Wondering Aloud: Philosophy With Young People

Blind Painter

The “Blind Painter” activity, created by my colleague David Shapiro, is a creative and engaging exercise that always inspires a lively conversation and is a great tool for building community. The activity focuses on two key skills, both important for doing philosophy — clear communication and active listening. When we do philosophy, it’s very important that we learn to […]

Children’s Perspectives on Childhood

Last month I had a conversation with a group of fifth grade students about the differences between children and adults, including whether they would prefer to be children or adults. We began with the students discussing what they saw as the main differences between being a child and being an adult.The children contended that children, […]

Comments from Memphis High School Students

I had a conversation recently with a colleague about the difference it makes, in his view, when students who have had philosophy in high school enroll in his undergraduate philosophy classes. He said that he almost always recognizes students who have studied philosophy in high school — he observes deeper thinking about the questions explored […]

Do I need this or just want it?

Distinguishing between what we need and what we want is challenging for all of us, children and adults. One of my colleagues at the Center for Philosophy for Children, Karen Emmerman, has developed a great classroom exercise for thinking about the differences between wants and needs. Step One: Identifying Wants and NeedsGive the students a […]

Elections and Normality

On Wednesday morning after Tuesday’s election, I led my weekly philosophy session with a group of 5th grade students at John Muir Elementary School. The students are primarily immigrants and children of color. I knew that they would want to talk about the presidential election, and so I brought the book, The Araboolies of Liberty […]

Freedom and Following the Rules

In a third grade classroom at John Muir Elementary this morning, I read Toni Morrison’s The Big Box with the students. The story is about three children who are put into a “big box” after the adults in their lives conclude that they can’t “handle their freedom.” The box is full of toys and their […]

How Should Our City Be Designed?

A recent article described the ways in which many cities are not child-friendly, examining some of the possibilities for designing cities around urban children and their needs and desires. It led me to think about ways to engage children in thinking about their environments and imagining the elements of what would be in their views […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust — Blog Series Part II

This morning I taught the second class of the “Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust” unit to two eighth grade classes. This class is an introduction to moral philosophy, a way to give the students some background before we launch into the issues raised by the Holocaust. We began by talking about Plato’s Ring of Gyges […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust: Blog Series Part I

I spent the morning last Friday with two eighth grade classes in the first sessions of a unit I teach every year on “Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust.” I teach the unit with Jane Orme, the eighth grade language arts teacher at Liberty Bell Junior High School, and over the past four years we have […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust: Blog Series Part III

When Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, Jane Elliott, a third grade teacher in Iowa, decided to implement an exercise in her classroom to help her students understand racism and discrimination. She divided the class into students with brown eyes and students with blue eyes, and spent one day discriminating against the brown-eyed students […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust: Blog Series Part VI

Why did some people become rescuers during the Holocaust? What makes some people, despite the risks, act to prevent moral wrongs? Is being a bystander morally wrong? In this class we see the film The Courage to Care, involving profiles of individuals during the Third Reich who helped protect Jews in France, Holland and Poland. […]

Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust: Blog Series Part VII

Can one person make a difference? The last class for the Moral Philosophy and the Holocaust unit involves watching the film Not in Our Town, which describes a series of hate crimes that took place in Billings, Montana, in the 1990s, and the town’s reaction to these events. The people in the town really came […]

Puzzles about Ethics

A couple of years ago I created a series of ethics puzzles to introduce various moral questions to two fourth grade classes. I adapted some of these scenarios from puzzles created by others and made up the rest. I found that formulating dilemmas that would be easily recognizable to ten-year-old students was an effective way […]

Science Fair and Ethics

Yesterday I showed up in the fifth grade classroom in which I’ve been teaching, prepared to talk with the students about whether you can get something form nothing, whether everything has a beginning, and related questions. When I arrived, the class informed me that they had just had a discussion about an ethical problem related […]

Showing Up for Your Friends

Children’s points of view and ideas have changed the way I think about many subjects. Friendship is one of them. I think that children’s thoughts and observations regarding friendship are particularly insightful because friendship is so central in their lives. Especially once they begin school, children spend most of their waking hours with their peers, much more […]

Silence and Philosophy

The traditional model for philosophy sessions in schools involves verbal communication, typically in the form of large group conversations, often in a circle. While this method of leading philosophy sessions has much to offer, not every student is immediately comfortable with this approach. The larger the class size, for example, the more challenging this model […]

The Book Thief and Psychological Egoism

On Friday I had a marvelous discussion with a group of students in an eighth grade English class about The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak. The story is told from the perspective of Death, who describes his experiences during the Holocaust, and in particular the story of a young girl living near Munich. […]

The Challenges of Engaging All Students in Philosophy

Philosophy in K-12 classrooms is still a rarity in the United States. My work over the past 20 plus years has involved introducing philosophy into schools and helping educators and policy makers to recognize young people’s philosophical proclivities and the benefits of bringing philosophical inquiry into their lives. This involves a lot of “selling” of […]

The Hundred Dresses

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (1944) is a great book to inspire discussions about the nature of friendship, the ethics of being a bystander, and questions about what moral duties we owe to others. I have used this book with students from ages 8-18, usually taking three or four classes to read it together […]

The Important Things in Life, and Rules that Help Us Keep Them

In two fifth grade classrooms at John Muir Elementary School last week, I read to the students chapter 12 from E.B. White’s Stuart Little, in which Stuart, who, despite being the son of human parents, looks exactly like and is the same size as a field mouse, has taken a one-day job as a substitute teacher. […]

What is art? Blog Series Part III

This week the sixth graders and I read part of a chapter from Harry Stottlemeir’s Discovery (by Matthew Lipman, part of the curriculum developed by the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children in New Jersey), which involves two girls visiting an art museum together and talking as they wander around. The chapter raises […]