Children are, without a doubt, the world’s purest and even cleverest philosophers. Ask the parents of a small child and they will tell you how the child deftly wields the “why?” question at the most opportune times.
So, how does a parent encourage this philosophical discovery and cultivate the ensuing discussions that will form the basis of the child’s view of their world and how they see themselves in it. The juvenile mind that freely challenges the “norms” of their environment alludes to a deeper search for meanings underlying superficial appearances.
The search for these meanings can be encouraged or discouraged by the parents and educational journey selected for the child. The study of philosophy can provide perfect benchmarks for channelling this search for “truth” in a positive direction.
There have been extensive studies applied to the subject and the general consensus is that children with a strong philosophical approach can expect to achieve more from their studies, interactions and experiences. They also exhibit higher levels of confidence and self-esteem which can then be translated to improved social skills.
This in itself eliminates many of the underlying causes of schoolyard bullying, both to the oppressed and oppressive parties. The victims learn to understand what is truly happening and reach a solution and the bullies learn to interact with themselves and seek quality social interactions to meet their needs for acceptance and approval.
Why the Study of Philosophy is an Essential Part of a Wholesome Education
Studying philosophy allows the mind to grow in balanced way. This means that questions are cultivated without feelings of fear and helplessness, and confidence is cultivated without the arrogance that often accompanies success.
This allows the juvenile mind to become increasingly more rational and open minded when approaching the many discrepancies that life inevitably throws their way. This helps them to deal with themselves and others socially, meaning their interactions are fair-minded and seek greater collaboration.
The effects are progressively improved as the child begins to see the consequences of an improved perspective on life and the people they interact with. They can then apply their improved mind frame to solving the more serious situations like conflict resolution and actual violence, once they have understood the improved results of a philosophical approach.
Michel de Montaigne was a French writer who posed an important question to the educational system of his day, almost 400 years ago, and a question that rings equally applicable to the education of our times as well. Michel’s question was this, “ …since the art of philosophy is the art that governs the way we live, is it not far more important to instruct our children in this essential art form?” The answer is obvious enough.
This is a belief system shared with many of the leading educational institutions of this modern day and age. The International Baccalaureate, a world renown High School Diploma, has set down a impressive Theory of Knowledge as part of their academic criteria. This Theory illustrates the international value placed on philosophy, referring to philosophy as the essential underlying discipline which sets a foundation for all other academic disciplines.
Educational movements around the world are all pulling toward this need for philosophy as part of the basic educational curriculum. The US and most of Europe were quick to implement this important aspect of education into primary school education, although much of the world, Australia included, seem to be lagging behind in this important educational advancement.
Many countries do include at least some level of philosophical education in their educational system, it often is presented as a single subject buried in the High School Curriculum. After that, only a select few private institutions include philosophy as part of their primary school syllabus and fewer still who include regular philosophical inquiry and discussion into the realms of critical thinking or creative reasoning.
If philosophy were included into educational systems at a more fundamental level, i.e. practicing philosophical enquiry at grade school levels — and even lower, the basics of critical thinking can be implemented by example and narratives with discussion with children as young as Kindergarten age — it would go a long way in promoting a higher level of thinking and reasoning, which are skills that are essential to approaching and embracing other subjects like mathematics and other sciences.
By creating an appropriate path of philosophical learning as part of a child’s educational experience, we provide them with many of the essential tools for approaching the lessons of life, these include awareness of the dimensions of morals, politics and even aesthetics, the capacity to cultivate thought processes and correct them if necessary, as well as the confidence to act on their core belief system.
Furthermore, an early start on this essential “art of life” provides a youngster with the important understanding of how conflict can be resolved and a deeper empathy for other people and their experiences.