Through my work as a teacher in elementary and middle schools, I have always had an interest in bringing critical thinking opportunities to children and young adults. So, as a past instructor and supervisor in the UOTeach Program in the College of Education, I am excited and honored to be an instructor in the Philosophy Department leading a winter term course, "Teaching Children Philosophy" now in its fifth year. The course is open to undergraduates (primarily juniors and seniors) in philosophy, education studies and other disciplines.
Students in this course learn to become facilitators of philosophical discussions in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms, with the active support of participating classroom teachers. Each student travels weekly to a designated school near campus. Last year's schools included Edison, Holt, Camas Ridge, Family School and Adams Elementary. This coming winter term, new schools and participating elementary level teachers will be added. Weekly discussion topics have involved questions like: What does it mean to be brave? What is the nature of friendship? What does it mean to experience art or beauty? Is it always wrong to lie? Do animals have rights? What are the benefits and costs of conformity and diversity? What's it like growing up as a girl or a boy? If I change, what remains the same? and many questions that come from the children themselves.
Students in the course not only develop discussion plans to bring clarity and challenge to children's discussions; they also teach children how to frame coherent points-of-view, listen actively to others, revise opinions based on new evidence, and challenge others' ideas in a supportive way. By the end of the term, undergraduates have bonded with the children in their classroom, and have learned how to engage and excite young people who rise to the occasion when challenged to enter into meaningful dialogue with each other.
During Spring term 2017, the Philosophy Department plans to add a new pre-college philosophy course that will focus on middle and high school students engaged in philosophical inquiry, again under the guidance and facilitation of undergraduates in philosophy and education studies.