Philosophy is often considered the province of the highly educated. However, a new study from Great Britain suggests that schoolchildren make better moral judgments and more informed decisions when they are taught to engage in philosophical debate.
The study, led by Claire Cassidy of Strathclyde, followed more than 130 school-aged children who were given lessons in practical philosophy. The study found that the children showed improvements in their listening skills, demonstrated increased respect for others and were more able to view issues from a variety of perspectives. In addition, the children learned to analyze problems and make more thoughtful decisions.
Participants in the study attended sessions led by a teacher who was trained in a technique called Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CoPI). During the sessions, the teacher showed the children a prompt, then asked them to formulate questions. One question was chosen and a dialogue was begun.
At the beginning of the study, the children were presented with scenarios involving people facing ethical decisions. Examples included an imaginary situation in which people who found money had to decide what to do with it, as well as one in which people had to decide which charity money from a fundraiser should go to. The children were asked to propose different possible courses of action and to describe what they would have done under the same circumstances, as well as to explain why they would have made those choices.
After receiving the CoPI training and participating in sessions over a period of eight to 10 weeks, scenarios similar to the initial ones were presented to the children. The researchers observed that the children were able to formulate more detailed answers and to explain the reasoning behind their responses in greater detail after they received the practical philosophy lessons.
“They found they were able to debate and discuss reasoned argument without conflict and often continued their discussions after their sessions had finished. They felt CoPI got them thinking deeply. As one pupil put it, thinking like they had never thought before,” said Cassidy. “Doing practical philosophy in this way provides children with tools to enable them to participate as active citizens.