Anyone keen to foster children’s curiosity and philosophical thinking is sure to savour this banquet of short films. Bon appétit!
Our appetiser is Zia Hassan’s 9 year old discusses the meaning of life and the universe. In case you missed the viral internet sensation last year, here’s a kid with a remarkable philosophical imagination.
Squatting on his patio, he holds forth on multiverses, free will, the meaning of life and the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (“an endless quest without knowing what your quest is”). His bold speculations are tempered with a healthy dose of philosophical doubt and a striking awareness of the limits of his knowledge. Confronting the question of free will, he senses that life
may be predestined, but you can change that destiny. I might be wrong; it might be scheduled like some play… and you act it, not knowing that you’re part of it… Maybe…destiny is a guess: a guess of what it knows about you, and what it knows you would do. But then again I might be wrong, and destiny could be totally in control of you.
As journalist Robert Krulwich notes, the boy’s parents
“treat their kids as if they’re intelligent young people, and not children who couldn’t possibly understand how the world (or universe) works.” …These kids are encouraged to think out loud, to say what they think, even if they might be wrong… “I think there are a lot of kids who think about interesting things,” Zia says. “It’s my guess no one really asks them about it.”
Our entrée in this feast is Philosophy for kids: Sparking a love of learning, in which Dr Sara Goering (director the UW Center for Philosophy for Children) presents a compelling manifesto for doing philosophy with kids. She explains its many benefits and provides some tantalising examples of how she works in public schools, presenting philosophical thought experiments and taking children’s own philosophical questions seriously.
Children are fresh to the world… They’re very eager and open to thinking philosophically about ideas… We need to engage kids on the questions that they have. They’re trying to understand their world and make meaning in it. And I think unfortunately in our current system these questions aren’t getting uptake… in part because teachers aren’t really trained to deal with those kinds of questions. The answers are ambiguous; there are better and worse answers there but there’s not one clear right one – you can’t teach that for the test very easily…
And parents – many of us – haven’t fully thought through these questions and informed our own answers or figured out whether or not we’re justified in what we tend to think… We don’t actually address them, and the result is that children think these are questions that don’t matter. But they do matter. They matter for our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.
It’s time for a quick and joyful palate cleanser with Susan Fink:
And now, for our substantial main course: Julia Reihs’ film Oaxaca Philosophy for Children Initiative offers a fascinating insight into Amy Reed-Sandoval’s philosophical work with young people from an ethnically-diverse and impoverished region of Mexico. Philosophical training helps young Oaxacans to develop practical reasoning skills and encourages them to participate in a very important democratic process which is helping to overcome a history of Indigenous oppression.
A student recites from her essay: “If we respect the rights of others to express themselves as they wish – even if it offends us – we are in fact respecting our own freedom of speech.”
A teenager says: “Because of philosophy, we talk more. When we’re at the dinner table, we suddenly ask a philosophical question without realising it, and spend a long time responding to that.” A classmate observes: “It can help with the doubts we have. It helps to exercise my mind.” Another adds: “It helps us reflect more, ask ourselves deep questions.”
A mother says that philosophy helps her children by opening their minds:
And now when they have a problem, they don’t just deal with it superficially. Instead, they analyse it and figure out the causes and reasons behind what is happening. They explore problems more deeply and I feel that this is going to help them in their futures.
Finally, for dessert we have The Foundation for Innovation in which Peter and Emma Worley of The Philosophy Foundation argue that philosophy is the only subject that specialises in reasoning – and that reasoning is even more basic than reading, writing and arithmetic.
My compliments to all the chefs! And now it’s time for a nice glass of port.
Featured image from the film Ball Pen, directed by Shashikanth. Cinematography by C.J. Rajkumar.
The Philosophy Club runs co-curricular and extra-curricular workshops for children in Australia.