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As educators and caregivers, adults can support the development of competent and resourceful human beings by understanding that children are active constructors of knowledge, not empty buckets needing to be filled with information. This sort of questioning creates opportunities for you, the adult, to learn. It also communicates to the child that you assume that a curious and pattern seeking mind is very much alive inside them - that you believe they are thinking thoughts that will benefit the world.

Stephen King on Childhood

Here at Portland Children's Museum, the environment may more accurately be described as the first teacher. Our exhibits are always changing, as children build on the environments that they encounter here, and so our work of connecting our intentions to the design outcomes is continually evolving. The products children create with materials reflect back to them a tremendous insight about who they are.

Famous Philosophers on the Theory of Play

So with that in mind, what do we want to offer children an opportunity to see? The materials we provide to children are limited by the image we hold about their competencies. Through materials, children receive messages about their own potential, their own value. Documentation encourages and reminds us to stretch our image of children as a protagonist of their own learning, which in turn allows adults to create environments rich in material exploration and expression.

How would our future communities benefit from the support of these rights now? How might the contributions of children benefit our current communities? How can we model our strong value in the competencies of children so that parents have confidence to see their children as the capable young citizens they are? How can we invite parents to identify and focus on the gifts their children bring to the world?

Now you go to the animals and you branch off—mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and whatever there is. Then you branch off and you have all these special humans. Is that right so far, Jeff? Go on. But someone might be real close to their pet and consider it part of the family. The discussion continued for several more minutes. Meeting weekly after school in the local public library, this group of children returned the next week with an encyclopedia to settle the matter. After several minutes of discussion, the teacher asked the students if they thought everything in the encyclopedia is true.

And, so, that could be wrong.

The Philosophy of Childhood (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Winter Edition)

So, the discussion retained its philosophical vitality. This particular group continued to meet for the entire school year, discussing a wide range of philosophical topics, including: the relationship between the mind and the brain, differences and similarities between dreams and reality, knowledge of other minds, self-knowledge, and relationships between evidence and knowledge.

Given an already crowded curriculum and growing pressure to provide quantifiable evidence of student mastery of the standard subjects of history, literature, math, and science, teachers may question the suitability of adding philosophy to the curriculum. Where is time to be found for the give-and-take of philosophical discussions?

Adding philosophy to the mix, they might object, only makes matters worse. Given the unsettling nature of much philosophical inquiry, they may feel vulnerable as teachers because they are not confident of their own answers to the questions posed. Adding to this problem is increasing pressure on teachers to demonstrate that their students are performing at satisfactory levels in the standard subjects. Standardized tests are commonly used as the measure of student achievement.

The Philosophy of Childhood

Marked by definitive, unambiguous questions and answers, these tests do not place a premium on philosophical reflection. Since student performance is typically linked to school funding, this is not something teachers can take lightly, however skeptical they might be about the educational value of preparing their students to perform well on standardized tests.

In response, those who advocate bringing philosophy into the schools emphasize ways in which philosophy can enhance the entire educational experience of students. The aim is more than simply the introduction of one more subject in the schools. In addition, philosophy can make important contributions to another area of concern that cuts across the curriculum, critical thinking.

Convinced that the teaching of logic should begin long before college, he tried to figure out a way to do this that would stimulate the interest of 10—11 year olds.

#Teacher Tuesdays

By the s the hue and cry for teaching critical thinking in the schools was, if not clear, at least loud; and it has continued largely unabated to the present. His briefer depiction of critical thinking is that it involves judgments based on criteria, or reasons. Picking up on the idea that critical thinking is sensitive to context, some critics challenge the notion that critical thinking can be usefully taught independently of specific disciplinary areas McPeck, While conceding that there are some generic features of critical thinking that cut across disciplines, they maintain that even these features acquire their meanings only in specific contexts that vary across disciplines such as history, sociology, biology, chemistry.

However, unless the different disciplines ask questions about their own basic assumptions and their relationships to one another, critical thinking within those disciplines will overlook important questions that need attention. Philosophy does ask such questions about other disciplines, as well as about itself.


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At the same time, he claimed, philosophy can help students make better sense of their educational experiences. By seeking to develop comprehensive perspectives, philosophy attempts to understand connections. Short of the ambitious program Lipman and his IAPC colleagues had in mind for the schools, there are more modest, but worthwhile, ways of bringing philosophical inquiry into the already existing disciplinary structure in the schools.

Teachers can invite their students to reflect on philosophical aspects of their subjects of study. In fact, if room for such questions is not encouraged, one might well ask to what extent critical thinking itself is encouraged. The media quickly picked up on reports of significant improvements in the reading and critical thinking skills of middle school children who were involved in IAPC programs.

Harry and his friends discover several basic concepts and rules of Aristotelean logic; and they puzzle over questions about the nature of thought, mind, causality, reality, knowledge and belief, right and wrong, and fairness and unfairness. Philosophical inquiry is initiated by the children in the story rather than adults.

This question is not directly answered. However, one candidate stands out among the many things that Harry discovers in the course of exploring questions about logic, knowledge, reality, and the mind. After writing several more paragraphs, Harry puts his paper aside. But who every heard of thinking about thinking?


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But there is more. Harry also notices that, as interesting and important as thinking about thinking is, it seems to have no special place in school. Each student is regarded as having the potential to make valuable contributions to the topics under consideration. This involves more than being able to engage in skillful reasoning.

Developing values in schooling

As Laurance J. Unfortunately, Ann Margaret Sharp passed away in The distinctiveness of the sort of inquiry she and Lipman advocated is explored in some detail in a recent collection of essays by and about her that is dedicated to her memory Gregory and Laverty, It may be thought that philosophy is, at best, a suitable subject for relatively few students at the pre-college level.

Nevertheless, because they lack background in the formal study of philosophy, many teachers are reluctant to encourage the philosophical thinking of their students. Their fears, however, are exaggerated.

Thinking Children: The concept of 'child' from a philosophical perspective

Familiarity with some of the standard philosophical literature might be desirable, but it is not necessary for bringing Philosophy for Children into the classroom. What is required is the ability to facilitate philosophical discussion. For this, it is much more important that teachers have some philosophical curiosity themselves than a familiarity with academic philosophical literature. Like their students, teachers unfamiliar with the discipline of philosophy may nevertheless have an aptitude for philosophical thinking—or at least a knack for recognizing when others are engaged in philosophical thought.

Facilitating a Philosophy for Children discussion does not mean dominating it; it is important for teachers to allow their students to develop their own ideas. Teachers are not expected to provide, or even have, answers to all the questions. They can share puzzlement with their students, be open to unexpected but suggestive responses to the questions they and their students pose, and take pleasure in observing the exchanges students have with each other.

This means shedding the traditional role of teacher as lecturer and answer-giver. Especially for teachers who are uncertain about what this entails, workshops like those offered by IAPC provide a good introduction to the pedagogy of Philosophy for Children. Philosophy for Children encourages children to think for themselves at the same time that it encourages them to think with others. There is no need for Philosophy for Children to challenge this analogy. In fact, it can turn it in its favor. However esoteric physics and mathematics at their best may be, the schools nevertheless recognize the importance of making these subjects available to all students.

For this to work, it must be possible for children in the classroom to engage in sustained philosophical discussion with others.