Does your kid ask "Why?" 50 times per day? Or per hour? Maybe this drives you nuts. Or maybe you're pleased, but wonder - we've all heard of the "why" stage, but just what is going on here?
What's going on is, that kids are natural philosophers.
OK, fine, this may be nice to know, but they can still drive you nuts with this stuff. Or viewed another way, you may not be able to satisfy them. Way too many questions, not so many answers. You can end up stumped, frustrated, maybe even dissatisfied with yourself - what kind of parent can't answer their own 7-year-old's questions?
Want help/relief? Join the club. Send your kid to spend time with the other Young Philosophers. Maybe they'll get it out of their system.
Some parents may see risks in stimulating children to think independently; possibly even learning to demand evidence, or challenge arguments or points of view they deem insufficiently convincing, or flawed. Quoting Wartenberg:
Suggesting that philosophy should be taught in elementary schools raises many deep and controversial issues.
Fortunately, if you are concerned of risks, you have a very effective option - don't participate.
- Children don't come away sad, mad, or shaken (though they may be puzzled, perplexed, or even "bothered" in the sense of "this really bugs me" - philosophers often feel these things).
- They learn to focus on and clarify the specific ideas being discussed. Ideally they can clearly state their and others' points and opinions.
- They learn to have a discussion in which:
- ideas are presented,
- disagreements voiced and discussed,
- points of view and disagreement, and opinions, are clarified
- this is all done with a foundation and in an environment of respect
- everyone, even though they might disagree, even
fundamentally/strongly, is "on the same team" - working
Here are some of Dr. Wartenberg's quotes:
[W]e don't tell them what to think about anything; our only purpose is to assist the children so that they can have a productive discussion with one another. For even though young children may be natural-born philosophers, they are not born ready to discuss issues with their peers. That's what we have to teach them how to do.
[T]he teacher serves as both the initiator and regulator of a philosophical discussion but not as a dispenser of philosophical knowledge to the children.
While we don't prescribe what the children say about anything, we do actually require that what they say fits into the rules for having a philosophical discussion . . . But this means that we are actually teaching them something: How to take part in a philosophical discussion. The fact is, acquiring this crucial skill will benefit them in all sorts of ways in their educations and, indeed, in their lives. That's because the rules for having a philosophical discussion are actually the basic rules for thinking about anything at all and therefore form the basis for all the thinking that we do, no matter what we are thinking about.
What we do
In Young Philosophers, we don't provide "the answers." We provide the questions, and the things necessary to discuss them, such as setting, moderation, and guidance in skills and behaviors. Basically the leaders lead and model, and the children participate in, a collegial philosophical discussion. Posing and pondering the important/fundamental questions, of course we accomodate the multiple, often conflicting, answers - but that's just the beginning. Children also experience and practice juggling the various answers, concepts, thoughts, and opinions; stating, modifying, combining, and abandoning claims; creating and refining questions, examples and counter-examples; and attempting the age-old task of trying to put it all together and figure out how it all fits.
Practically, what I and/or other leaders do in and out of workshops:
- Study and discuss the philosophical questions, using a variety of resources and readings.
- Create the discussion-sparking questions; revise existing ones as appropriate.
- Meet with the kids and conduct the sessions.
- As the workshop proceeds, get an idea of the intellectual and reading levels of the kids.
- The book list is always tentative, always changing, never fixed. As the workshop proceeds, alter book selections based on the children's interests, their cognitive and communication styles and levels, their needs, leader preferences, availability of guest presenters, current events, and/or other factors.
- Split, fork, restrucure, and/or reorganize the group(s) based on these same considerations.
- Help the children learn to facilitate these workshops themselves. Yes, believe it or not, 6-year-olds have proven themselves remarkably capable of facilitating meetings.
- Stay in close communication with parents as appropriate.
Kids don't need to prepare for these workshops. They don't need to be able to read. Children do need to be able to sit in a circle for one hour, unaccompanied by family member or other "support," participating in a discussion with other children and adult leaders.
We encourage and coach children to facilitate the actual meetings themselves. Typically the children, including ones as young as 6, do a good job of calling on other children, making sure everyone takes takes turns and gets "air time," and generally performing a large subset of the functions generally done by adults. Of course we older leaders are present to back them up, if they need help, or if they've simply have had enough. This option of being an assistant leader is voluntary.
Kids come to this group either from the younger group, or with no Young Philosophers experience. The things we do (discuss readings and, using discussion-sparking questions, explore the philosophical points and topics) are much the same as in the younger group. The difference is:
- We use longer readings more suitable for kids age 10-12.
- Kids read these before arriving at the workshop.
- They are more in charge of their own discussion.
- They go into the philosophical points and topics in more depth and greater detail.
Here are comments from parents of Young Philosophers.
Here are comments from Young Philosophers themselves.If you have received a signup form for Young Philosophers but misplaced it, here it is. You may either fill out and return the form, or simply e-mail the information to email@example.com, or otherwise transmit or convey it.