Should we teach doctrine to children? You’d have difficulty, I imagine, convincing many readers of the website that we should not. But why? Perhaps it’s never too early for children to learn intellectual history. However, it’s less clear that they could or should wrestle with Hegel.Perhaps the question ought to be put another way: if we teach kids to think philosophically? As we mentioned in an earlier article, English teachers and entrepreneurs Emma and Peter Worley have replied affirmatively using their Philosophy Foundation, which trains children in ways of argumentation, problem-solving, and normally “thinking well.” They assert that practicing philosophical question “has a direct effect on effective skills and… cognitive abilities.”
Peter Worley also asserts that it makes children less likely to propaganda and the fear-mongering of totalitarians. While one reader astutely pointed out that many philosophers have experienced “authoritarian trends,” we should note that even some of the very anti-democratic–Socrates for example–have utilized philosophical procedures to hold power to account and query means of social control.
But while this noble civic motivation might be a difficult sell to a school board, or anything the British equivalent, the notion that philosophical thinking boosts many sorts of literacy necessary for children’s achievement has found broad support for decades in England and the U.S. as part of a motion aptly called “Philosophy for children” (P4C), which “started with the work of Professor Matthew Lip man, who founded the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montcalm State University, USA in 1974.”
The results were fairly astounding. “Overall,” the study concludes, “students using the approach made about two extra months’ progress in reading and maths.” This despite the fact, notes Anderson, that “the course wasn’t designed to enhance literacy or numeracy.”
Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw a much bigger jump in functionality: reading skills improved by four months, mathematics by three months, and writing by two months. Teachers also reported that a beneficial effect on pupils’ confidence and capacity to listen to others.
The research not only found instant improvement but also longitudinally monitored the pupils’ development for two additional years and found that the beneficial effects lasted through the time; “the intervention team continu[ed] to outperform the control group” from 22 of the colleges “long after the classes had ended.” You can read the study on your own here, and learn more about the Philosophy for Children motion–“motivated by a dialogical convention of doing philosophy started by Socrates in Athens 2,500 years ago”–in the Philosophy Foundation, the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, and the Center for Philosophy for Children in the University of Washington.