Why We Need to Teach Kids Philosophy & Safeguard Society from Authoritarian Control

Sev­er­al friends and rel­a­tives of mine teach phi­los­o­phy, writ­ing, and crit­i­cal think­ing to under­grad­u­ate col­lege stu­dents. And many of those peo­ple have con­fessed their dis­may in recent months. Threats and McCarthyite attacks on high­er edu­ca­tors have increased (and in places like Turkey esca­lat­ed to full-on war against aca­d­e­mics). Many edu­ca­tors are also filled with doubt about the mean­ing of their pro­fes­sion. How can they stand in the pul­pits of high­er learn­ing, many won­der, extolling the virtues of clear expres­sion, log­ic, rea­son and evi­dence, ethics, etc., when the world out­side the class­room seems to be telling their stu­dents none of these things mat­ter?

But then there are some with a more opti­mistic bent, who see more rea­son than ever to extol said virtues, with even more rig­or and urgency. Phi­los­o­phy improves our men­tal and emo­tion­al lives in every pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. While mil­lions of peo­ple in sup­pos­ed­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries have decid­ed to put their trust in auto­crat­ic, author­i­tar­i­an lead­ers, mil­lions more have deter­mined to resist the cur­tail­ing of civ­il lib­er­ties, demo­c­ra­t­ic rights, and social progress. Edu­ca­tors see the tools of lan­guage and crit­i­cal think­ing as inte­gral to those of polit­i­cal action and civ­il dis­obe­di­ence. And not only do col­lege stu­dents need these tools, argue the exec­u­tives of UK’s Phi­los­o­phy Foun­da­tion, but chil­dren do as well, and for many of the same rea­sons.

Cre­at­ed in 2007 to con­duct “philo­soph­i­cal enquiry in schools, com­mu­ni­ties, and work­places,” the Foun­da­tion works with both chil­dren and adults. In the Aeon Mag­a­zine video above, COO and CEO Emma and Peter Wor­ley explain the spe­cial appeal of phi­los­o­phy for kids, mak­ing the case for teach­ing “think­ing well” at a young age. Rather than lec­tur­ing on the his­to­ry of ideas or pre­sent­ing a the­sis, their approach involves get­ting chil­dren “think­ing about things togeth­er, work­ing togeth­er col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, com­ing up with counter-exam­ples… real­ly doing phi­los­o­phy in the true sense.” Young stu­dents see prob­lems for them­selves and apply their own philo­soph­i­cal solu­tions, using the nascent rea­son­ing fac­ul­ties most of us can access as soon as we’ve reached school age.

The Foun­da­tion has shown that the teach­ing of phi­los­o­phy to chil­dren “has an impact on affec­tive skills and also on cog­ni­tive skills.” In oth­er words, kids become more emo­tion­al­ly intel­li­gent as they become bet­ter thinkers, devel­op­ing what Socrates called “the silent dia­logue” with them­selves. These ben­e­fits are goods in their own right, argues Emma Wor­ley, and as valu­able as the arts in our lives. “We need phi­los­o­phy because it’s a human thing to do,” she says, “to think, to rea­son, to reflect.” But there is a decid­ed social util­i­ty as well. Phi­los­o­phy can “safe­guard against the ways in which edu­ca­tion might some­times be used to con­trol peo­ple,” says Peter Wor­ley: “If we have some­thing like phi­los­o­phy with­in the sys­tem, some­thing that steps out­side that sys­tem and asks ques­tions about it, then we have some­thing to pro­tect us” against author­i­tar­i­an means of thought and lan­guage con­trol.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Noam Chom­sky Defines What It Means to Be a Tru­ly Edu­cat­ed Per­son

Why Socrates Hat­ed Democ­ra­cies: An Ani­mat­ed Case for Why Self-Gov­ern­ment Requires Wis­dom & Edu­ca­tion

Hen­ry Rollins Pitch­es Edu­ca­tion as the Key to Restor­ing Democ­ra­cy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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