When I tell someone that I run a centre that brings philosophy into children’s lives, much of the time I’m greeted with puzzlement, and sometimes open scepticism. How can children do philosophy? Isn’t it too hard for them? What are you trying to do, teach Kant to kindergarteners? Or, somewhat more suspiciously, what kind of philosophy are you teaching them?
These reactions are understandable, because they stem from very common assumptions – about children and about philosophy. Central to our work at the Center for Philosophy for Children at the University of Washington is the conviction that we ought to challenge beliefs about children’s limited capacities, and to expand our understanding of the nature of philosophy and who is capable of engaging in it. As one seven-year-old put it: ‘In philosophy, we’re growing our minds.’
Most of our philosophy sessions with children are in public elementary schools; the aim is to discover what topics the children want to think about, and to foster discussions and reflection about these subjects. I don’t think of what I do as teaching philosophy, though. The point is not to educate children about the history of philosophy, nor to instruct them in the arguments made by professional philosophers.