Since our lives were so rudely interrupted by the Covid pandemic, we have all had to make sense of our newfound situation, as our daily routines have changed and become much more restricted. It has forced us to make difficult choices and sacrifices as we have had to adjust. Of course, this is unlikely to be the last time we will be faced with challenges. So it would be wise to start thinking about how we can better prepare ourselves and more importantly, our children, to cope with these challenges in the future.
Recent studies have shown that by teaching children philosophy, we can help them to respond constructively to future existential threats. In the face of uncertainty, critical skills that can assist with ethical decision making and reasoning, are vital. Philosophy provides tools which can help children to make sense of their experiences and consider the implications of a situation in which they might find themselves. Dealing with issues around freedom and values is at the heart of philosophy. Here are a few ways in which philosophy can assist children in making and defending good decisions:
Children are curious about most things and naturally ask a lot of questions in order to make sense of confusing things. Many questions and concerns often involve philosophical and ethical considerations and we can use our responses and additional questions, as a wonderful opportunity to engage children in age-appropriate philosophical reflection. For example, when explaining the rules of social distancing, one can open up the discussion to whether its ok for them to ignore social distancing rules if they see their friends not practising it? Or worrying about whether or not they are ever going to be rich one day, can be turned into a discussion on what is actually means to be rich in life, for different people, and how it can be achieved.
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally, understanding the logical connection between ideas and ultimately making informed decisions. This is a skill that children need to develop and philosophy can help them.
The practise of philosophy matches ideas against each other in order to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Critical thinking can be applied to absolutely any situation or dilemma. For example, if a child is being bullied, they can learn to rationalise why they may be the target of a bully. They can assess their situation using logic and not emotion, in order to ultimately come to a reasonable conclusion, which may leave them feeling empowered and not victimised.
When incorporating philosophy into the classroom, children also start to learn how to listen respectfully and with the aim to understand. It encourages children not to argue for the sake of arguing but to rather seek the truth, in a reasonable and ethical manner, by discovering shared meaning through discussion and acknowledging different points of view. Being able to actively listen to other ideas whilst still thinking independently and avoiding group think – especially at a young age – will only stand young children in good stead in the future.
These skills that the study of philosophy develop will support the problem solving and ethical decision making required during uncertain times. It can also be so easily integrated into every single subject, just by asking a few questions, facilitating discussions and encouraging children to search for concepts behind a story, or a science experiment or an event in history.
By placing a lot of emphasis on pastoral care, at St Michael’s Preparatory School we provide an intimate learning environment, and make sure that any concerns our learners have are dealt with quickly and effectively. This is our philosophy.