"It's what you think that makes you who you are." - Second grade student at John Muir Elementary School, Seattle
Philosophy, the "love of wisdom," begins with wonder about the world. It is one of the oldest academic disciplines, but traditionally it has not been considered a subject for children. Yet, in many ways, young people are natural philosophers. They as philosophical questions and are curious about philosophical issues: how do we know things?, what is beauty?, how are the mind and body connected? Young people do not need to learn philosophy; it is something they do.
Philosophical inquiry helps students to develop strong critical and creative thinking skills. Philosophy emphasizes excellence in thinking by posing questions about the basic concepts that make up our understanding of the world, and students engage in philosophy by inquiring about the meanings of these concepts. They read texts that raise philosophical issues, and the issues that are most interesting to them are discussed in structured classroom dialogues. These discussions do not involve talking to students about what philosophers have said, but inquiring with them in open-ended and thoughtful dialogues about philosophical ideas. As part of the work of exploring these ideas, we ask questions, suggest imaginative and new ways of approaching philosophical problems, read stories, draw pictures, role-play, create poetry, and engage in other forms of creative expression.
Young people find these dialogues compelling, in part because there are no settled answers to the questions being examined. The environment created by this open inquiry illuminates ways for students, and particularly those students who may be otherwise somewhat disconnected from school, to become involved in an intellectual adventure. Philosophical communities of inquiry emphasize thinking for oneself. Students are encouraged to ask and construct relevant questions, to develop their own views and articulate reasons for them, and to listen to and learn from one another. Philosophical inquiry helps students to develop heightened competence in reasoning and logic, increased confidence and ability to examine novel issues critically and imaginatively, and enhanced listening and empathy skills.
The University of Washington's Center for Philosophy for Children was founded in 1996 in the Seattle, Washington area, and became affiliated with the University of Washington’s Department of Philosophy in 1999. The organization's primary purpose is to introduce philosophy into the lives of young people. The center is an independent, not-for-profit organization, funded primarily by grants, tax-deductible donations, and workshop fees.
Our principal activities are the "Philosophers in the Schools" program, which brings people trained in philosophy into K-12 classrooms to do philosophy sessions with students, our teacher-education workshops, and our parent-education project. Since its founding, the Center has introduced philosophy to over 2,000 students in more than 50 schools around Washington State. Students in philosophy classes taught through the Center range from preschool through high school. Over the past decade, the Center has run over 25 workshops for teachers and parents about ways to facilitate philosophy discussions with young people. The Center is also a founding sponsor, with the American Philosophical Association, of Questions: Philosophy for Young People, a journal that publishes philosophical work by and for young people.
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