Wondering Aloud: Philosophy With Young People

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 […]

Really, Really BIG Questions

The picture book Really, Really BIG Questions by British philosophy professor Stephen Law is an engaging introduction to philosophy for anyone from elementary school age through middle school. With drawings and information about science, history, literature and the history of philosophy, the book explores questions such as: How can something come from nothing? What is […]

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 […]

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 […]

Soap! Soap! Don’t Forget the Soap!

Soap! Soap! Don’t Forget the Soap! is an Appalachian folktale, brought to life in a great read-aloud picture book by Tom Birdseye with illustrations by Andrew Glass. The story’s main character, Pug, is a young boy “with such a poor memory some say he’d forget his own name.” One day Pug’s mother, who believes in […]

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 Cricket in Times Square

One of my favorite works of children’s literature, The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, first published in 1960, is moving, funny and philosophically suggestive. In particular, the book can inspire discussion about a variety of ethical questions. The story involves Chester, a cricket, who arrives in Times Square in an accidental way from […]

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. […]

The One Who Walk Away from Omelas

The Ursula LeGuin short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a powerful story for discussing with high school students utilitarian ethics and the question of whether the suffering of one person is permissible if it brings about the greater good. The story is set in a joyful and seemingly perfect city, where […]

The Three Questions

“There once was a boy named Nikolai who sometimes felt uncertain about the right way to act. ‘I want to be a good person,’ he told his friends. ‘But I don’t always know the best way to do that.’” From The Three Questionsby Jon J. Muth Muth takes Leo Tolstoy’s short story, The Three Questions, […]

What is art? Blog Series Part I

I’m going to write a series of posts about the philosophy of art unit I’m doing with sixth grade students this fall. Yesterday was the first session of the unit. We started by listing some of the things the students said they would consider art, which included paintings, sculpture, music, and poetry and also rocks, […]

What is art? Blog Series Part II

I decided that the second class of the philosophy of art series should involve actually looking at visual art and talking about it. I thought about taking the students to a local art gallery, and then decided that it would be fun for them instead to visit our local junior/senior high school (where they will […]

What is art? Blog Series Part IV

In the two sixth grade classrooms in which I’ve been teaching this aesthetics unit, the students and I spent a lot of time this week talking about the relationship between having feelings and expressing feelings. We read another portion of chapter 14 in Mat Lipman’s Harry Stottlemeir’s Discovery, in which two girls have a conversation […]

What is art? Blog Series Part V

This will be the final post in this series. What is music?Is there some quality that anything considered music must have?Can any sound count as music?Does all music express emotion?Is the emotion that music expresses in the music itself? In the composer? In us, the listeners?What makes music pleasurable to listen to?Why do we listen […]

Who is More Trustworthy: Children or Adults?

Earlier this month at Whittier Elementary School in Seattle, a group of fourth grade students and I had a long conversation after reading Barbara Williams’ Albert’s Toothache. We talked about the relationship between telling a lie, telling the truth and making a mistake, and that led to a discussion about why the things children say […]