Wondering Aloud: Philosophy With Young People

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 […]

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. […]

February

The House in WinterHere,in the year’s late tidewash,a corner cupboard suddenly waversin low-flung sunlight,cupboard never quite visible before. Its jarsof last summer’s peacheshave come into their native gold—not the sweetness of last summer,but today’s,fresh from the tree of winter.The mouth swallows peach, and says gold. Though they dazzle and are gone,the halves of fruit, the […]

Philosophy as a way of life

When, in our first class together, I asked the fifth grade students with whom I’m doing philosophy this winter what they imagined was the definition of philosophy, one student volunteered that he thought philosophy was “a way of life.” Of course, I loved the sophistication of this answer, and there are philosophers who hold this […]

Thoughts and feelings

This week I started a series of philosophy sessions with a fifth grade class. This was a first introduction to philosophy for this group of students. I started by asking them if they had any idea what philosophy was. We talked about that for a few minutes. I described some of the questions I associate […]

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 […]

The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments

“Long ago there were no colors in the world at all. Almost everything was grey, and what was not grey was black or white. It was a time that was called The Great Greyness.” The Great Blueness and Other Predicaments is a story by Arnold Lobel about a wizard who introduces color into the world, […]

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 […]

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 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 […]

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 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, […]

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 […]

Death and Philosophy

If we did not die, if our existence did not unravel in the endless darkness of death, would life be quite so precious, so extraordinary, so moving? Andre Comte-Sponville,Professor of Philosophy at the Sorbonne Whenever I ask students what they think are the most fundamental questions of human life, always on the list is some […]

Is this really philosophy?

“. . . That slight uncertaintywhich makes us sure.” From Advice from the Museby Richard Wilbur The start of the school year and planning for the year’s philosophy classes. Usually I start my philosophy classes by asking students to offer some possible answers to the question, “What is philosophy?” (Of course there is no incontestable […]

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, […]

Getting philosophy into classrooms

I’m often asked how the center got started and about ways to get into schools to do philosophy with young people. I decided to start the center when I was about to finish my Ph.D. in 1996. I had become interested in working with pre-college students, and a non-profit center seemed to me the best […]