Philosophy for the younger mind

Philosophy is on the timetable at one Palmerston North primary school, with pint-sized Platos pondering life's wonders.

A handful of year 7 and 8 Hiwinui School pupils meet once a week with Massey University philosopher Associate Professor Bill Fish for a complex classroom session on consciousness.

Dr Fish, who researches and publishes on the philosophical theories of perception, uses flip cards to spark discussion on topics like responsibility, bravery, bullying, friendship, freedom, existence and what is real, to get students thinking.

In yesterday's session, the 11 and 12-year-olds talked about what constitutes fairness.

They were posed questions like "should people that earn more money pay more tax?", "if I get a bigger piece of cake than you, is that fair?", and "if I work harder than you, but you earn more than me, is that fair?"

Dr Fish said: "All the way through they're interested, they've got ideas, and they're really starting to put . . . their own thoughts together."

Dr Fish said the subject should be made more widely available across New Zealand schools, because of the core skills in critical thinking.

"It's a good age where they're not locked into ways of thinking, and with the information environment kids are in these days their thinking skills are going to be more and more important."

Principal Brenda Leigh said the classes challenged pupils to different, deeper thinking.

"The reason we brought them in was to push our high achievers. We want to develop critical thinkers and problem solvers."

Teaching philosophy to schoolchildren was not a new thing, with a handful of schools in Wellington, Auckland and other parts of New Zealand also including it in their curriculum.

An organisation called Philosophy for Children New Zealand offers training and resources, and the New Zealand Association for Philosophy Teachers supports philosophy classes at secondary level.

Manawatu Standard