The Philosophy for Children program seeks to foster inclinations towards philosophy among children through the community of inquiry. It is supposed to be incorporated in the child's education in order to develop the child's thinking and reasoning abilities. The program ideally complements the present structure of education. The proposal is to include the program in the regular school curriculum as a series of lessons attended by the child at least two times a week.
The traditional school and classroom setup does not fully develop the natural gift and curiosity of children. At worst, traditional schooling may even cause the child to lose interest in learning. Philosophy classes will be held to address this problem of the traditional schooling setup. The physical conditions of the class, the method used and the nature of discussion differ significantly from that of the traditional classroom setup. In the philosophy class the children and the teacher sit to form a circle. A philosophical story or a part of a philosophical novel is read aloud and then reviewed by the children. After the allotted thinking time, the children share and write individual points for discussion. A topic will be chosen as the focus of the discussion and the topic is explored by this community of inquiry. The story stimulates the students to think, ask questions and deliberate on certain issues. The curriculum consists of the philosophical story and the teacher's manual which contains a Discussion Plan and/or exercises to facilitate the exploration of an issue that arises out of the story. The dialogue occurs within the frame of the community of inquiry. Through a series of constant stimulation, the children develop critical and reflective thinking which they can use in all other areas of their education. These skills are important especially in subjects or topics in other classes that have moral implications. For example, in a Values Education class in the traditional setup, the teacher lectures about morality and a child whose critical thinking skills are poor would naturally just take what the teacher says as gospel truths without really analyzing if indeed the teacher was right. Simple statements of a teacher that may contain slurs about other religions might affect the child's point of view and morality. This is what the program will try to eliminate.
The program is relatively new. There are only a few written works and studies on the possibility of introducing the program to the school curriculum. It is gaining popularity on the global scale but compared to the industrialized countries, its development in the Philippines will most likely be a slower one and will require more tedious work. Three of the problems have been enumerated in the essay Philosophy for Children in Developing Countries: The Philippine Experience by Dr. Holder. The first concerns the modification of the materials particularly in the choice of language to be used both in the materials and the implementation. The country speaks a variety of languages and these languages have a politics of their own. If the Filipino is to be used the advantages of the English language will be compensated such as future educational and job opportunities.
The second concern is the differences in the pedagogical training of the teachers from their actual practices. Despite having been trained in contemporary pedagogical theories, teachers apparently still teach traditionally. There is minimal class interaction and also less creative teaching methods employed.
Last of the problems enumerated by the essay was the cynicism about the program, being imported. This issue has its cultural and political roots. Over the years, the introduction of many imported products has transformed the country into a commodity economy. The program is viewed by some as another neo-colonial tool directed towards the country. Furthermore, improved thinking skills may allegedly threaten cultural values and traditions. This is a rather reckless way of criticizing the program. If there are indeed cultural values and traditions that will be threatened by improved thinking skills of children, then it only means that these values and traditions are potentially fallacious and should be subjected to further inquiry and re-evaluation.
Aside from the problems mentioned above, the country itself has a lot of problems to deal with. The education sector as a whole is on a tight budget. It is notable that most of the problems that may arise in the introduction of the program in the country lie in the materials and teacher-training, both of which require a substantial amount of money to address. There are already a lot of problems in instructional materials, teacher competency and availability, and structural and manpower needs in the current educational system of the country. If the program is introduced it might end up having a mediocre implementation.
Teacher-training is also an important part of the program. Not all teachers, by the time they begin their practice, have backgrounds in philosophy. Though it is not their task to teach philosophy as a subject, they still have to be educated about the effect that the philosophy for children class tries to create. It is also important for them to realize that it is a thinking skills development class. The teacher should essentially learn how to steer but not necessarily dictate the direction of the inquiry.
Aside from financial constraints, the society might not yet be ready to admit this new form of teaching. Majority of the society is still conservative. Like the third problem identified by Dr. Holder in his essay, the program will most likely be met with cynicism. If the society takes a more liberal view in the future, prejudices about the nature and effects of the program might be eliminated.
In my opinion, at present the Philosophy for Children program will not thrive in the country given its economic conditions. Further research and study on the future possibility of introducing the program, however should be continued. On the other hand, I think that it will be a worthy addition to the current formal school curriculum. If private schools can afford to implement the program effectively, then it should be introduced. It would also make a good after-school program in order to keep the child from totally extinguishing his or her curiosity and hunger for meaning. Changes might have to be made in its weight on the general curriculum. I personally think that if the child's performance on this particular class will be evaluated using traditional methods such as exams, it might affect his inclination towards learning. If it is to be incorporated into the formal school curriculum then it will be difficult to completely do away with grades but it will have to be given in another form such as a pass or fail grade.
If it is to be introduced to the formal educational system of the country, its proper implementation must also be ensured. If implemented properly, it will be an effective way of educating Filipino children. It might even help us get rid of the disadvantageous conditions that we suffer from as a people like crab mentality, colonial mentality, and so on. It can also serve as a form of therapy session for the children who are kept within the bounds of the structure of formal education especially in our country where conformity is still highly valued. It is in the subject's application to the other areas of the child's study that its importance will be made manifest. The child will be positively disposed towards learning and thinking. Instead of passively accepting ideas or foolhardily dismiss one just because it is foreign to him, the child will learn to reject an idea if he finds it to be false or approve of it if he finds it to be right. It can also promote a better understanding of other subject matters. It may seem ironic to consider physics and other sciences as fields where the application of the subject is very evident. But when scientists think about the problems of the world, they probably see beyond what is laid out before them. When I first heard the big bang theory, I had a question that has something to do with the determination of the time when the universe might have started expanding (though I don't remember the exact formulation of my question). When a child first hears about the big bang theory, he might be puzzled because he would think if its possible for something to come out of nothing, or if the theory is correct then the universe would have to be in a continuous state of expansion, or he may come up with more innocent, but nevertheless complicated questions about this theory on the origin of the world. When Einstein came up with the specific theory of relativity, he must have gone through the same process of formulating questions about the nature of light before he realized that by using the speed of light as a constant there is actually a relationship between the mass and the potential energy of an object. If he had dismissed this notion just because it doesn't seem plausible that light and potential energy are related, then we wouldn't know science as we know it today. Quantum physics couldn't have existed without this discovery. It is really interesting that the most extraordinary men and women in history like Einstein were very much interested and involved in philosophical speculations. Einstein, for one, has numerous amounts of written work on topics that extend from the atomic bomb to the existence of God. It might be because the scientific community itself is a form of a community of inquiry. In the end, it is the discipline of constantly searching for the truth and the skill of reasoning and thinking critically, reflectively and creatively that have to be inculcated and developed in the child. The discipline of philosophy consists of coming to know one's own mind. A classroom setup where the teacher talks and the students listen, asking questions only when he or she is acknowledged, does not sufficiently encourage the discipline of thinking critically and creatively. However, if the child forms the habit of doing so he or she will be able to scrutinize an idea and be able to skilfully and independently evaluate or give it meaning. Notes:
imported products- Includes goods, practices, ideologies, etc. commodity economy- "The concrete result of the intertwining of the foreign monopoly and domestic feudalism is the erosion and dissolution of a natural economy of self-sufficiency in favor of commodity economy used to restrict the growth of national capitalism " Basic Problems of the Filipino People. Ch. 2, Jose Ma. Sison.
Philosophy for Children: Teaching Children to Think.
Holder Jr, J. Philosophy for Children in Developing Countries: The Philippine Experience.