First Graders Learn Philosophy

RACHEL FINKELSTEIN

It is hard to believe that children as young as five years old can even comprehend the word “philosophy,” let alone have Socratic discussions. OHS teachers Mrs. Trongard and Mrs. Frasca started a program (derived from Mount Holyoke College Professor Tom Wartenberg’s Teaching Children Philosophy Program) two years ago where their AP Integrated students facilitated philosophical discussions at the elementary schools and the kindergarten center. Last year, I was apart of this program and have seen the amazing results not only in the younger students’ speaking, but also in my own and my peers’. The program was so successful that Mrs. Trongard and Mrs. Frasca received The Collaboration of Excellence Award. Check out Naya Ghirdarry’s article for more information about their win: http://siderpress.oceansideschools.org/?p=1587

This year’s sessions have started up, and for the first time, Mrs. Horowitz and Ms. Schuellein’s Regents Integrated students also facilitated in the schools. I had the opportunity to hop along on one of their trips to School #9E to see these philosophical discussions in action.

Each session consists of reading a children’s book and questioning main ideas the book allocates. For their first session, the students read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. The book suggests the purpose of everyday objects, such as an apple or a spoon, and at the end, the meaning of “you.” While the book conveyed that “the important thing about an apple is that it is round,” the facilitators would ask the elementary school students questions that would lead to the students either agreeing or contradicting the book’s claim. For example, a facilitator would ask “What are some other characteristics of an apple?” and “Would an apple still be an apple if it was square?” I was amazed to hear the different opinions the students had, and I was even more captivated by the explanations they gave for their views. The facilitators placed an emphasis on asking “why?” in order to provoke the students to expand their ideas and to think “outside the box.”

Usually young students simply accept a book or person’s assertion. However through the philosophy method, these students now understand that there is no direct or right answer or opinion. Facilitators also stressed the students’ usage of replying with “I agree with,” “I respectively disagree with,” or “I beg to differ…” in order to have a respectful and sophisticated discussion. In addition, the high school students tried to include all of the students in the conversation. The elementary school teachers saw the results as they claimed that some of their quietest students were the most vocal during the session.   

As a student previously involved in this program, I would say the OHS students’ first session was a success. Fourth grade teacher Ms. Cooper said “I wish my children had this program at their school.” The students as well enjoyed and learned much from their discussions. The program will continue for two more sessions in the elementary schools, and the AP Integrated Students will continue the program later in the year at the kindergarten center.  Click below to hear a sample of the classroom conversation.     

                                                                     

Thank you to Mrs. Trongard, Mrs. Frasca, Mrs. Horowitz, and Ms. Schuellein for allowing me to accompany them and their students on their trip.

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