We know, we know. It’s in the course calendar of most major colleges and universities. You can take it in high school. If you’re really lucky, you might even find an elementary or middle school that teaches it. It has its own text books, you can do assignments for it, and you get marks for it. That’s a subject, right?
Well, yes, but we’re of the (strong) opinion that when we see philosophy as just another subject area, we keep ourselves from seeing its full potential, and we keep our kids from reaping its many, many benefits. Please don’t misunderstand. Philosophy has just as many academic benefits as any other subject area, and is just as applicable. We’ll be dancing in the streets the day that it becomes part of every regular curriculum, for every age group and grade level. However, philosophy isn’t just something you take at school for credit.
Here’s what else philosophy can (and should) be:
- a daily practice, or a habit, something people of all ages do on an ongoing basis
- something that flows into all areas of life, and all other subjects
- a source of profound understanding, of ourselves, each other, and the universe we live in
- a communication tool, and a way to express ourselves creatively and critically
- a window into other minds, other perspectives, and other worldviews
- a way to become a better person, and a more engaged, informed citizen
- a source of fun, joy, and play (and we don’t just mean for kids)
- a voice of reason, and a touchstone in times of difficulty and frustration
- a way to bond with each other, and to build trust
- a source of inspiration, wonder, and empowerment
- something that ties us to all the humans that have come before us, and all the humans who will follow after
When we encourage our children as wee philosophers, we are essentially supporting them in learning how to think, instead of just what to think. We’re setting them up for success not only at school, but also in their professional and personal lives. We’re recognizing and encouraging a very human practice, one that’s been in play for tens of thousands of years. It’s a bit much to be squeezed into a subject area, isn’t it?
What’s most important is that when we reduce philosophy to being just another subject, we risk turning our kids off it. Some kids love school, and will relish almost any new knowledge or skill that’s put in front of them. Others find school stressful, and switch off whatever seems attached to it. Subjects are associated with lessons and assignments and homework and tests. Subjects are things they need to cover before someone lets them go home, or before they’re allowed to move on to the next grade. Critical thinking, and all of the other thinking skills that come from philosophy, are just too important to be lost in the push and pull of regular academic learning. Philosophy needs to go beyond school, so that even children who aren’t fans of the classroom will still feel welcome to join in. With any luck, it might actually help them feel less anxious about subjects that are part of traditional classroom learning.
To those who ask, “Can’t you say many of the same things for other subject areas?” we say, well yeah! Big thinking, big questions, big discussions and big answers should be present in math, science, art, PE and all the other areas that appear on a report card. Maybe we should start thinking of our kids as being good at thinking, instead of good at this or that particular subject at school. Maybe that’s how we really equip them for life after graduation, and maybe that’s why we should start applying this sort of approach when they’re really small, before they even set foot in a classroom. Maybe that’s why we parents should be doing philosophy with our kids at home, regardless of whether they’ll be taught it at school.
We look forward to the day when every little kid is seen as a philosopher, or at least as a philosopher in training. We hope that when (not if), they get to study it at school, there will be a lot of “yeah, I’ve already been thinking about that for years”. We hope that every child finds a part of philosophy, even if it’s just one or two particular questions, that really fires them up and excites them. Finally, we hope that every parent finds ways to make it part of their daily life with their child.