Study Shows That Teaching Young Kids Philosophy Improves Their Academic Performance, Making Them Better at Reading & Math

Should we teach phi­los­o­phy to chil­dren? You’d have a hard time, I imag­ine, con­vinc­ing many read­ers of this site that we shouldn’t. But why? It’s not self-evi­dent that Kant’s ethics will help John­ny or Susie bet­ter nav­i­gate play­ground pol­i­tics or lunch­room dis­putes, nor is Plato’s the­o­ry of forms like­ly to show up on an ele­men­tary school exam. Maybe it’s nev­er too ear­ly for kids to learn intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry. But it’s less clear that they can or should wres­tle with Hegel.

Per­haps the ques­tion should be put anoth­er way: should we teach chil­dren to think philo­soph­i­cal­ly? As we not­ed in an ear­li­er post, Eng­lish edu­ca­tors and entre­pre­neurs Emma and Peter Wor­ley have answered affir­ma­tive­ly with their Phi­los­o­phy Foun­da­tion, which trains chil­dren in meth­ods of argu­men­ta­tion, prob­lem-solv­ing, and gen­er­al­ly “think­ing well.” They claim that prac­tic­ing philo­soph­i­cal inquiry “has an impact on affec­tive skills and… cog­ni­tive skills.”

Peter Wor­ley also argues that it makes kids less prone to pro­pa­gan­da and the fear-mon­ger­ing of total­i­tar­i­ans. While one read­er astute­ly point­ed out that sev­er­al philoso­phers have had “author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies,” we should note that even some of the most anti-democratic—Socrates for example—have used philo­soph­i­cal meth­ods to hold pow­er to account and ques­tion means of social con­trol.

But while this noble civic moti­va­tion may be a hard sell to a school board, or what­ev­er the British equiv­a­lent, the idea that philo­soph­i­cal think­ing pro­motes many kinds of lit­er­a­cy nec­es­sary for children’s suc­cess has found wide sup­port for decades in Eng­land and the U.S. as part of a move­ment apt­ly named “Phi­los­o­phy for chil­dren” (P4C), which “began with the work of Pro­fes­sor Matthew Lip­man, who found­ed the Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren at Mont­clair State Uni­ver­si­ty, USA in 1974.”

Inspired by an ear­li­er Amer­i­can ped­a­gog­i­cal thinker, John Dewey, Lip­man and co-authors pub­lished Phi­los­o­phy in the Class­room, under “the assump­tion,” writes Tem­ple Uni­ver­si­ty Press, “that what is taught in schools is not (and should not be) sub­ject mat­ter but rather ways of think­ing.” Lip­man and his col­leagues have had sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on edu­ca­tors in the UK, prompt­ing a huge study by the Edu­ca­tion­al Endow­ment Foun­da­tion (EEF) that tracked nine and ten year old stu­dents in Eng­land from Jan­u­ary to Decem­ber of 2013.

As Jen­ny Ander­son writes at Quartz, “More than 3,000 kids in 48 schools across Eng­land par­tic­i­pat­ed in week­ly dis­cus­sions about con­cepts such as truth, jus­tice, friend­ship, and knowl­edge, with time carved out for silent reflec­tion, ques­tion mak­ing, ques­tion air­ing, and build­ing on one another’s thoughts and ideas.” The results were pret­ty astound­ing. “Over­all,” the study con­cludes, “pupils using the approach made approx­i­mate­ly two addi­tion­al months’ progress in read­ing and maths.” This despite the fact, notes Ander­son, that “the course was not designed to improve lit­er­a­cy or numer­a­cy.”

Chil­dren from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds saw an even big­ger leap in per­for­mance: read­ing skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writ­ing by two months. Teach­ers also report­ed a ben­e­fi­cial impact on stu­dents’ con­fi­dence and abil­i­ty to lis­ten to oth­ers.

The rig­or­ous study not only found imme­di­ate improve­ment but also lon­gi­tu­di­nal­ly tracked the stu­dents’ devel­op­ment for two addi­tion­al years and found that the ben­e­fi­cial effects con­tin­ued through that time; “the inter­ven­tion group continu[ed] to out­per­form the con­trol group” from 22 of the schools “long after the class­es had fin­ished.” You can read the study for your­self here, and learn more about the Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren movement—“inspired by a dia­log­i­cal tra­di­tion of doing phi­los­o­phy begun by Socrates in Athens 2,500 years ago”—at the Phi­los­o­phy Foun­da­tion, the Insti­tute for the Advance­ment of Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren, and the Cen­ter for Phi­los­o­phy for Chil­dren at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton.

via Quartz/Big Think

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Med­i­ta­tion is Replac­ing Deten­tion in Baltimore’s Pub­lic Schools, and the Stu­dents Are Thriv­ing

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

The Epis­te­mol­o­gy of Dr. Seuss & More Phi­los­o­phy Lessons from Great Children’s Sto­ries

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

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