The Angelicum Academy offers Philosophy for Children in grades K-6th. Dr. Peter Redpath is one of the directors of the Angelicum Academy.
Philosophy is one of the most ancient and prestigious of all academic disciplines. Philosophers in Greece were known as “friends of wisdom,” or as those who cultivated excellence in thinking. But for 2500 years, philosophy was thought to be too difficult a subject for children to study. It was therefore restricted to courses in the colleges and universities. Yet it has long been known that children’s reasoning and moral judgment need to be strengthened. The most appropriate source of assistance was obviously those subdivisions of philosophy known as Logic and Ethics. But how could these branches of philosophy be made available to children?
The answer began to emerge in the third quarter of the 20th century. It began to dawn on educators that a major aim of education is to make children more reasonable, and if this were so, then the process of education should focus on the improvement of thinking. After all, if Reading and Writing are taught to children under the auspices of Literature, why not make Reasoning and Judgment available to children under the auspices of Philosophy? Children do not need to learn philosophy. Rather as with reading and writing it is something one does. An added advantage of introducing philosophy into the grade school has been the realization that this would be an ideal way of having children study values, for in philosophy, conceptual analysis plays a major role, and values are, among other things, concepts of importance.
This is the background out of which Philosophy for Children emerged in 1969 and has been playing an increasingly significant role in education ever since. Today, Philosophy for Children is the outstanding curriculum for grade school philosophy. In Philosophy for Children, students begin by reading texts in the form of stories. These stories are about fictional children who discover how to reason more effectively, and how to apply their reasoning to life situations.
These stories are then discussed by the children in the classroom. Many problematic issues are encountered and examined. The students deliberate among themselves, and this process of deliberation is then internalized by the individual students: they become more reflective and begin to think for themselves. These classroom deliberations evoke thinking that is skillful and deliberate, thinking that employs relevant criteria, is self-correcting, and is sensitive to context. It is not just any kind of thinking: it is critical thinking. The classroom dialogue is something students find irresistible: they can’t help joining in, contributing their own reflections to the discussion. In this way, cognitive skillfulness is acquired and in context, rather than in isolated drills.
Although Philosophy for Children is suitable for any child, it is not something that can be readily taught by any teacher. Teacher preparation, involving the facilitation of classroom dialogue and the formation of classroom communities of inquiry, is highly recommended. Philosophy for Children sharpens children’s linguistic, logical and cognitive competence. If any subject should be added to the school curriculum, it should be philosophy. And if philosophy is to become a mandated subject in the schools, there is no better way of offering it than through the Philosophy for Children approach.