Thursday, March 12, 2009

Philosophy and Kids

Today as I was driving home from ALDI with my daughter, I heard a snippet of 'The Conversation Hour', on ABC radio. Richard Fidler was interviewing a Principal of a primary school, who had introduced a program which involved teaching philosophy to primary school children. If you missed it, you'll be able to download the interview if you follow the link to the website.

If this program is a sign of things to come, then I suspect that it's an added reason why we should be learning to take part in philosophical conversations as Christians. In this comment, Alison Blake (who happened to be listening to the same interview), has already raised some issues that come with teaching kids philosophy.

Are there any experiences you've had of kids learning philosophy in the school classroom? What were the pluses and minuses?


Catherine said...

Hi Nicole,

I found this post via your blog (which I subscribe to in my reader and really enjoy :))
I'm interested by this "move" - interested to see whether it catches on and, if it does, how it will be (mis?)handled. I think it is fantastic to get kids actually *thinking* about the deeper issues of life -- as a teacher, and now as a preschool parent, one of the things that I notice in state schools is just the complete absence of God (except as a swear word!), and of questions about life, the universe and everything.

I guess in one sense kids are learning "philosophies" in the broad sense at school, whether they are explicitly taught or not. However, when they are explicitly taught, it remains to be seen how it is tackled in our relativist age. I confess I never got to the end of "Sophie's World" (I still don't know who was sending those letters!), but the way that philosophy was presented in it, (at least the bits I read) was helpful -- kind of like a history lesson.

Philosophy can a great hand-maiden to higher thoughts and, we would pray, thoughts that lead on to the One who disarmed it all with a philosophy, a way of life and a Hope that turned all the others on their heads. I certainly echo your thoughts that we as Christians should have a basic grasp of philosophical thought. We don't need to hide from these ideas fearfully, after all.

So to summarise a rather long comment, I think philosophy in schools would be a net positive - I'm really interested to hear what others think.

Stuart Heath said...

The Philosopher's Zone had a show on this a few months back — I found it fascinating:

There were two things which particularly caught my attention:
(1) It was clear that the children were being taught to do their own philosophy, rather than simply rehearsing the history of philosophy (as is the way in France), and;
(2) Philip Cam, an Associate Professor in Philosophy at UNSW and one of the guests on the show, insisted that they were not looking to train a generation of relativists: the goal is to give children skills in thinking critically, so they can hold beliefs based on reasoned arguments.

Now, while I had always thought that I would train our children in philosophy, I had imagined it to be a fairly seditious activity: the cynic in me is tempted to think that our consumerist society relies on people not asking questions about the purpose of their lives.

Thankfully, this one seems to have slipped past the necessary government officials, and we can look forward to a brighter, less greedy future in NSW.


Stuart Heath said...

Hi, Catherine,

I really struggled to finish Sophie's World — I found it dull and irritatingly infantilizing. But I know I'm in the minority.

The best introduction to philosophy I've seen is Alain de Botton's The Consolations of Philosophy, turned into a documentary by Channel 4 and called Philosophy: a guide to happiness (in six, easily digestible 24-minute episodes!). It won't give you the broad sweep of the history of Western thought, but it will show you what a practical impact philosophy can have in your life.