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Friday, July 31, 2015

Schools are starting to teach kids philosophy—and it's completely changing the way students think

Chris Weller, Tech Insider  writes, "America may be great at many things, but education isn't one of them."

Photo: Business Inside

It's here that standardized testing creeps behind students like a shadow and where fun experiments take a back seat to rote memorization.

But in some ambitious K-12 schools across the country, philosophy courses have made tangible improvements to the way students learn.

In these classrooms, teachers tackle big concepts like ethics and epistemology. They ask, How can we know what we know? — a classic epistemological quandary — but they use Dr. Seuss to get there.

Inside the classroom

Photo: Jana Mohr Lone
Jana Mohr Lone has taught philosophy at all levels, from preschool to college. She directs the University of Washington Center for Philosophy for Children, and for 20 years she's been the president of PLATO, a nonprofit organization focused on bringing philosophy to schools.

Over that time, she's learned an important lesson: It doesn't take much to get kids thinking.

"Our general approach is to start off with some kind of stimulus," Lone tells Tech Insider. For younger kids, that's often a picture book or a game. In middle or high school it could be a novel or work of art. "Then we ask the children, 'So what questions does this make you wonder about?'"

After the inevitable outpouring of curiosity, Lone says teachers will typically put the lesson to a vote — which question do people want to explore the most? The winning topic then forms the basis of a discussion.

Pretty much anything is up for grabs. 
The Philosophical Child 
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; Reprint edition (January 21, 2015)

Scout and Atticus Finch can stimulate a discussion on the nature of courage. "The Velveteen Rabbit" gets kids thinking about the question, "What is real?" Often, Lone says, the simplest stimuli can produce profound insights. In her 2012 book "The Philosophical Child," she recalls one particularly poignant lesson involving the nature of existence.
After asking a fifth-grade class whether we can know for sure that we are real people and not part of a virtual simulation, a bright 10-year-old girl sitting up front offered her take.
"Okay," the girl said, "maybe I can't know that I am not just the mind of a computer or living in a cave and seeing only shadows. But what I can know is that if I'm thinking about what I can know, I can be sure that at least there is me thinking, even that's all I can know about myself or anything else."
Lone was blown away, she writes. "I told her that the philosopher René Descartes had come to a similar conclusion almost four hundred years ago."
Read more... 

Source: Business Insider