Why students need philosophy

Philosophy for children

Now more than ever students need to become engaged in the world as skilled thinkers, as citizens in a democracy, and as global citizens. The stakes couldn’t be higher, or the need for responsible, reflective, systematic thinkers greater.
PLATO Philosophy Teaching and Learning Organization White Paper

Children are growing up in a society of constant distraction, increasing tribalism, unthinking consumption, and ready manipulation. Advertising misleads; politicians spin the facts and pander to prejudices; experts speak in jargon; and media bias is routine.

In this complex and confusing world, how can we help children see through rhetoric, make sense of the world, and figure out their own beliefs and values? How can we encourage them to reflect deeply on their experiences and find genuine meaning in their lives? How can we raise children to be not only knowledgeable, but wise?

These questions have a ready answer: By inviting them philosophise.

People who have cut their teeth on philosophical problems of rationality, knowledge, perception, free will and other minds are well placed to think better about problems of evidence, decision making, responsibility and ethics that life throws up.”
Simon Blackburn

As children grow up, they puzzle over who they are and where they fit in the social world. They wonder about what’s fair and unfair; right and wrong; true and false; beautiful and ugly. Children wonder more than anyone – and philosophy begins in wonder.

Learning how to do Philosophy provides children with a nuanced way of thinking about questions of meaning and value – questions of pressing interest to children; questions that matter. Developing the sensitivity and confidence to tackle these questions helps children in their everyday lives.

What’s more, unless students are explicitly taught how to think well and how to communicate their thinking clearly, they’ll grow up to be ill-equipped to evaluate, construct and communicate arguments about issues of individual or public concern. Philosophy has a unique capacity to empower students to think more clearly about issues in their own lives, to reflect more deeply, and to reason more soundly about matters of public policy.

It’s always a good thing… to be able to think critically. To challenge your own point of view. Also, you need to be a citizen in this world. You need to know your responsibilities. You’re going to have many moral choices every day of your life.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

When schools develop a culture of thinking, we can expect better civic engagement in the long term. Students will be equipped for active citizenship and will be rational players who are able to contribute to a higher calibre of public debate.

Philosophical enquiry with children is therefore part of larger mission to improve reasoning skills in the general public. We need a broader cross-section of the population to be skilled at engaging sensitively with alternative views and articulating nuanced arguments. As we ask more of each other intellectually, and as we demand the same accountability of our leaders, we can move towards more civic-minded policies and a better world for us all.

Discover how philosophy can enrich students’ lives.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
William James

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