Why philosophy for children?

BY BEV COUNIHAN
St James Preparatory School in Johannesburg grew from the need to include universal philosophic principles as an integral and necessary part of the curriculum.

The fundamental definition of the word “philosophy” is “love of wisdom”. In the words of Leon MacLaren, the founder of the St James schools in the UK and other countries: “Philosophy is the love of wisdom and wisdom is the true knowledge of the Self [sic] (Truth itself )”.
Similar words were expressed by Marsilio Ficino, an Italian renaissance philosopher (1433-1499): “So, the study of philosophy prepares the soul for things divine by moral training and purification…”.

Nurturing a good nature in each child

A child is full of energy and the tender mind and heart is ready to receive anything, good or bad. But the young tender mind and heart cannot yet discriminate between good and bad. The child is therefore vulnerable to what gets to it first, whether the good or the bad. It is not presumptuous to state that in the current times, unfavourable forces abound, and the means of communication too are so much more easily available through social media, therefore the child needs to be protected from adverse forces which may get to his tender mind and heart first.
It is therefore essential that the child is introduced to philosophical principles that describe the true nature of the human being, and the being’s ability to aspire to excellence rather than to degenerate.
These principles also naturally lead to a disciplined, well- balanced life, and the strength that grows from a disciplined, measured life results in a finer life which brings about a steady mind and heart.
These principles train the child at the physical, emotional and causal levels, gently through the young ages into the teens and early adulthood, from which the being is poised to not only make an entry into society, but also to make a meaningful contribution to the upliftment of the community at large.

Telling the truth

The philosophy for children programme at St James teaches that the simple adherence to truth is the fundamental criterion to building a good character. It is important to note that this is a practical philosophy. As children begin to explore the world around them, and as they move into the world of language, they begin to ask questions about everything. There is a natural spirit of enquiry and they seek to know who they are, where they come from and how they relate to the world.
The philosophy for children programme leverages this natural spirit of enquiry. It is about the process of exploring philosophical questions through dialogue. Dialogue in this context is the use of open-ended questions to explore issues and enquire after truth. This begins to develop a ‘community of enquiry’, wherein teacher and pupils learn and develop together. The universal principles offered in the philosophy stimulates further questioning.
The process of dialogue opens a possibility for:
Developing thinking skills: questioning, evaluating, reasoning, analysing, interpreting, making deductions and generating ideas.
Strengthening emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self- regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
Developing spiritual intelligence: having vision and values; seeing holistically, i.e. seeing the unity of things around us; being able to learn as situations are developing and using that information to affect the situation.

Introducing the importance of choice

When children explore moral and ethical questions, in the light of reason, there opens up the possibility of seeing the cause behind these thoughts and behaviours. This process empowers the child because it brings the youngster to a point where choice is possible, instead of falling back on habitual behaviour. This in turn has an effect on the whole community, be it the class, the family or society itself.
Giving children the space and tools to think and apply reason offers the opportunity of discovering their full potential. It is a voyage of discovery for both teacher and student!

Bev Counihan is executive head at St James Preparatory School.

References:
1. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy
2. See: http://www.education-renaissance-
trust.org.uk/docs/St_James_Forty_Years_On.pdf
3. See: https://philosophy.nz/leon-maclaren-the-right-use-of-the-mind/
4. See: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Marsilio-Ficino

Category: Winter 2019

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