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robertogreco : peterworley   1

Peter Worley on Should children do philosophy?, Aeon...
"There is a story told about Socrates that just before he drank the poisonous hemlock he had been sentenced to drink by the citizens of Athens, following a charge of teaching false gods and corrupting the young men of Athens, he heard someone playing a tune on a flute. Socrates said to the player, ‘Can you teach me that tune?’ His friends said, ‘What use will learning that tune be, you are about to die?’ Socrates said, ‘No use, it’s just a beautiful tune.’ So, my first argument is non-instrumental. Anyone, including children, should engage in philosophy for the same reason that they do music, because it is good to do, in and of itself.

Just this morning I saw some 7-year-olds grappling with the question of whether or not it is possible to do nothing, this led to someone saying that you can do nothing only if you are dead; someone else said, ‘but when you are dead you are doing something: you’re being dead.’ Others disagreed: ‘But, when you’re dead you’re not being dead, you just are dead.’ This led to a discussion about the difference between the two ideas. Later, they were trying to establish whether statues do anything. ‘If a statue falls,’ said one child, ‘then it’s falling, which is doing something’, ‘but,’ objected another, ‘the statue is only falling because someone has pushed it, the statue isn’t doing anything, it is having something done to it.’ Finally, someone said that statues are made of rocks, but rocks don’t do anything. Then, one girl said, ‘Rocks do do something; they’re being a rock.’ Like Spinoza’s conatus or Schopenhauer’s will to life this 7-year-old was understanding being as a positive, active force against nothingness or non-existence.

I did very little in this session, my job was to provide a catalyst (I set the task to do nothing!) then I asked some simple questions at salient points such as ‘So did X do nothing?’ (After one of the children had made an attempt) or ‘So, is it possible to do nothing?’ or later, ‘If something moves does that mean that it is doing something?’ What I do is provide the conditions for a group of children (or adults) to see philosophical problems for themselves and then to afford them the opportunity to explore those problems and how they might solve them together. I help them to follow the dialectical demands and implications of their own ideas and explorations.

Apart from the fact that witnessing this is like hearing a beautiful tune, many readers may want more reasons why doing philosophy is something children should do. Just this month, some very positive research came out showing the benefits of doing philosophy with children, but this research focused on the non-philosophical benefits such as reading and maths scores. I would like to add to these findings by making an a priori, reasoned argument, from problems the children encounter in their everyday lives, for why children should do philosophy.

If children encounter puzzles and problems that have a philosophical basis then children need a systematic way of approaching and tackling them. Puzzles and problems that have a philosophical basis are those where a tension or conflict arises between the concepts we have and our experience of the world. For instance, a child may have a conceptual intuition that time is constant, but then experience time seeming to fluctuate (‘Time flies when you’re having fun!’) Another example might be: ‘I am always the same person, but I change physically and in terms of my personality, so I can’t be the same person, can I?’ These are real problems for children, but unless they are given the opportunity to stop, reflect on, and explore these puzzles and problems, they are unlikely to go any further with them. So, because children do, in fact, encounter philosophical puzzles and problems, I argue that they should be given an opportunity to explore them, but also be given a systematic method for doing so. Philosophy provides such a method. In short, I capture this with 4 Rs. Philosophy is…

- Responsive

- Reflective

- Reasoned

- Re-evaluative

So, when children encounter, as I argue they do, philosophical puzzles and problems they should be given the opportunity to respond to the problem and perhaps to acknowledge that there is one, to reflect on the nature of the problem or to reflect on the central concepts by asking and exploring questions such as, ‘What is time?’ or ‘What is change?’ Then they can try to order their thoughts and ideas in a process of rational thought using reasoned arguments, and finally they should be invited to evaluate and re-evaluate their answers in light of those and other reasons given by themselves or their peers. The important thing to understand here is that, when it is done well, philosophy - as much with children as with adults - is not simply a sharing exercise in which opinions are offered, it is an evaluative process based on the quality of reasons given. According to this picture of philosophy, one answers according to the demands of reason.

In addition to this, puzzles and problems of a non-philosophical nature (e.g. a maths or science one) share structural qualities with puzzles and problems of a philosophical nature (this is one possible reason the research yielded good results with maths), and so, by doing philosophy one is practising the sort of thinking that will also be needed in other subjects, when problem-solving for instance. But, because philosophy is dedicated to conceptual thinking, one does not need to know a body of knowledge to begin philosophising. All children need is a brain, ears and a mouth, something to think about (and perhaps a good facilitator!) in order to start practising good thinking - indispensible for all learning and all subjects.

And the reason this should be begun when children are young? For the same reason that children start doing maths or music when they are young, so that they can learn, as a disposition, to be proficient with maths, music and good thinking. And what could be more important to a learner than proficiency in good thinking?"
via:anne  education  schools  teaching  pedagogy  curriculum  philosophy  cv  2015  peterworley  thinking  reflection  classideas  reasoning  problemsolving  criticalthinking 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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