Consider for a moment the child’s ability to learn a foreign language at a young age. Here at PSOE we are already taking advantage of teaching Spanish to children at a young age to increase comprehension. If this concept applies to the teaching of something as complicated as a new language, why should it not apply to philosophy? In fact, research over the past 40 years has concluded that even as a first year undergraduate in college it is too late to effectively develop reasoning skills (Marashi, 2007). This isn’t to say that without philosophy we don’t develop the ability to reason, but we will develop poor reasoning skills the same way native English speakers develop poor writing or speaking skills.
It is also important to take into consideration that there are two methods to the proper utilization of philosophy. The first (what you would expect from your undergraduate philosophy class) teaches who the philosophers are and explores their theories. The second method is more comprehensive, and something children do on a daily basis whether we want them to or not. Think of anytime that you have made a decision about the world. At one point you may have believed in a monster that lived under your bed, and you acted accordingly when you had to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. Through experience we grew out of these fears, but our experiences shape our philosophy of the world, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. A child who performs poorly at math isn’t bad at math or pre-disposed to be poor at math; they just don’t understand it yet. That being said, the child only has experience with not understanding math, and over the years this experience continues causing the child to believe that they are poor at math and that nothing can change it.
Findings in 50 countries indicate that teaching philosophy to children in school improves thinking skills and critical thinking. “Children should be taught how to try out, analyze and experience the subject matter rather than being taught how to memorize and recall the content” (Marashi, 2007). This form of doing philosophy would take advantage of short stories and books to develop philosophical questions and cognitive skills. This educational philosophy is being supported by www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, which suggests using books already found in the classroom (such as The Giving Tree or Dr. Seuss). The site also provides modules and resources to help teachers develop constructive methods for teaching philosophy in the classroom. Teaching philosophy transforms the classroom and the role of the teacher and student. Instead of information being transmitted from the teacher to the student, information is received in a collaborative discussion. In this manner, the teacher only facilitates ideas, rather than trying to convince children or bring them to a specific conclusion.
In a study done by Keith Topping and Steve Trickery in 2007 a group of 105 students (age ten) were taught philosophy for one hour a week for 16 months. Compared with the control group of 72 students, the experiment group showed signs of improvement on tests of verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities after 16 months. Two years later the children were tested again and despite changing schools or moving from primary to secondary, the experimental group showed continued improvement while the control group continued to fall behind (Topping and Tickery, 2007).
The Greek translation of philosophy “love of wisdom”, is the goal of education. In other words, the goal is not to teach children to recall facts, but to teach children how to analyze material and critically evaluate it. It was the teachings of Aristotle that helped lead Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world; or what about the ideas of John Locke that lead to the writing of the United States Constitution. If the “love of wisdom” has lead to some of the greatest achievements in the history of man, why are we not teaching philosophy more?