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Wartenberg: teaching philosophy to children

Alan Flurry

Some great opportunities this week to think and learn about introducing the big questions to a younger audience:

The UGA department of philosophy and the Office of Service-Learning present a lecture by Tom Wartenberg, “Doing Philosophy with Frog and Toad,” on Thursday Feb. 13 at 3:30 p.m. in room 115 of Peabody Hall on UGA’s North campus. A professor emeritus of philosophy at Mount Holyoke College, Wartenberg is one of the leading scholars in the United States working on teaching philosophy to children. The lecture, part of a weeklong visit, is free and open to the public. 

Author of “Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children’s Literature” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), Wartenberg received the 2011 APA/PDC Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Philosophy Programs and the 2013 Merritt Prize for Distinguished Service to the Philosophy of Education. 

Wartenberg advocates for the use classic children’s books to raise philosophical questions, which the young students then dissect with the vigor of the ancient Greeks.With students at the elementary level, Professor Wartenberg uses picture books to introduce children to the major fields of philosophy, including aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, social and political philosophy and philosophy of the mind.

He believes children can ponder big questions.

“The world is a puzzling place and when you’re young it doesn’t make sense,” Wartenberg was quoted as saying in a New York Times article. “What you’re giving them is the sort of skills to learn how to think about these things.”

Professor Wartenberg also says that philosophy lessons can improve reading comprehension and other skills that children need to meet state-imposed curriculum standards and excel on standardized tests.

“Tom shows how children’s stories make and defend philosophical claims,” said Aaron Meskin, professor and head of the UGA department of philosophy. “It’s an ingenious approach and there are lessons there for people of all ages. We are committed to reaching out to the community and showing that philosophy can matter to everyone. Dr. Wartenberg is a great example of taking philosophy out into the public and we’re glad he’s visiting so that we, and the community, can learn from him.” 

Wartenberg’s visit to UGA will include two workshops, “Philosophizing with Children,” on Feb. 12 at 5 p.m., and “Philosophizing with High School Students,” on Feb. 15 at 12 p.m. The workshops are free but seating is limited.

Image: cover from the series of easy-reader children's books, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel


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