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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An under-appreciated way of teaching kids to think rationally

Photo: Valerie Strauss
"It's philosophy, and yes, it's for young kids, not just college students." according to Valerie Strauss, Reporter — Washington, D.C and runs The Answer Sheet blog. 
A statue of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates stands in front of a Greek flag in Athens on June 27, 2015. (Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images)

Philosophy is often thought of as a subject suitable for college students. We don’t generally think that third graders would do well having to write a paper about the epistemological basis for David Hume’s naturalism, but, in fact, there are methods of teaching philosophy to very young students that can help them learn to think for themselves in ways that other subjects don’t. 
This post looks at one program that has been having success teaching philosophy to young students, including those from disadvantaged families. It was written by Steve Neumann, a writer and philosophile who says he is interested in doing for philosophy what science journalists do for science — “preparing the arcana of academia into a dish digestible by the public.” His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Philosophy Now and other outlets. He blogs at Notes Toward a New Chimera at Patheos.

An increasing number of American children from low-income backgrounds are coming to kindergarten lagging in both academic and non-cognitive skills critical to educational success, according to a recent report by the Economic Policy Institute. As the report states:
“Such early-in-life inequalities point to the need for substantial interventions to reduce them, including early educational interventions, to ensure that children arrive in kindergarten ready to learn and for compensatory policies to support these children throughout the school years (from kindergarten through 12th grade).”
Fortunately, there’s a growing — yet under-appreciated and therefore under-reported — method of teaching that’s been showing tangible progress in student academic achievement, including for kids from disadvantaged groups. It’s the Philosophy for Children movement, also known as P4C,  which began with the late philosopher Matthew Lipman’s 1969 novel Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery. The novel and accompanying teacher manual were designed to help children in K-12 learn how to think for themselves.

Since that time, the core practice of P4C has become what’s called “inquiry dialogue,” which is similar in spirit to what Socrates does in Plato’s famous dialogues. With P4C, the teacher acts like Socrates, presenting a group of students with a variety of different prompts for discussion, such as a poem, a picture book, or regular chapter books and other materials already being used in the classroom for subjects like reading, math, science, and social studies. Questions in response to the stimulus are encouraged and explored in the ensuing discussion. The teacher’s job is to ensure the discussion remains focused and that everyone gets a chance to contribute.

Source: Washington Post (blog)