Before I start rabbiting on about philosophy and children, I’d like to introduce my father, from whom I’ve inherited a love of encouraging children to think outside the box. Most of us passively accept certain ways of thinking, and it’s fascinating to hear kids’ fresh perspectives.
My father is an avid observer of life who is truly blind to sex, gender, race, skin colour, culture, age, religion and ethnicity. Taking no notice of these things, I think he deliberately looks for the threads of humanity we share, finding common ground with people everywhere. He’ll exchange pleasantries about food, transport, the weather, sleep, philosophy, toileting (a perennial, especially bowels, especially his bowels), astronomy, his cures for snoring, and his favourite topic – science, which he manages to sneak into every conversation sooner rather than later. At best, he comes across as an erudite, global citizen; at worst, the uber-sharing, long-winded science geek who traps you in a corner at a dinner (perhaps he just does that to me). Before I get ex-communicated, I should say that Dad is one of the most respected people I know. People adore him, (an Asian customer of his once said he was like God – as an athiest, his ego wasn’t sure how to take that). Dad surprises people with his authenticity and they reciprocate, reminding me of Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. I also have to give him credit for listening, he’ll even give someone’s home-made toenail fungus treatment due consideration.
When I was young, my father expected a question from me most nights at bedtime. We covered a lot of ground…..the issue of how humanity believes in more than one god, the scope of the universe (its beginning and end), the concept of infinity, natural selection and evolution, dinosaurs (before they were popular), the theory of probability, cells, births and deaths of stars, volcanoes, continental drift, and what were then called ‘tidal waves’ (spare me from any more physics and wave theory, Papa). It’s a family joke that Dad begins every explanation with, “In the beginning, the Earth was a molten mass…..” I have been there so many times in my imagination.
Admittedly, many pearls of wisdom washed over my
disinterested tired brain at night, or during long drives trapped in the Holden station wagon; especially the bits about electrons, protons, atoms, nuclear fission, particle accelerators, and of course wave theory.
Through selective osmosis, my father has influenced my encouragement of philosophy for children. Even the female protagonist in my novel, Arafura, teaches philosophy. Why philosophy? Because it’s empowering. Philosophy encourages thought in a rational, critical direction. It challenges assumptions.
I’m sure that more philosophy = less wars. (Here some could accuse me of being an idealist, that I should read updates on Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiments, see http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/pub/the-evil-that-men-do However, discussing this side of humanity is illuminating. Knowledge and awareness of the evil that many of us are capable of in certain circumstances is hopefully a powerful deterrent in itself. But this is not suitable for young children, and I digress.)
Socrates was a clever dude way back in 469 BC – 399 BC. A Greek philosopher, he’s still considered a founder of Western philosophy and the field of ethics. He taught his students by asking questions, mostly, why? Socrates feigned ignorance about a given subject in order to draw out his students’ existing knowledge and thinking skills. Socratic questioning challenges assumptions and ideas that underpin people’s thoughts. Although it appears simple, thinking driven by questions is an intensely more rigorous method of learning than students being given the answers. Socratic questions require children to prove concepts accepted as ‘facts’, to explore behind their beliefs, beyond their own culture. For example –
- How can you be sure that’s true?
- Do you agree/disagree? Why/why not?
- Are these reasons good enough?
- Is something true just because a lot of people believe it?
Just like Socrates did, kids are constantly thinking – why, who am I in the scheme of things, what is true, moral and just, why are things the way they are?
Why is such a powerful question because it forces people to justify their beliefs and assumptions. History is full of whys, such as –
- Why are we here, on Earth?
- Why did people burn books?
- Why did the English assume ownership of Australia?
- Why couldn’t women vote?
- Why didn’t the medical fraternity listen when Florence Nightingale first proved that microscopic germs were killing people in hospitals?
- Why did Hitler have such power?
- Why did we nail a man to a cross two thousand years ago for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change? (Douglas Adams -Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)
I’d love to see more philosophy taught in classrooms. But education curricula are crowded. As a parent or guardian, how can you give your child the benefits of philosophical thinking? Benefits such as:
- empowering your child,
- helping your child attain the skills to judge their world, solve problems, to think critically and creatively,
- improving your child’s confidence, resilience, social and conflict resolution skills,
- encouraging your child to understand differences in values and develop tolerance and leadership.
3 EASY STEPS TO INCORPORATE PHILOSOPHY INTO YOUR CHILD’S LIFE
You don’t need expensive books, lessons, computer software, experts, a trip around the world (that would be fun, though, wouldn’t it?)
1) All you need is time together, a desire to listen to your child, to be curious, flexible, open minded and explore WHY? Your child’s thinking, now and in the future, will be richer for it. Ask questions around the dinner table, whilst watching movies or TV, reading stories at bed time or just hanging out. Kids love to know that you care what they think. For example –
- What do you think is going on here? Why?
- Do you think anyone else (in the story) may also have shared responsibility for that outcome? Why?
- What do you think motivated that person / those people? Why?
- What might you have done differently? Why?
- Can you see how this might look from another perspective? Why?
2) Read books with your child – in my free booklet, Philosophy for Kids – Spending Time With Your Young Philosopher – at http://bit.ly/14cOCV7 (or download from www.susanlattwein.com) there’s also a list of recommended childrens’ books to read together (with accompanying philosophical questions), other references and useful websites.
3) Talk, talk, talk with your young philosopher. Example topics such as friendship, human rights, courage, bullying, traditions, etc. and questions below are from Philosophy for Kids – Spending Time With Your Young Philosopher:
- Would you always want your friends to agree with you, or would you rather they be honest? Why might they not be honest?
- Can money buy friends?
- What is a right?
- Are there different kinds of rights?
- What are some rights that humans have? Who decides that?
- What is courage, or bravery?
- Where do you get courage? Why might it be difficult for some people to be brave?
- Why do you think some people bully?
- Are there different types of bullying?
- Do you think onlookers who do nothing share some of the responsibility of the bullying? Why or why not?
- What makes something a tradition?
- Are all traditions important? Why/why not?
- Can some traditions be outdated? What can make them outdated?
- How many people have to follow a practice for it to be a tradition?
Your children will almost certainly learn to think laterally, develop broader insights and surprise you.
Love your feedback. Next week, one of my favourite topics, neuroplasticity and how we can all benefit! (Click above to follow my blog via email)