Children’s endless questioning and curiosity persuaded Oberlin College professor Kate Thomson-Jones that they are naturally inclined toward philosophy.
Her “Philosophy in the Schools” course gives very young students a new way to develop their skills and understanding.
Sixteen college students make weekly visits to Eastwood Elementary School, working in pairs to lead lively, open-ended discussion with first- and second-graders.
Many children’s storybooks ask big questions and raise issues about what’s real, what’s not, and why it’s important to be true to yourself, Thomson-Jones said.
“There aren’t right or wrong answers that the children have to get to,” she said. “It’s just about giving them the space to develop their philosophical skills — careful thinking, listening — and have their views taken seriously.”
Many of the skills involved tie in with the goals of the International Baccalaureate program, said principal Susan Alig. She wants kids to be able to have respectful discussion, defend views, and learn how to stand up for themselves.
Thomson-Jones observed these traits in her own daughter from a very young age, noting her natural inclination to ask, “Why?”
Children are “open to questioning everything because nothing is too fixed or ingrained,” she said. “They can have a real discussion and really express themselves quite clearly when they have a view, or they can at least attempt that and you can help them through it.”
With older kids, peer pressure may get in the way of a similar philosophy program, Alig said. Elementary school students haven’t become too self-conscious yet and they’re more willing to explore differing views.
College students leave Eastwood Elementary School classes buzzing from the insights they’ve gained, Thomson-Jones said. They’re learning reams from the younger students and “not just about what it’s like to interact with seven-year-olds but about philosophy,” she said.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.