Why should teachers of children between 3-12 years of age study philosophy, and in particular ethics? Refer to Aristotle’s Virtue ethics.
It has been highlighted by a large amount of research that teachers of children between 3-12 years of age and the children themselves need to study philosophy, to a certain extent, whilst in school as the study of philosophy is directed at improving thinking and that is has long lasting value in real world settings as well. There is certainly a case to be made for why teachers should study philosophy as there are arguably many benefits of such study. There is a large amount of research which adds support for the study of philosophy in schools (Fieser, 2003; Kraut, 2009; Netscape, 1998; Philosophyforkids.com; p4c.com limited, 2008; P4CNZ; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). As such, good teachers should attempt to teach philosophy – or, at least, ‘how to think’ – to children in order to try to give a complete understanding of the world to the next generation in terms of ethics and morality in particular. Furthermore, the study of philosophy by children and teachers is valuable because it can improve grades and the efficacy of teaching practices, as learning can be directed in a positive direction to lead to the acquisition of good habits – although, arguably, such teaching takes place already through the prism of other subjects such as history, RE, literature etc, (or, at least, it should). This paper will discuss why teachers should study philosophy with particular reference to ethics and Aristotle’s Virtue ethics. This paper concludes that teachers should study philosophy in schools due to the benefits such a practice can have on the learning, achievement and development of moral thinking in children – and adults, come to that – and directions for future research.
It can be said that teachers of children between 3-12 years of age should study philosophy, and in particular ethics, and they should have a knowledge of Aristotle’s Virtue ethics, due to the multifarious benefits that such a study can be expected to have on the performance of the teacher, the child and the development of the child in terms of social, intellectual and moral development of personality. As such, this practice is high in usefulness and should be adopted by all teachers if they are to be good, holistic teachers who personalise their lessons to each child’s learning needs.
In the UK, OFSTED has greatly endorsed philosophy for children and the study of philosophy by teachers due to the many benefits such study has for children (SAPERE.org.uk, 2010) and, as such, OFSTED views the study of philosophy as the mark of a good teacher. Furthermore, according to Fieser (2003), it is the responsibility of adults to teach children about philosophy due to the practical implication such a study has on the development of critical thinking. As such, a good teacher would be one who would teach the subject. This belief in teaching philosophy as a separate subject, however, may well say more about the bias and preference of those in the teaching hierarchy than anything else: teaching philosophy is, perhaps, just a fashion at the moment, and one which emulates many EU countries such as France where all children learn philosophy as standard, perhaps to inculcate moral and ethical values in the absence of religion in all state schools there.
A teacher should study philosophy to be a good teacher as teaching philosophy to school children has many benefits for the child. For example, the Philosophy for Children initiative (p4c) is a thinking skills programme/course developed by Dr Lipman has been found to be extremely beneficial for children. It has been tested and is now used in over 30 different countries in 16 different languages. It has been argued that p4c and any study of philosophy improves higher order thinking skills, reading comprehension, and maths and science achievement. In addition, p4c as well as any form of philosophical study, has been found to improve children’s relationships with their parents and peers, giving them better skills to deal with future social interactions. Moreover, such study improves independent thinking, which can be used in real life settings removed from the classroom (Fieser, 2003; Netscape, 1998; p4c.com limited, 2008; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). Therefore, the study of philosophy makes a good teacher because it enables greater logical development and it can improve the lives of the children they teach. However, this research may well be biased – and a result of confirmation bias (a researcher who believes philosophy should be taught does research showing that he is right!) – and some may argue that independent thinking should be what schools should be teaching anyway, rather than how to ‘do’ (e.g. IT skills and constant focus on functional, workplace skills in lessons) and how to pass tests.
It has been found that teaching philosophy to children results in improved curriculum achievement during SATs and GCSEs. In fact, it was found that 62.5% of children who had been taught philosophy, exceeded their teachers estimations in their Maths SATs (SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). As this finding has been supported by several independent studies such a finding is high in external reliability which means that its results are the same over time (Fieser, 2003; Netscape, 1998; p4c.com limited, 2008; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). As such, it can be said that the study of philosophy can improve critical and abstract thinking in children. Consequently, teaching such a subject to children would be a good teaching practice as children need a complete understanding of as many subjects as possible. It could, however, just mean that this particular subject is well taught by teachers who love teaching it! A focus on the ethical landscape of, say, ‘Of Mice and Men’, could serve the purpose or teaching ‘ethics’ equally well, perhaps. Philosophy can be embedded in many subject areas.
There are many practical implications of using p4c, as mentioned above. However, there are also individual benefits, such as increased self-esteem and a development of respect for others and the opinions of others (SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). A teacher should aim to expand the knowledge of children at every opportunity and a good teacher should teach philosophy in order to teach children moral values and the contribution others can make to an argument and/or their lives.
It can therefore be seen from this evidence that a good teacher would need to study and teach philosophy to children aged between 3-12 years of age as there are a great many benefits for the child, including logical thinking and improved achievement. A good teacher will understand that the study of philosophy is likely to increase grades and consequently has advantages for both children and teachers alike. Children of this age, however, have always been exposed to philosophical concepts without even knowing it: what is a fairy tale but a morality tale, after all?
A teacher should study ethics to be a good teacher because knowledge of ethics enables a teacher and the children they teach to develop both intellectually and socially. For example, Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics refers to the belief that individuals need to acquire good character traits or habits, such as trust and courage, in order to regulate emotions. In addition, time should be taken to avoid obtaining bad character traits or vice, such as cowardice and jealousy, through teaching of moral philosophy, or the differences between right and wrong (Fieser, 2003; Kraut, 2009; Netscape, 1998; Philosophyforkids.com; p4c.com limited, 2008; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). Furthermore, acquiring good habits can ensure better social interaction and possibly a better quality of life during childhood and in the future – but all this should exist in schools anyway, it could be argued.
A good teacher would teach ethics to their students due to the fact that it is essential to teach children the importance of developing good habits (Fieser, 2003). This has been purported by Aristole whose theory relates to the amount of experience a teachers needs in order to understand that most virtues fall in the mean between the extremes. A good teacher needs to understand this idea of virtue ethics and express this in a simple manner when teaching philosophy to children. It can be said that acquiring such character qualities and moral thinking will have serious, long lasting advantages for future development and quality of life. It is worth perhaps also pointing out to children that Aristotle and Ancient Greece provided the whole philosophical basis for Western Civilisation and democracy, though some ideas would be anathema to us today: the acceptance of slavery, for example.
The use of Montessori material is an excellent way in which to aid the development of children between 3-12 years of age, particularly children between 2-6 years of age. Montessori material aids the proper development of children by allowing for the child to direct their own learning and development without interruption or distraction (Fieser, 2003; Kraut, 2009; Netscape, 1998; p4c.com limited, 2008; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010). Nonetheless, it is the case that teachers should gain a knowledge of philosophy and ethics before using Montessori material due to the fact that they can then direct the learning of the children in a positive way and remove any potential problems that could negatively influence their learning of ethics (Fieser, 2003; Kraut, 2009; Netscape, 1998; Philosophyforkids.com; p4c.com limited, 2008; SAPERE.org.uk, 2010).
On a similar note, virtue theorists argue that the study of ethics, in particular the acquisition of good habits, should be taught from a very early age because it is during early childhood that positive character traits are developed, acquired and solidified into the personality of that individual (Fieser, 2003; Kraut, 2009). (However, this is surely what parents should be doing as standard – and in many other countries, this is assumed, and schools exist to teach knowledge and not act as substitute parents – the UK’s fractured family landscape seemingly is not an effective context in which children can learn the difference between right and wrong.). A good teacher would need to have such a knowledge of the timeframe of a child’s normal moral development and would ensure that philosophy and ethics are studied as a part of the normal curriculum in order to facilitate proper moral development.
From this evidence it can be said that a good teacher must teach ethics and moral education to their classes in order to ensure that the proper moral development in children which will last into adulthood and provide the building blocks of a successful, positive personality and life. In addition, teachers should study philosophy both for their own benefit and in order to direct a child’s self-teaching toward ethics and moral development and remove any potential barriers to successful learning.
In conclusion, from the above evidence, it can be said that teachers should encourage the study philosophy due to the benefits of this practice, such as increased reading comprehension, achievement and better social interactions for example. It is the mark of a good teacher if they include philosophical study in their lessons, embedding them in the teaching of a wide range of subjects and general pastoral care too. It is the case that the benefits of the study of philosophy far outweigh any potential weaknesses, particularly in relation to ethics, which can enable better and earlier moral development. Future research should continue to test the efficacy of initiatives, such as Philosophy for Children, in order to ensure that these practices are of continual benefit to children, whilst bearing in mind the vagaries of fashionable initiatives, many of which are commercial in nature.
Fieser, J. (2003). Available at: www.iep.utm.edu/e/ethics.htm [Accessed 17 April 2010]
Kraut, R. (2009). Available at: www.plato.standford.edu/entries/children/#CroCur [Accessed 17 April 2010]
Netscape. (1998). Available at: http://www.dmoz.org/society/philosophy/philosophy_for_children/ [Accessed 17 April 2010]
P4CNZ (No date). Available at: www.p4c.org.nz/ [Accessed 17 April 2010]
p4c.com limited (2008).Available at: www.p4c.com [Accessed 17 April 2010]
SAPERE.org.uk. (2010). Available at: www.sapere.org.uk/what-is-p4c [Accessed 17 April 2010]
Available at: www.philosophyforkids.com [Accessed 17 April 2010]