Friday, November 16, 2007

Philosophy for Kids

Courtesy of the British Psychological Society's Research Digest Blog comes confirmation of something I've been saying for a long time: philosophy (i.e. advanced conceptual critical thinking skills) ought to be included in any school's curriculum in just the same way that training in math, reading, social studies is. Snip from the digest:

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey [the study authors] have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn't had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier.

These ten year olds got one hour per week of philosophical training for a year and a half, and are still seeing "significant gains" (I don't know what that means, because I don't want to pay $18 to read the study--anyone at a university, feel free to look it up and comment). This is even more interesting when you consider that the study also found that, two years later, the control group (those without any philosophical training) had actually declined cognitively, while the study group had continued to gain. Those are rather impressive results.

Critical thinking--the ability to objectively and critically evaluate the statements and arguments of others, form reasoned opinions, and express those opinions clearly and precisely--is an absolutely vital skill these days (even if you're not going to dedicate your life to philosophy), and this is definitely something we should be training our kids in. Who knows--maybe we'll even get a better President out of the deal some day...

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