Benefits of Teaching Philosophy in Primary School (updated)


A study suggests that teaching primary/elementary school students philosophy may benefit their language and math skills, with those from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds showing the most improvement:

Teaching philosophy to primary school children can improve their English and maths skills, according to a pilot study highlighting the value of training pupils to have inquiring minds. Children from deprived backgrounds benefited the most from philosophical debates about topics such as truth, fairness and knowledge, researchers from Durham University found. The 3,159 primary school pupils from 48 schools who took part in the trial saw their maths and reading scores improve by an average of two months. But the benefits were even more pronounced for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose reading skills improved by four months, their maths results by three months and their writing ability by two months.

There were other benefits as well from the program, which cost less than £30 per student:

Alexia Fox, assistant head teacher of Hinde House School in Sheffield, said: “Philosophy for Children has made a huge difference to the way our children interact with each other. In the playground, they can talk about their disagreements. They now respect other children’s points of view. In the classroom, their ideas are far more developed as they are better equipped to understand how others think and accept that these opinions are all valid. It is extremely valuable academically and socially.”

More at The IndependentThe Conversationand (via Paul Billingham) the BBC.
UPDATE (7/14/15): The study comes under some criticism here (via Meena Krishnamurthy).
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Ian
Ian
6 years ago

Even if these research findings are not reproducible, I think there is a good case for teaching philosophy at an early age. It will help children to learn how to construct and/or demolish arguments, how to formulate and clarify concepts, how to express themselves, how to cope with disagreement, how to cope with uncertainty, and how to develop their own beliefs and values.Report

Nick Byrd
6 years ago

The Philosophy for Children webpage where you can find more info about the study and download a summary of the full report: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects/philosophy-for-childrenReport

CW
CW
6 years ago

Here is a link to the Squire Family Foundation, a non-profit that promotes pre-college study of philosophy:
http://squirefoundation.org/about-us/

Here is a link to the National High School Ethics Bowl:
http://nhseb.unc.edu/about-nhseb/Report

Ananimus
Ananimus
6 years ago

This is great. But the real question is: will Peter Unger be satisfied by these results?Report

Yvan Ung
6 years ago

Philosophy is a beneficial thing to teach elementary-aged kids but how many hours a week did they teach philosophy?Report

Alan White
6 years ago

Ananimus:

Better: what possibly would satisfy Peter Unger?Report

Cary Cook
6 years ago

The best way to teach logic and epistemology to children is not thru books and lectures, but by engaging them in arguments and criticizing their peers’ arguments.Report

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

This is certainly a useful study for the advancement of philosophy as a school subject. If I`m not mistaken, this is the first large-scale study on the subject, whereas most of the previous claims about the positive effects of P4C were more or less anecdotic. At the moment, I`m halfway through reading the study. The only thing that concerns me so far is that the teachers were trained in P4C in a two days”crash course”. I think that most readers of the blog wil agree that two days isn`t really a lot when it comes to getting a grip on philosophy. I think that such crash courses have two negative side effects: a) they lead to a very schematic way of teaching philosophy as the teacher will more or less stick to a handbook, b) there is the danger of selling the education in philosophy with children for cheap. Maybe thementioned low costs are needed in order to get the neccessary attention from the ministery of education but it should be made clear that in the long run, teachers in this area will need to gain a deeper understanding of philosophy andits methods. My partner works in ethics/philosophy education for teachers in elementary school in Germany and based on her experience, training prospective elementary school teachers in philosophy with children is met with quite a few challenges.Report

PeterJ
6 years ago

Well, there’s a surprise.Report

Edward Warner
5 years ago

Teaching philosophy at such an early age could be dangerous, in my opinion. Philosophies can be interpreted in many ways. Who knows what kid might understand from a philosophy.Report

Cary Cook
Reply to  Edward Warner
5 years ago

That might be true if kids are taught a list of historically popular philosophies. But if the teachers focus on logic and epistemology, the only danger is that the kids might discover where their parents and teachers don’t know what they’re talking about.Report

Marie Artim
5 years ago

The main aim of philosophy is to question: existence, knowledge, nature, reality, truth etc. This is one reason why I will always answer ‘yes’ to children learning about philosophy and philosophical techniques, and a very hearty ‘no’ to them being indoctrinated by religion.Report

PeterJ
Reply to  Marie Artim
5 years ago

How weird to think that one can make sense of philosophy while avoiding religion. It is an an approach that is doomed to failure, as history shows and as is formally demonstrable. I feel that we should not be advising children if we cannot make sense of the unbreakable relationship between philosophy and religion, let alone not even see there there is one. . .

I would agree that children should not be indoctrinated but , rather, taught religion and philosophy. The world would change in a generation. For now we have to watch them being indoctrinated in both subjects and just hope wise-up when they;re older. . Report

Cary Cook
Reply to  PeterJ
5 years ago

There is a necessary attachment of religion to philosophy, but not of philosophy to religion. The main part of philosophy, and the part most necessary to teach children is critical thinking.Report

Brent Silby
4 years ago

As a teacher of philosophy in a secondary school, I can attest to its benefits to older students. I would like to see it offered at all levels. In addition to the subject’s instrumental benefit to other subjects, it also benefits the student in that it gives them the ability to analyze their own life.

For those interested, here is a Socratic dialog in which an argument for teaching philosophy in schools is developed:
http://cafephilosophy.org/2016/12/philosophy-in-schools/Report