Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Sense of Wonder

Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder portrays her experiences exploring the coast of Maine with her nephew. She notes, "A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. With photos and text, the book examines that ways that spending time in nature can nurture children's sense of wonder. Carson claims that, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder . . . he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."

Plato refers to wonder as the origin of philosophy (Theaetetus 155d3). It involves a sense of the mysteries that pervade the human condition and a desire to question and reflect about the deeper meaning of ordinary concepts and experiences. All of us grow up with an awareness of the mysteriousness of our mortal lives and the questions raised by our existence: the meaning of being alive, the complexity of identity, the nature of friendship and love, how to live good lives, and whether we can know anything at all. 

This kind of philosophical wondering begins in childhood. Aristotle, in the Metaphysics, maintained that “all human beings by nature reach out for understanding.” If we look back, many adults can remember that it was in childhood that we began (and, for too many of us, soon stopped) wondering about philosophical questions. During those early years, children are wide open to the philosophical mysteries that pervade human life, often lying awake at night thinking about such issues as whether God exists, why the world has the colors it does, the nature of time, whether dreams are real, why we die, and what the meaning of life consists in. 

Almost as soon as they can formulate them, most children start asking what we call “big questions.” Brimming with curiosity about aspects of the world that most adults take for granted, children demonstrate a natural capacity to explore the most basic elements of life and society. 

We can help children (and ourselves!) keep alive this sense of wonder by being willing to consider with them the seemingly endless questions raised by our experiences and the world. Instead of always trying to answer their questions, we can listen for questions that invite deeper inquiry and engage with children in mutual exploration.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Plato Was Wrong!

The Center's Education Director, David Shapiro, has written a wonderful book - Plato Was Wrong! Footnotes on Doing Philosophy With Young People - that compiles activities and games he's created over the years to inspire philosophical inquiry with young people. These activities can be used as a starter in a philosophy session or as the basis for the entire discussion.

For example, Keep the Question Going, an activity I often use, gets get students listening to each other, while keeping in mind the importance of questions in philosophical inquiry.  It requires students to listen to each other and respond in a manner that constructs a coherent sentence – in this case a question.

How it works:
1.     Make sure students can more or less all see each other. A circle is ideal but, even if students are sitting in rows, it’s helpful if they can all turn so that they can keep an eye on their classmates as the exercise proceeds.
2.     The goal of the exercise if for students to see how long they can keep a question going, one word after another, each word added by a subsequent student.  When a student thinks that the question has ended, he or she claps his or her hands, indicating that a new question is to begin. So, for instance, suppose the first student begins with the word, How, the next says does, the next life, the next begin.  At this point, that last student might clap his or her hands to indicate the question is finished.  Or, if not, the following student would have to keep the question going, perhaps by adding the word on, to which a subsequent student might say Earth, and then clap.
One guideline to keep in mind, and communicate to students, is that it’s not permitted to just add the word and to the end of what the previous student has said. Students should be discouraged from creating never-ending chains or nonsense questions such as ‘How did life begin on Earth and Mars and Pluto and Saturn and ...?”
It’s important to emphasize that students should listen to each other and refrain from shouting out suggestions to their fellow students.  Also, what we’re really trying to do is formulate interesting and provocative questions that we might like to explore together. You could make a record of the questions produced and use them for question analysis genuine enquiry.
A facilitator might also run the activity with the goal of formulating two or three questions that the class agrees to explore in more detail.  Then, the exercise isn’t so much about the length of the question, but the quality of it.
In any case, at the conclusion of the exercise or at some other convenient time, it can be an option to lead a reflective discussion about what has just happened.  You might ask what makes a given question more intriguing or more ‘philosophical’ than another.  This isn’t a required part of this exercise, especially if the exercise is being used as an energizer at the start of a class; it has, though, on occasion led to some pretty interesting discussions, especially as students raise questions about the nature of questioning.
You might also say, for example, say: ‘Can we make this question better by adding words, taking them away or changing them? Once the usefulness of the process is established, students may be more inclined see their own questions as works in progress that could be improved.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Exciting Initiatives for 2013-14!

How can summer be over already?

The compensation is all of the exciting projects going on this fall!

In the Northwest:
The first philosopher-in-residence program in Seattle begins at John Muir Elementary School this month -

The first Washington State High School Ethics Bowl will be held at the University of Washington on Saturday February 1 -

The Center website has been revitalized, and includes over 80 lesson plans for using children's literature to inspire philosophy discussions, games and activities, and more!

And nationally:
PLATO (Philosophy Learning and Teaching Organization) has announced three awards for K-12 philosophy teachers!

PLATO is also sponsoring a high school essay contest -

A new pre-college philosophy initiative, modeled after the UW Center for Philosophy for Children, is launching at the University of Chicago this fall -

The K-12 philosophy movement is growing!