I’ve been meaning to post an interesting article The New York Times ran several months ago about teaching philosophy to children, but that one’s old enough now it can wait until the end of this post.
In the efforts of being a little more timely, here’s a much more recent NYT article, from earlier this week, on how “Many Schools Teach Engineering in Early Grades”,
All 300 students at Clara E. Coleman Elementary School are learning the A B C’s of engineering this year, even those who cannot yet spell e-n-g-i-n-e-e-r-i-n-g. The high-performing Glen Rock school district, about 22 miles northwest of Manhattan, now teaches 10 to 15 hours of engineering each year to every student in kindergarten through fifth grade, as part of a $100,000 redesign of the science curriculum.
Spurred by growing concerns that American students lack the skills to compete in a global economy, school districts nationwide are packing engineering lessons into already crowded schedules for even the youngest students, giving priority to a subject that was once left to after-school robotics clubs and summer camps, or else waited until college.
Supporters say that engineering reinforces math and science skills, promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks.
“We still hear all the time that little kids can’t engineer,” said Christine Cunningham, director of Engineering is Elementary, a program developed at the Museum of Science in Boston that offers ready-made lessons, for about $350 each, on 20 topics, and is now used in all 50 states, in more than 3,000 schools.
“We say they’re born engineers — they naturally want to solve problems — and we tend to educate it out of them.”
The Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, which will distribute $4.35 billion in education stimulus money to states, favors so-called STEM programs, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
No surprise, the part about competing in a global economy and the “Race to the Top” makes me queasy. But yes, yes, yes, to the quote about young children being born engineers. The best part of the article:
“It gets your brain going,” said Elizabeth Crowley, 7, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up. “And I actually learn something when I’m doing a project — like you can work together to do something you couldn’t do before.”
And really, ultimately, isn’t it about getting your brain going, and hang the global economy?
Read the rest of the article here.
Back in April, just after I returned from NYC (which might explain why I never got around to blogging about), The New York Times had an article on “The Examined Life, Age 8”, or teaching philosophy to the very young. From which,
A few times each month, second graders at a charter school in Springfield, Mass., take time from math and reading to engage in philosophical debate. There is no mention of Hegel or Descartes, no study of syllogism or solipsism. Instead, Prof. Thomas E. Wartenberg and his undergraduate students from nearby Mount Holyoke College use classic children’s books to raise philosophical questions, which the young students then dissect with the vigor of the ancient Greeks.
“A lot of people try to make philosophy into an elitist discipline,” says Professor Wartenberg, who has been visiting the school, the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence, since 2007. “But everyone is interested in basic philosophical ideas; they’re the most basic questions we have about the world.”
One afternoon this winter, the students in Christina Runquist’s classroom read Shel Silverstein’s “Giving Tree,” about a tree that surrenders its shade, fruit, branches and finally its trunk to a boy it has befriended. The college students led the discussion that followed — on environmental ethics, or “how we should treat natural objects,” as Professor Wartenberg puts it — with a series of questions, starting with whether the boy was wrong to take so much from the tree.
“We don’t actually try to convince them that trees deserve respect,” he says, “but ask them, ‘What do you think?’ We’re trying to get them engaged in the practice of doing philosophy, versus trying to teach them, say, what Descartes thought about something.”
Dr. Wartenberg has a book, Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy through Children’s Literature (September 2009), and his book has a website, Teaching Children Philosophy, with the usual resource pages for Educators, Parents, and Kids.
Professor Wartenberg and students use eight picture books to introduce children to the major fields of philosophy, including aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, social and political philosophy and philosophy of the mind.
With Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together, in which Frog and Toad try to determine whether they can be brave and scared at the same time, the pupils examine the nature of courage — one of Aristotle’s central virtues. With Bernard Wiseman’s Morris the Moose, about a moose who mistakenly assumes all his friends are also moose, they consider how someone can maintain a belief in the face of contrary evidence. And with Peter Catalanotto’s Emily’s Art, about a talented young artist who loses a contest, they debate whether there can be objective standards for evaluating works of art.
The Times notes that Dr. Wartenberg isn’t the first philosopher to work with children, citing Matthew Lipman, who in the 1970s established The Institute for the Advancement of the Philosophy for Children. Many home schoolers are familiar with Dr. Lipman’s books, especially Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery and also Thinking in Education and Philosophy in the Classroom.
Okay, that’s it. I’m glad I have that done. Go, teach, learn, think, and make something useful out of the bits and pieces in the garage.