“Miss Meghan, would you like some tea?” The Upper Elementary student asked. “It’s raspberry tea and really good.”
The raspberry tea went along with the chocolate chip banana bread a student made for their twice-a-month philosophy sessions with Miss Meghan.
Miss Meghan usually can be found among the toddlers at Montessori Tides School, but she approached Miss Jess last year about bringing philosophy to her Upper Elementary students.
With a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and law from Binghamton University in New York and master’s in practical philosophy and applied ethics from the University of North Florida, Miss Meghan has been an adjunct professor in philosophy at UNF since 2011.
She said her expansion into the Upper Elementary classroom was natural one. A few years ago, she developed a “Philosophy for Children” outreach initiative for UNF’s philosophy department.
“Since working on that proposal, I have wanted to do philosophy with children,” she said. “I know children are natural philosophers, and I wanted to give them a platform to practice and refine their philosophical skills.”
“One key aspect of philosophical reasoning is reflective thought,” Miss Meghan said. “Reflective thought fosters critical, imaginative and logical thinking in children, while encouraging them to form their own knowledge about the world and their place in it.”
For a November session, Miss Meghan began with the students proposing questions for them to consider for discussion. Questions included:
- Why do people kill endangered animals?
- Why do people care so much about money?
- Why do people litter?
- Why do people hurt others when they do nothing?
The students then voted on the topic for the day’s discussion, which, after a tie-breaker, was the question about money. Before the discussion began, Miss Meghan brought out the letter R and introduced the concept of reason to the students.
They were encouraged to give reasons in their comments, and it wasn’t long before the reason of greed was brought into their discussion of money.
As the oversize multicolored pompom was passed around the circle, the group discussed such things as conspicuous consumption; the idea of trading; the need for order; and the links between happiness and your job and money.
“It can be frustrating,” Miss Meghan said about listening to all of the different opinions. Philosophy, however, involves the practice of listening to other opinions that you don’t agree with, she added.
“They are beginning to entertain ideas they may not personally fully agree with,” she said, “and, overall, we are all learning, together, how to foster a safe and respectful place for philosophical and moral inquiry, which has value in itself, in my opinion.”
Miss Jess said, “I feel that this method of Socratic discourse is a habit they are building to question their own emotion and validate themselves. In light of our current political environment, they are practicing an advanced version of grace and courtesy.”
After introducing the concept of reason, Miss Meghan followed up in the next session by introducing the Thinker’s Toolkit. The toolkit, which she presented in chart form, included those ideas that support reason: assumption, inference, truth, example and counter-example.
“Philosophy is rooted in asking questions and giving reasons for our answers,” Miss Meghan said.
Miss Meghan worked through the chart with the students using different scenarios, with the first being Tina sneezed.
- Assumption: People who sneeze have colds.
- Inference: Tina has a cold.
- Truth: Sometimes
- Example: My mom had a cold and sneezed.
- Counter-example: People with allergies sneeze.
After working through part of the chart with the students, she then let them finish filling it out.
After discussing how they filled in the rest of their charts, Miss Meghan talked about how all of the students were working with the same idea, such as “Tim’s eyes are closed,” yet they came up with different inferences.
“What do we need to be careful about in our own assumptions?” she asked.
One student said, “Assumptions can be labeling someone. It can be a totally different story.”
The exercise allowed the students to see how the conclusions they draw based on one piece of information may not be true and how important it is to be aware of how we treat others.
“I love philosophy with students of all ages, including adults,” Miss Meghan said. “But I will say that after a few months of working with students in the Upper Elementary classroom, I feel like they are truly in a sensitive period for this kind of thinking and reflection.”