MHC's Philosophy for Children Supported

Posted: May 2, 2008

Philosophy professor Thomas E. Wartenberg has received a three-year, $56,600 grant from the Squire Family Foundation to continue his work on philosophy for children.

Wartenberg has long been involved in teaching philosophy to elementary school children. He has developed an innovative course in which Mount Holyoke undergraduates teach philosophy to elementary school students at the Jackson Street School in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the Martin Luther King Charter School of Excellence in nearby Springfield. His Web site, which the grant will allow him to expand, has received worldwide attention.

Wartenberg also will host a mini-conference at the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division meeting in 2011 on "Teaching Children Philosophy."

"I'm very honored to have received this grant from the Squire Family Foundation," Wartenberg said. "It really opens up the possibility of introducing more children to philosophy, or, to be more precise, since many of them have already been thinking philosophically, to help them recognize and refine their thinking whenever they wonder about why things are the way they are. Awakening young minds in a communal and school setting is incredibly important, for it validates the thoughts that kids have. Too often, we don't really want to listen attentively to what children have to say about a wide range of issues, but when we do, the results are truly impressive. I can't tell you how often I'm completely amazed at the philosophical insights that elementary school children have. That's a big part of what keeps me going."

The Squire Family Foundation was founded in 2006 by Gary Squire, a Washington, DC, attorney and businessman who studied philosophy at Yale and Oxford Universities. He has had a long-standing interest in ethics and education, serving on the board of Trustees of the Wakefield School in The Plains, Virginia, and as a founding member and former trustee of the City Collegiate Charter School in Washington, DC. The Foundation advocates that all American elementary and secondary students have an opportunity to study philosophy, maintaining that the study of philosophy is important because it teaches students not what to think but rather how to think. Its goal is to teach students to critically and systematically examine and reflect on their beliefs so that they can act responsibly.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, philosophy is being embraced by a new generation of college students as the number of philosophy majors has swelled in recent years. The resurgence can be attributed to many factors including the public dialogue about unethical behavior in business and government, and the ongoing war in Iraq.

"At the same time," foundation executive director Roberta Israeloff said, "there is a growing interest in teaching philosophy to secondary and even elementary school-aged children. Teaching precollege students to reason and think clearly--to take a position and construct a rational argument for it--has many benefits and may even help raise scores on standardized tests. And philosophy has a special appeal to children and teens. Developmentally, they're interested in debating the 'big' questions."

In addition to the grant to Professor Wartenberg, the Center for Talented Youth in Baltimore, Maryland, received a grant for curriculum development.

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