In the spring of 2011, I was introduced by a fellow homeschooler to a philosophy professor. I had read an email announcing an information session that would describe a method of teaching philosophy to pre-teens and teens. I must have read that email a hundred times before the meeting. Something about it struck me in a way I still can't explain. I knew, however, that I had to know more.
Fast forward six months later. My two boys, ages nearly twelve and nearly nine, are participating in a philosophy study group with seven other children ages nine to thirteen. They meet every week under the mentorship of a very gifted gentleman. And it's not just about kids sitting around discussing the meaning of life.
In 1972, a man named Matthew Lipman, in conjunction with the Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children at Montclair State University, developed a philosophy curriculum for children known simply as P4C (Philosophy for Children). Through stories and discussion, children are exposed to concepts such as critical thinking, logic, reason, inquiry. Respect is key, and the group is a forum for the expression and defense of ideas.
P4C is used in some public schools, as well. In fact, our professor taught P4C for many years in the local school system. One memorable encounter with a school official ended with the official telling the professor that, "the children in your classes are asking too many questions." I guess the official was unclear on the concept.
Last week, we resumed our weekly sessions for the fall semester. Later that night, my oldest came to me and asked me if I knew about Schrödinger's cat. I had to admit that was not something that rang a bell. He tried his best to explain it and then ran over to the computer to look it up and give me a better explanation. You can look it up yourself, but it's pretty "out there" and has something to do with quantum mechanics. The real kicker is that he didn't learn it directly through the P4C discussion, but from another student in the group who brought it up in relation to a dialogue they were having in class. Side benefits, I guess.
I went to bed that night thinking two things: Will I be dead before my kids appreciate the education they're getting, and how can something be simultaneously alive and dead? Ask the cat.