On philosophy, morality and children

This is a rambling of ideas and thoughts that have been floating in my head for the last few days. This morning, I read a very interesting piece in the NYT about an experimental study in a second-grade classroom at a charter school in Massachusetts where undergraduate students from Mount Holyoke College teach these children philosophy. Not about philosophers but about the higher value, morals and questions with no right or wrong answers. The idea that Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg purports is that philosophy is not an elitist discipline and that children have the capacity of abstract thinking and thus developing deep reasoning skills via participating in dialog of philosophical issues around stories and fables.

I find new ideas and new methods to improving education very compelling. Critics will argue for and against Prof. Wartenberg’s approach, but I think it’s important to consider how similar it is to what parents do with their children after reading a story book to them: they talk at their children about the morals associated in the story. If I collected a penny for every-time my cousin has compared her daughter’s actions to a fictional but highly respected character, I’d be richer. But I think doing it in a classroom and allowing the children to express their thoughts and feelings is different than a parent relating the moral of the story to them. Also, exposing them to each other’s thoughts and feelings probably makes the experience far richer for them.

I think the point here isn’t that Prof. Wartenberg chooses to take a philosophical approach to inculcate reasoning skills in second graders – the point is how he does it. Quite simple actually – they read a book together and then they talk about it.

By now they knew the drill: deciding whether or not they agreed with each question; thinking about why or why not; explaining why or why not; and respecting what their classmates said.

There was no real point to this blog post apart from expressing wonder at a professors attempt to inspire a tiny portion of how we educate our children and prepare them for the future.


  1. Urban Indian April 24, 2010

    I remember reading Fountainhead when i was in my 9th class and getting so impacted by it that I stopped studying for weeks – doing what I wished to. 🙂 I don’t think age is relevant to philosophy. What I do think is that people find different meanings in the same philosophy at different stages of their life.
    Awaiting your publishing conference post.

  2. Jinal Shah May 18, 2010

    Yaar – I didn’t end up going 🙁 Sucks but I had too much going on at work that day. I wish we had a 4day workweek 🙂
    How you been?

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