The induction of philosophy into the high school academic curriculum is gaining momentum, emphasizing not only the importance of subject among them, but also the capability of the children for philosophical thinking. With an exhaustive curriculum of math, literature, history and science in place, many wondered if the addition of philosophy was not a burden to children. First, it was a subject that most teachers were not very familiar with and second, philosophical in-depth thinking, reasoning and questioning might actually interfere with the student’s ability to learn other subjects. Dr. Matthew Lipman (1991), a philosophy professor at Montclair State College in New Jersey, emphasized that bringing philosophy into schools would only enhance the educational experience of children. The argument here was, philosophy could contribute to critical thinking, which is vital for all other subjects. Another important aspect of the philosophy for children is the intellect classroom community or the community of inquiry it develops, with children exchanging ideas and supporting them with good reasons.
Matthew Lipman was born on August 24, 1922 and is credited for bringing philosophy to children. When he was a professor at Columbia University, Lipman was convinced that there was reasoning skills in young people, and it lay dormant. Lipman is credited with developing the philosophy program for children in 1969. Lipman believed that teaching of philosophy should start early; failing which children would lose their curiosity and philosophical skills as they grow into teens and young adults. Lipman specifically held that college was too late for anyone’s first introduction to critical thinking and associated reasoning, because the education at that level is more focused on habits, career etc., related to the eighteen plus age category. Lipman’s published works on the subject include stories that are used widely in formal classes, because the stories are directed in solving philosophical problems, with stories being used as a basis for discussion. His books also provide a good start for teachers as they are accompanied with a teacher’s manual. Today more than fifty countries have included philosophy as an educational program for children.
Lipman’s program used philosophical texts written by philosophers specializing at philosophy for children, which were used as reading texts. These reading texts serve as the basis for building up philosophical discussions. These texts are carefully thought and written to achieve discussion. Sometimes pictures, literature texts, films or any other suitable source, are also appropriately used. The manual for teachers includes various discussion plans and workouts designed to achieve the intended goal. and to help teachers at any time they require. The books are written to provide a program that is both philosophical and educational, demanding an ethical commitment to the program, from schools and teachers. The philosophical topics are presented in simple daily language and are structured into hierarchy levels corresponding to various age groups. The subjects of focus in the philosophy for children are those that are common and important to both, academic disciplines and life experience like freedom, justice, love, friendship, God etc. The topics are followed up in a sequential order, with a particular plot studied at various depths, at corresponding age group levels.
Matthew Lipman recommends the development of self-curriculum on a regional basis corresponding to the children’s interest and necessity of that region. The ‘Philosophy for Children’ as an educational curriculum was realized in early 1970 with Lipman’s philosophical novel Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery; for children. Harry was included into New Jersey’s Montclair Public Schools in 1970. The novel had 96 pages featuring Harry and his classmates in the 5th grade, for middle school children (Pritchard, 2002). Harry and his friends ponder over several basic concepts and questions on intricate subjects like mind, reality, casualty, knowledge, thought, fair and unfair etc. The highlight of the novel is that no philosophical terms are introduced in it. Even the term ‘philosophy’ doesn’t appear in it. In 1970, the Montclair State University (which was then Montclair State College) established the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC). Lipman wrote his own curriculum, between 1969 and 1980, which together with the supporting manuals formed the traditional program. These were novels designed for specific age groups and intended to introduce appropriate aspects of philosophy to corresponding age groups;
Elfie (1988) (Kindergarten –Year 2) make distinctions, corrections and comparisons
Kio ; Gus (1982) (Years 3-4) develop reasoning skills to investigate nature
Pixie (1989) (Years 3-4) develop analogical reasoning skills and philosophy of language
Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery (1970) (Years 6-7) introduction to a range of philosophical problems
Lisa (1989) (Years 7-8) enquiry into ethical aspects
Suki (1978) (Years 9-10) aesthetics
Mark (1980) (Years 11-12) social and political enquiry
Reacting to why philosophy is presented through narrative novels, Lipman says that philosophy is more accessible this way as stories are easier to read compared to philosophy text books. Narratives create an interest in the subject and makes one want to read the next page. Textbooks just add more information, while the fictitious children in the novel keep exploring and inquiring. Lipman adds, “Concepts such as truth, justice, freedom, relationship…, are not limited to specific disciplines, and, therefore, if you lead children to reflect, to analyze, to discuss and argue about general concepts, then you are leading them to think philosophically”.
Of late some of these texts are not used in some parts of the world, due to inappropriateness to current student conditions. Experts are working on the original idea to transform its suitability for the present day students, by elaborating, writing and publishing new texts for the program. However, this is done based on the original concept and continues to benefit children throughout the world.
The manual; Philosophical Inquiry (instruction manual to accompany Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery), Ann Margaret Sharp and Frederick S. Oscanyan (N.J.: IAPC, 1979), co published with University Press, 1984
Pritchard M.,. Philosophy for Children Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002) [Electronic Version] retrieved on 29th April 2008 from http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/archives/fall2002/entries/children/
Gomez M., (Translator) An Interview with Matthew Lipman Analytic Teaching Vol. 18, No 1 [Electronic Version] retrieved on 29th April 2008 from http://www.viterbo.edu/analytic/Vol%2018%20no.1/an%20interview%20with%20matthew.pdf