pfc1What is “Philosophy for Children”?

This is itself an important philosophical question, not easy to answer; but let us say that philosophy, among other things, is self-conscious inquiry into the meaning of puzzling and contestable concepts. In ancient times philosophy was known as a search for wisdom or meaning, and many of the concepts philosophers have thought about for thousands of years are ones we use to structure our daily experience. “What is justice?” “What is beauty?” “How can I be sure of what I know?” “What is the right thing to do?” “What is real?”

Philosophy is also known for the cultivation of excellent thinking. One of the most ancient branches of philosophy is logic, which includes informal logic, or “critical thinking.” But philosophy is not only an intellectual pursuit. Philosophers have tried to improve their thinking in order to better explore the philosophical dimensions of experience, such as the ethical, political and aesthetic dimensions, and in order to improve their judgments and actions within these dimensions. Philosophy helps us learn to recognize, for instance, the ethical problems and possibilities in our experience, to think through them carefully, to make sound ethical judgments and to take appropriate action. This is why for thousands of years people have practiced philosophy, not only in universities but also in business offices, reading clubs and coffee houses.

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What is a Typical Online Class Like?

Ms. Therese Carmack graduated summa cum laude with a double major in philosophy and music from the University of Colorado. Her senior thesis in philosophy entitled “The Postmodern Question: Art without Beauty,” contrasted the aesthetic writings of Plato, Kant, Heidegger, and Danto. She was a member of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences Chair’s Council, the first paid intern for the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life; and she received the 2015 Divisional Award in Humanities for her interdisciplinary work in the departments of philosophy and music. Therese will pursue a Master’s in Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, beginning in Fall, 2016.

Ms. Therese Carmack graduated summa cum laude with a double major in philosophy and music from the University of Colorado. Her senior thesis in philosophy entitled “The Postmodern Question: Art without Beauty,” contrasted the aesthetic writings of Plato, Kant, Heidegger, and Danto. She was a member of the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences Chair’s Council, the first paid intern for the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life; and she received the 2015 Divisional Award in Humanities for her interdisciplinary work in the departments of philosophy and music. Therese will pursue a Master’s in Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, beginning in Fall, 2016.

Our Philosophy for Children online classes will utilize the same classroom software as the rest of our online classes (Socratic and Great Books Program). Students will have access to our Online Learning Center for weekly readings and any weekly assignments. Students begin philosophy sessions by reading aloud a philosophical story-typically, one that depicts fictional children discovering and exploring philosophical issues and applying their reasoning to life situations. Students next identify the issues in the story that they are interested to discuss, collaborating in the construction of the agenda or lesson plan. For the remainder of the session, and for the next few or several sessions, the students and moderator deliberate upon these issues as a community of philosophical inquiry. These inquiries may culminate in action projects or works of art, but in any case they should culminate in the participants’ self-correction of their previous beliefs, feelings or values.

One very important element of Philosophy for Children is stimulus materials that provoke and support the students’ philosophical work. The most effective stimulus materials may be ineffectual without the central practice of Philosophy for Children: the community of inquiry. Participating in a community of inquiry engages young people in important cognitive moves such as creating hypotheses, clarifying their terms, asking for and giving good reasons, offering examples and counter examples, questioning each other’s assumptions, drawing inferences, and following the inquiry where it leads. But inquiry is also a social enterprise, which requires students to share their own perspectives, listen to one another, read faces, challenge and build on one another’s thinking, look for missing perspectives and reconstruct their own ideas. This kind of meaningful classroom dialogue is something most students find irresistible: they can’t help joining in, contributing their own reflections. In this way, cognitive and social skillfulness are acquired naturally and in context, rather than in isolated drills.

Below is a video by one of our students, Hunter Gill discussing the need for Ethics. 

Children who are new to philosophy need the help of an experienced moderator. The moderator sees her/himself as a co-inquirer with the children, as interested as they are in exploring philosophical concepts, improving judgment and discovering meaning. However, when it comes to the procedures of inquiry, the facilitator both guides the children and models for them-by asking open-ended questions, posing alternative views, seeking clarification, questioning reasons, and by demonstrating self-correcting behavior. It is through this kind of modeling that the children eventually internalize the procedures of inquiry. Our moderators are taught to neither impose authoritative views on their students nor attempt to validate every student’s opinion in a relativistic fashion. They view their role as helping children to understand and use the tools of philosophical inquiry so that children can construct and re-construct their own answers to philosophical questions. The children should see the facilitator as someone who respects them as persons, takes what they have to say seriously, doesn’t think s/he knows everything, models self-correction and really loves ideas.

The objective of such philosophy sessions is neither to find final answers to the questions that are raised, nor to reach complete agreement among the community. On the other hand, a genuine dialogue ‘moves forward’ in some sense that distinguishes it from mere lively conversation. Philosophy for Children seeks two kinds of objectives: progress in coping with the philosophical questions-which might include adapted beliefs, new hypotheses for experiment or even clarification of the question-and growth in the cognitive and social procedures of inquiry. With these objectives in mind, participants in the community of inquiry typically take stock of their own progress with questions such as:

  • Have we begun to deal with this question?
  • What do we understand now about the question/concept that we didn’t understand before?
  • Are we giving each other reasons for our views?
  • Are we listening to each other?
  • Are we able to stick to the point?
  • Are we able to build on each other’s ideas?
  • Who is doing the talking?
  • Do we correct each other with sensitivity?
  • Are we becoming more tentative about what we claim to know?
  • Do we trust each other?

The most enthusiastic proponents of Philosophy for Children are the children, who find philosophy not only thought-provoking but fun. Parents and teachers likewise enjoy doing philosophy with their children. They appreciate this ancient discipline as a way to help their children and themselves to sharpen their thinking, encounter new ideas, decide what they believe, and get to know others through shared inquiry.

When are the Class Times?

Classes will be held on FRIDAYS starting September through May (two semesters). All classes are one academic hour in length. Classes are $495 per year.

What is Philosophy for Children?

Grades 3-6

Philosophy is not just an occasional add-on subject, but the core of the educational process. We are not speaking of philosophy now in its traditional academic format—the lecture-focused, argument-driven university course. We are speaking of philosophy in its grade school format, where the readings are novels, the procedure is dialogical inquiry, and where teacher and children alike are co-participants in the classroom community of inquiry. Normally children acquire the logic they need along with the language they learn, as they learn it. This course works to strengthen the language they learn by continued practice to dialogical inquiry, as they learn it. If something goes wrong and a particular skill has somehow not been acquired, direct remediation of the deficiency is indicated. Overall the emphasis is on skillful thinking, not on the exercise of a random crew of thinking skills.

Philosophy for Children uses children’s books that are novel-like works of fiction, written simply and with no reference to names and technical terminology that professional philosophers employ. The students are intended to read passages from the book, and then are canvassed to determine what they found of interest in the passages they read. This enables students to nominate items for discussion: in effect, it allows them to establish the agenda. As the dialogue continues, the teacher will introduce the appropriate junctures those exercises or discussion plans provided by the instructional manual for developing the points at issues, or for strengthening the reasoning skills needed for extricating the meanings from the passages being discussed.

Elfie: Reasoning About Thinking (3rd) 2:00 PM PST

The cognitive skills emphasized in Elfie are foundational: they are those on which all-subsequent reasoning rests. Now the very notion of skill involves the notion of criterion, for a skill is a performance that is proficient in terms of a particular criterion. Therefore, the foundational skills in Elfie are accompanied by the criteria that are appropriate to them. These criteria are Sameness and Difference, and the skills are Distinction-making and Connection-making. Other operations like the making of comparisons, the discovery of uniformities, the identification of classes, the formation of concepts, the formulation of definitions all depend upon the logical infrastructure of these two sets of skills and criteria. Elfie should therefore be seen as the base of the Philosophy for Children program rather than merely an overture to it.

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Kio and Gus: Reasoning About Nature (4th) 12:30 PM PST

Kio & Gus emphasizes cognitive proficiency. In particular, inferential skills, “deep reading,” concept formation, and analyzation of poetry and prose. The main character in the book, Gus, is presented as a child who is proud of her ability to cope with the world, despite her lack of sight, and she does not often engage in self-pity. She stands her ground well in discussions she has with Kio. As a matter of fact, the way in which the two children relate to one another can serve as an ethical model to the children who read and discuss the book. But its value is epistemological as well as ethical: the way in which Gus experiences and understand the world is not the same as the way in which Kio experiences and understands it. These differences of cognitive and epistemological perspectives need to be demonstrated to the children in the classroom, so that they can realize more dramatically that those who have the privilege of sight do not therefore possess an exclusively correct understanding of the ways in which the world can be said to work.

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Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery: Reasoning About Reasoning (5th – 6th) 8:00 AM PST

In Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery, the children are beginning to explore the world of ideas. This is not just a series of intellectual adventures. Harry and his friends investigate the world of ideas in a systematic fashion. They engage in forms of inquiry. When first reading the book, the methodical and systematic character of what the children in the novel are doing may not be apparent to you. You see them struggling and floundering. But what is happening is not haphazard. They are going through a series of stages typical of the great many cases of discovery and invention. These stages are the process of inquiry. Inquiry often begins when problems arise regarding things which till then had been taken for granted. With this begins the process of inquiry and it does not terminate until a more satisfactory solution replaces the one that has become unsatisfactory.

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Ethics: Drama of the Moral Life by Prof. Piotr Jaroszynski (7th) 11:00 AM PST

The study of the nature of moral choices has been with us as far back as our historical memory and religious traditions can reach. We have inherited the foundations of that study from such great philosophers and pillars of Western culture as Plato, Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas. This course draws on this rich tradition and provides a new and profound look at those aspects of human moral conduct which are both obvious and true. Topics include: Good and End: The Object of Human Acts; The Hierarchy of the Good; The Moral Being—The Decision; The Mode of Human Conduct—Areteology (virtue ethics). This course studies the virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice (Legal, Commutative and Distributive), as well as the interconnection of the virtues and the theory of natural law (Do Good!). This course will utilize Ethics: The Drama of the Moral Life by Piotr Jaroszynski, a student of St. John Paul II, who praised the work.

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Socratic Logic by Peter Kreeft (8th) 9:30 AM PST

Most of us are not trained to think critically. We are taught to read, write, and do arithmetic in grade school and these are necessary for thinking in a critical way. But they do not themselves constitute critical thinking. In middle school and high school, we are taught a fair number of facts and, if we do a lot of math and science, some methods of thinking. But cramming our heads full of facts is not an education in how to think logically, much less an education in critical thinking. Rather, having a lot of facts in our heads provides us with the material that is thought about either clearly or unclearly, either logically or illogically, either critically or uncritically. We are also taught about expressing ourselves in writing. However, expressing ourselves is consistent with expressing ourselves in an illogical and disorderly manner, and the sad truth is that many of us express ourselves in an illogical and disorderly manner.

While we cannot engage in critical thinking without being able to think in an orderly manner, orderly thinking is not in itself all there is to critical thinking. After all, we can think in an orderly manner and do so without being the least bit critical. A person who can recite the rules and regulations of Robert’s Rules of Order is thinking in an orderly way without being at all critical. So, just as critical thinking is more than deliberation and more than reflection, so too is it more than orderly thinking. To get from orderly thinking to critical thinking we must add, as the definition of critical thinking above suggests, the ability to recognize, classify, analyze and construct arguments. That is what critical thinking is. Since most of us have never engaged in this kind of thinking, we need to study what it is.

This course utilizes the only complete system of classical Aristotelian logic text in print: Socratic Logic: Socratic Method, Platonic Questions, and Aristotelian Principles. The “old logic” is still the natural logic of the four language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). Its exercises expose students to many classical quotations, and additional chapters introduce philosophical issues in a Socratic (focused conversational inquiring) manner and from a commonsense, realistic point of view. This course is aimed, not only at building a strong foundation in logic, but at learning how to apply logic through critical thinking: the cognitive ability to recognize, classify, analyze, and construct arguments. The appropriate goal is not to become an argumentative bully; it is, rather, to combine critical thinking abilities with compassion, kindness, and reflection in a way that is beneficial to ourselves, our intimates, and all those with whom we come in contact.

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