New Online Ten-Week Program in Philosophy for Children
The Center for Philosophy for Children will offer a new ten-week online program in Philosophy for Children for educators, to begin in March 2022. The program will provide participants with knowledge and skills to support facilitation of philosophy sessions with children and youth from preschool through high school and will be designed primarily to serve classroom teachers and other educators as well as post-undergraduate students and those interested in philosophical inquiry with children and youth.
The program will involve synchronous two-hour weekly Zoom meetings, as well as an asynchronous forum for further interaction among participants, and include an online Capstone event at the conclusion of the program. The program will include philosophical and pedagogical discussions about such topics as how to foster a community of philosophical inquiry, choosing prompts, philosophical sensitivity, epistemic injustice, social inequalities, and philosophical recognition of young people.
After the program has ended, the Center will provide ongoing resources and mentorship for all participants. We estimate that the cost of the program will be approximately $1,000.
More information and an application process will be available in September. In the meantime, please feel free to contact Jana at [email protected] if you have any questions.
Zoom Philosophy Classes for Young People
Since October, we have run 11 classes for students 7 to 13 years old. Living all over the country, and some joining us from other parts of the world, these children are exploring some of life’s big questions, inspired by various books, films, games, and thought experiments to reflect about and discuss some of philosophy’s perennial questions, about identity and justice, happiness and knowledge, goodness and beauty. Our spring session runs through the end of May and we plan to offer online classes again next fall.
From the Director
Monthly Professional Learning Community
For the fourth year this year the Center has been hosting a monthly seminar on philosophical inquiry in classrooms. This year the seminar is virtual. Approved for up to 13.5 clock hours, the seminar includes teachers and others interested in exploring how introducing philosophy can enrich student learning. The seminar’s online status has allowed teachers from other parts of the country to participate this year.
Seen and Not Heard: Why Children’s Voices Matter
Described by Jonathan Kozol as "a stirring and important book, which should be widely read," director Jana Mohr Lone’s newest book has just been published. Portraying a series of conversations with children about childhood, friendship, justice and fairness, happiness, and death, the book reveals children’s perceptive and original philosophical approaches and invites us to become more receptive to the ways we can learn from them.
Philosophers in the Schools
I have been teaching philosophy for/with children for nearly 5 years. Starting as a graduate fellow at the Center for Philosophy for Children, I entered the practice of guiding philosophical inquiry in partnership with many elementary school classrooms, facilitating ~20 sessions over the course of a year. In more recent years, I have worked primarily with younger children through the UW’s Robinson Center’s Saturday School program, which is organized on a quarterly basis. While several students stay from quarter to quarter, it is common for over half of our class to change each quarter. Though the class benefits from new perspectives, the influx of new students presents challenges in quickly orienting young students to the nature of philosophical activities and how our time together might differ from other classes.
When working with new students, I often notice that they approach topics assuming that the path of inquiry is predetermined at the outset, and that there is a single “correct” answer that I, the teacher, already have worked out in advance. It is important to address these assumptions directly, stating that we often discuss ideas without one settled “right” answer. More important than answers is making sense of what kinds of questions help us understand a topic more deeply. What are the important questions to ask, and what makes them important anyway?
Especially for our youngest learners, I have found it helpful for classes to follow a predictable routine with relatable materials that encourage low-stakes opportunities to take up multiple perspectives and ask each other questions. We begin and end our class in routine ways, engage a philosophically generative prompt (typically a book, video, or thought experiment), and always include open time for group discussion where children can probe the topic and ask each other questions. I work to normalize children calling on one another to speak next and restating the ideas of others before contributing their own thoughts.
A a primary goal of mine is to help children build positive associations with the practices of philosophy. Too often, philosophy is portrayed and practiced as the study of other’s ideas, as a strict discipline primarily concerned with understanding what dead white men considered important or “correct”. While there is certainly a time and place to bring in questions, distinctions, or thought experiments from the “traditional” canon (The Ship of Theseus and Plato’s Ring of Gyges are personal favorites), I am much more concerned with the affective and emotional elements underlying our collective inquiries. When they encounter philosophy later in life, I want the children to fondly remember our time together such that they feel motivated to continue engaging in the great conversation wherever they encounter it. Deep thought and puzzlement should be paired with opportunities for open wondering and laughter.
The goal of my work is to help young people learn that philosophy is always around them and to develop tools to make sense of complex issues that will arise throughout their lives. This looks different depending on the makeup of any class, but in being responsive to that difference we can be better prepared to help young people develop ways of seeing and interacting with the world that nurture their ability to ask fundamental questions, appreciate different perspectives, and deliberate within a community of inquiry. To develop a positive and enduring relationship with philosophy.
Washington State High School Ethics Bowl
The has been a different program than in the past, due to the pandemic and the challenges facing high schools this year. After consulting with all our coaches in the fall, we decided not to hold a formal event in 2021 (which would have been online), and instead arranged a series of two-hour virtual scrimmages between schools between April and June 2021. Schools were given 10 cases to consider and discuss over the course of the year, with some schools beginning to meet in the fall and others waiting to start until winter.
Scrimmages each include two cases, both involving a presentation, a commentary on the presentation, a 10-minute open dialogue, and judges’ questions. Scrimmages are not scored, but three judges provide detailed feedback at the end of each scrimmage and are often engaging in extended conversations with students about the scrimmage. We have held four scrimmages so far, with several more scheduled this spring.
This year’s cases asked the students to discuss such topics as:
- Should schools hold classes virtually during the pandemic?
- Should buildings and institutions be renamed if their namesake has a problematic past?
- Is it ethical to dine-in at a restaurant during a pandemic?
- Is it unethical to buy fast-fashion clothing?
Read these and the rest of the 2021 ethics bowl cases here.
We are so inspired by the thoughtfulness and dedication of all the students and coaches, who have helped make the scrimmages a delight to attend. We thank our judges and moderators for their flexibility in scheduling, generous contributions of time, and the valuable feedback they are providing to our students.
From the Blog
Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type
Doreen Cronin’s book Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type is one of my favorite books to use in philosophy for children sessions. It lends itself to many different sorts of wondering.
In the book, animals on a farm acquire a typewriter and generate a list of demands for Farmer Brown. The cows and hens are cold at night and demand electric blankets. Farmer Brown is angered by these demands and insists on productivity from the animals. In return the cows and hens go on strike, refusing to produce milk and eggs.
Through a neutral third party (the duck), negotiations ensue, and a compromise is reached. The cows and hens get their blankets and they are supposed to return Farmer Brown’s typewriter to him. Unfortunately for Farmer Brown,, the ducks take the typewriter and write a letter demanding a diving board for their pond, thus beginning a new cycle of demands on the farm.
Recently, I read Click, Clack, Moo in an online session with second-grade students. We talked about how the cows, hens, and ducks made demands and then we generated a list of students’ demands for their teacher. The resulting list contained everything from “less homework” to “movies all day instead of school.” We then reviewed the list, vetting the demands for whether they were reasonable, a good idea, and/or something to which everyone could agree. Read more here.
What is memory?
In a discussion yesterday with a group of eight- and nine-year-old children, we talked about what is most important for our identities; in other words, what could we not lose without ceasing to be ourselves? During the conversation, we began talking about the role of memory in making us the people we are. One child observed that "memory is what keeps us holding all our experiences over time," and another child commented that without memories your experiences wouldn't be meaningful. We began talking about whether remembering one's experiences were as important as having them.
This led to a conversation about the nature of memory. One child said that we think of memory as "seeing things" and recalling images, but that memory is more than that, and includes scent and touch and sound. This prompted another child to ask, "But what exactly is memory?" Read more here.
In the Press
Certificate of Mastery in Philosophy for Children
A couple of years ago, the Center launched a Certificate of Mastery in Philosophy for Children for University of Washington graduate students interested in developing the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully lead philosophy sessions in K-12 classrooms. Students are required to take courses in philosophy and in education, to spend a minimum of 40 hours in K-12 classrooms (observing, assisting, and/or facilitating philosophy sessions), at least half of which involves facilitating philosophy sessions as the lead instructor. When the candidate has met all of the requirements, there is a Capstone Experience.
Our first two graduate students – Jordan Sherry-Wagner (College of Education) and Jack Flesher (Ethnomusicology) – will receive their certificates this year. Their Capstone Experiences will take place at our June “Philosophy in the Schools” workshop.
I have been doing philosophy with children for nearly five years. Starting as a Graduate Fellow at the Center for Philosophy for Children, I learned the ropes of guiding philosophical inquiry in partnership within many elementary school classrooms serving young people from kindergarten to 6th grade. I also teach philosophy classes for early-grade children (K-1 and 2-3) through the Robinson Center’s Saturday School program. The Center for Philosophy for Children and the Mastery Certificate hold together my mutual interests in early childhood education and philosophical inquiry in ways I have not found elsewhere.
I did not discover philosophy until my late teens. When I finally did, I found myself wondering why it had taken so long for the great conversation to find me, and what may have been different had I been introduced to the ideas, tools, and practices of philosophy earlier in life. In my work within early childhood education, it was clear to me that young children were already grappling with philosophical ideas in their own ways, and I wondered what could be done to nurture and support these sensibilities earlier in life. Through the Center for Philosophy for Children, I have found a group taking up similar questions in serious ways - a community of inquiry that values the contributions of our youngest philosophers and aims to create opportunities that might better prepare them to take part in these kinds of conversations over the course of their lives. Through the Center and the Mastery Certificate I have developed relationships, skills, and dispositions that prepare me to work alongside young people in asking fundamental questions and making sense of complex issues. My work aims to pay these sensibilities forward in ways that help young people see philosophy in their everyday lives and enjoy making sense of the complex ideas they encounter.
For Parents: Expanded Online Resources
During the pandemic we expanded the our website offerings for families to include resources, including questions, children’s books, and short videos to help parents and other adults facilitate conversations with kids about some of the questions the pandemic raised for children, such as loneliness and friendship, illness and death, and boredom. The site also features resources on other topics, including how we know things, relationships with animals, imaginary friends, and the nature of art.
Philosophical discussions afford an opportunity for different kinds of interactions with children because, unlike many of the topics about which we talk with children, philosophical questions don’t have settled and definite answers. These resources are intended to help parents, grandparents, and other caregivers to listen to children’s questions and to think aloud with them, remembering that sometimes asking the questions is more important than finding the answers.
Focus on the (Zoom) Classroom
Self-Driving Cars: A Thought Experiment
Moving online has had its benefits. We’ve been able to continue our philosophical discussions with kids not just in Seattle schools, but beyond through the Center’s online Zoom philosophy classes. But after months of online instruction, both kids and adults alike are getting tired of Zoom meetings. While many students have expressed how much they look forward to philosophy, Zoom fatigue is real and I can see how it affects my students. With this in mind, I’ve been trying out different activities in the hope of keeping students engaged.
Thought experiments have served us particularly well. Over the last two iterations of my Zoom class for 11-13-year olds, ethical thought experiments have been a favorite. So with the start of the spring session, I decided to begin with a topic that was once science fiction but is increasingly becoming a reality: self-driving cars.
We began by watching a short animated TED-Ed video that asks the viewer to imagine being in a self-driving car, driving down a busy highway. Suddenly, the cargo being carried by the truck in front of the car begins to fall off the truck bed. With other vehicles to the right and left, there is no place for your car to safely swerve away. What should the car be programmed to do?
The video presents multiple versions of this thought experiment, but we focused on the version which has two motorcyclists on either side of the self-driving car. The video presents three possible options: (1) hit the motorcyclist to the left who is wearing a helmet and is thus more likely to live; (2) continue straight and crash into the truck’s cargo, possibly resulting in your own injury or death; or (3) hit the motorcyclist to the right who is acting irresponsibly by not wearing a helmet.
The discussion started off straightforwardly, with students taking a stand on which option they believed to be the most ethical and explaining the reasoning behind their choices. Most felt that the second option would be best, as it prevented the car from putting others at risk. But the conversation quickly turned to more complex considerations, ones that the video did not present. One student commented, “If it’s a self-driving car, does it need a window in the front? Because if it’s armored on the front, it could hit the boxes and the people in the car would still be safe.” This led to further considerations about just how many things go into making an ethical decision in this case. It’s not just a matter of how the car should be programmed, as the video initially presents. As the students continued to discuss the problem, it became clear that factors such as the car’s structural design, marketing, social expectations, and the number of self-driving cars on the road at any given time are also relevant, highlighting just how complex and fascinating applied philosophy can be.
Advisory Board and Staff
Thank you to our Advisory Board for their ongoing support and enthusiasm for the Center’s work!
Kenneth Clatterbaugh, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at University of Washington
Karen Emmerman, Center Education Director, and Part-Time Faculty in the Department of Philosophy at University of Washington and Philosopher-in-Residence at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle
Dan Gerler, University of Washington Philosophy Alumnus
Sara Goering, Professor of Philosophy at University of Washington
Jean Hanson, Community Volunteer and Former Seattle Middle School Teacher
Judith Howard, Professor Emerita of Sociology and Former Divisional Dean of Social Sciences at University of Washington
Polly Hunter, Director of Development at Children’s Hospital at University of Virginia
Jana Mohr Lone, Center Director
Terrance McKittrick, Teacher at Nova High School, Seattle<
Janice Moskalik, Instructor in Philosophy at Seattle University
David Shapiro, Faculty in Philosophy at Cascadia Community College
Christine Stickler, Director of the Riverways Education Partnerships at University of Washington
Debi Talukdar, Center Program Director and Ph.D. Candidate in the College of Education at University of Washington and Philosopher-in-Residence at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, Seattle
Jana Mohr Lone, Director
Debi Talukdar, Program Director
Karen Emmerman, Education Director
Kate Goldyn, Outreach Coordinator