The ‘manifestos’ for why Philosophers’ Clubs — Socratic inquiry groups for kids — are coming in fast and furious these days from educators. Well, they’re coming in, and they hadn’t for a long while, so there must be a reason.
Perhaps because adults, especially adult educators, are coming to realize that if we’re going to raise a crop of adults-to-be who are unlike, better than, excel and outdo — in terms of ethic, social conscience, integrity — our current crop (emphatically including yours truly, a work in progress if ever there was one, and most definitely including our current Commander in Chief, who’d benefit immensely from witnessing the critical scrutiny and empathic listening skills of kids), then we have to share with them tools and opportunities that many current adults lack. (Tools that, once they latch onto, they will undoubtedly improve one. They are far more adept at Socratic inquiry than I am, and so I need them, a lot, and often, if I’m to get better at what I’ve )
I’ve been holding philosophical inquiries around the globe for a long long time — and among my experiences in this regard, I’ve been giving workshops and presentations, at Fairfax County, VA, public schools for well over a decade now. The groups I’ve helped establish there continue to thrive, and new ones still form .
One school in the Fairfax County Public School that I didn’t realize had established a Philosophers’ Club, until I heard from one of their benefactors, who wrote me out of the blue to say he lauded these inquiries with and among kids, was Cunningham Elementary School in Vienna, VA
I asked their principal, Katie Le, why her school had weaved in Philosophers’ Club as an integral part of kids’ learning experience, and here is her reply:
Here are my initial thoughts for benefits of Philosophers’ Club:
• Builds community – students and teachers, together, strengthen relationships through meaningful shared experiences, and by getting to know each other on levels that surpass more superficial relationships.
• Develops critical and creative thinking skills – participants learn to think deeply about concepts, and to see ideas from a variety of perspectives.
• Builds autonomy in thinking – as students build trust in each other, they become more open to sharing and defending their individual ideas.
• Fosters respect for others – students learn to listen openly to others, they understand it is okay to disagree or see a different perspective, and they begin to share their alternative ideas and question each other in ways that show respect for the other thinkers in the group.
• Cultivates appreciation for differences in backgrounds – as participants support their ideas using personal experiences, they learn about each other’s backgrounds, interests, preferences, etc.
• Deepens curricular knowledge and understandings – as students use learned information to support their thoughts, they apply skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom in a meaningful way.
• Develops self-awareness – students gain skills in hearing others’ ideas, thinking deeply about their own thoughts, and searching for reasons within themselves to support or contradict their own beliefs.
• Improves communication skills – As students share their ideas, over time they develop skills to articulate their thinking, hear others’ ideas, and change their thinking based on input they hear from others.
• Supports language acquisition not only for English language learners, but all students – research states that oral language comes first in acquiring a new language. Philosophers’ Club focuses on oral communication, allowing students from all backgrounds to hear, say, and understand vocabulary in an authentic setting.
Katie Le, Principal, Cunningham Park Elementary School
To which I say: Wow. Philosophers’ Club packs even more of a punch than I’d hoped. This elaboration by Katie Le of why these inquiries are so special, even vital, of course makes my day, week, month, to know that something I conceived of has resonated and touched a chord with educators and their charges. I hope in the times to come, the Philosophers’ Club spreads farther and wider. I hope I can continue to be part of many of these inquiries with kids, so I can keep growing, changing, childing.