Vanya would be the person to ask since her and Jonathan Mckeown-Green were working on it when I left NZ, and I believe there was some discussion of this at the recent P4CNZ conference.

    You become a paying member of P4CNZ when you do your training, which does cost something per person (I can't remember what, once again ask Vanya!).

    As for Genius's question:
    How Socratic of you!
    It depends I believe where you teach philosophy and at what level.

    Academia of course typically takes care of itself in this regard. Typically you can't tutor until you are at least a BA (Hons) student and preferably till you are an MA student (Note to international vistors, in NZ a BA (Hons) is a post graduate, not under graduate degree in NZ). Usually you can't lecture till you either have or more usually are on the heady path to a PhD.

    So if youre an externalist, then thats how you tell :)

    If you are an internalist, then I'm not sure, I've been tutoring since 2000 and lecturing since 2003 and still the feeling that I'm a fake hasn't gone away, Jonathan McKeon-Green who even has a 'proper' philosophy lecturing job and all tells me the feeling never goes away.

    I guess part of the question is what makes an expert in philosophy?

    I'm inclined in my Australasian way to say a deep understanding and attainment of the skills of a philosopher.

    What do you think?

    10/21/2005 09:45:00 PM  

  • > What do you think?

    I dont know at all I would certainly feel like a fake and yet at the same time dont think I would see very many people as significantly "superior".

    It seems from the clases for P4C that it involves basically learning to have an "answer" (in the loose sense) to various important but vague questions (such as "what is the meaning of life").

    and I presume also being able to discuss logically other peoples answers to those questions (without jsut outright rejecting them).

    But I would not be surprised if others totaly reject that answer since I am not ver confident about it myself.

    10/22/2005 12:26:00 PM  

  • Interesting, I would have said probably knowing that you don't know, and being able to admit it, ranks highly up there, rather than having an answer to the big questions. Most importantly being able to ask the questions that let other people see that they don't know either, so that you can start working on finding out together.

    Did you do P4C training or did you get the impression from the website? Just cause it wouldn't have been how I would characterised it...

    "I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours."
    ~ Stephen Roberts

    10/24/2005 11:04:00 PM  

  • just the website I looked at some of their exercises.
    Still - what if you DO know the answer to a question?

    10/25/2005 08:56:00 PM  

  • I guess it depends on the type of question and what you mean by "know". I'm inclined to think that typically you can't "know" in a strong sense the answer to philosophical questions, that might well be what makes them a philosophical question.

    In any case if you know the answer then what I would do is try to ask questions that allow them to discover the answer for themselves, they will learn it much better this waw.

    10/26/2005 05:01:00 AM  

  • Yeah I saw that news piece a few days ago. Very interesting stuff, and I thought Paul dealt well with the media interest. I have just got a £150000 grant from the Wellcome Trust to design and deliver (Although we will hire someone to do most of the delivery) a bioethics focused philosophy for school style program to be used in the citizenship and science classrooms over here in Northern Ireland. So P4C is doing well in Britain at the moment!


    2/07/2007 02:14:00 AM  

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